The Last Thing I Do Is Press The Button
I sit in the room and wait for my mind to be still. If I have come to make a picture the part of me that knows how is always anxious to begin. Not yet I tell myself, first let me have the experience of being here. I sit quietly for five or ten minutes and slowly I arrive. I close my eyes, listen to the sounds of traffic in the street, the murmur of people, the rustle and hum of air in the room. The sounds become three dimensional. With my eyes closed it’s easier to hear what is behind me, in front, off to the side; it’s pleasing to sense the room.
After a while I open my eyes, look at the statue I have come to photograph, how it sits in the room, how the light falls on it this day from where I sit. I say hello.
What I want now is a conversation with the spirit of the object. “Good morning” I say, “I’ve come to make a picture of you. Will you help me see the best place to do that?” I stand up and move around the room walking very slowly. Each small step changes everything, the planes of the face, the light, the relationship with the background. I wait for inspiration, ask myself for a sign, some feeling that this is the right place. Often, in some wonderful way, things come together as I move and the figure comes alive, I find myself in a place where it seems to acknowledge me and a connection is made. This is where to stand. I pick up the camera and bring it to my eye. I look through the viewfinder.
currently my practice is to make pictures with only a single subject of interest. I tend to work with a long lens so the image is magnified compared to seeing it directly with my eyes. Most of the places I shoot don’t allow tripods so I have learned to be very still at 200mm and a tenth of a second. I make the necessary adjustments, trade off aperture for ISO and shutter speed, imagine how much noise there will be in the shadows as my reward for keeping the highlights intact, the penalties I have incurred for shooting in indifferent light and the pain it will cause me to fix these things later. No matter, here we are. I bring the camera up and look carefully at the face in front of me. I lean a little left or right, hunch down small or reach for another inch of height. I feel for the place where the face is most alive, slow my breath, steady the camera then gently press the button. I am right on the edge working this way. Pushing the shutter release can create just enough movement to cause the vibration stabilizer to compensate or the frame to shift a tiny fraction. I shoot again, two or three times, all the images within a degree or two of one another and yet each one different. Still breathless in a state of grace I review the pictures in the little lying screen on the back of the camera, the face now reduced to two dimensions but hopefully still alive and when all is well I turn back one more time and say “Thank you” and move on.
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