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Julius Motal

 

 

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Photographs are meant for paper–not screens. This might seem like a contradictory statement, given that you’re reading this on some screen and that the lead image is one of my own. Yet, to photograph literally means “to write with light.” Your ability to look at images on a screen online is predicated on your device’s battery and the availability and strength of an internet connection. Paper has its own problems largely its susceptibility to the elements–but photographs look and feel better on paper, and it’s good practice to occasionally move your images from screen to sheet.

Your ability to look at photographs on a screen is largely governed by your screen’s real estate. Try organizing your photos on your phone based on the square half-inch previews they’re accorded. That goes for iPhones. I don’t know what the case is with Android. Similarly, opening a series of images on your computer leads to a similar conundrum. You can usually have one full-size image shown at a time. Your ability to rearrange is governed by the software you’re using. Moreover, looking at a screen for too long is hard on the eyes.

Printing liberates your photographs. On paper, your images are a part of the physical world. Data has no substance. A gigabyte isn’t a physical thing. Printed photographs, however, give you a certain degree of latitude that files don’t.

Editing becomes a physical thing. Rather than clicking and dragging a file, you pick up and move photographs. You directly interact with what you’ve made, which is a very fine thing. A photo on a screen is a photo on a screen is a photo on a screen. It’s important to see how your images live and look in a physical space, and working them on a desk, a floor or any other flat surface can give you a better sense of how they work sequentially.

That aside, photographs feel better on paper. If you’re in the practice of film photography, you know this already, but for digital shooters, it’s almost like an awakening. Granted, film has a certain aesthetic that digital can’t quite capture yet, and that explains why there are so many programs and plugins that offer film emulations. You never see it the other way around. There isn’t a single roll of film made that has “digital quality” on the canister.

 

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The best camera is the one you have on you–or so the saying goes. What if you left the camera at home? There have been many occasions when I’ve been late to things because somewhere along the journey, I realized that there was a weight missing from my bag. The mere thought of missing the moment proved too harrowing, so I always had to double back to fetch my camera. Who’s to say what I could have missed by going back, not forward? This may sound like gobbledygook coming from someone who’s in the midst of a photo365 (a photo a day for 365 days), but there are benefits to giving the camera a rest.

Constantly trying to be aware of and capture the moment can often take you out of it. Photography for me and others, I’m sure, is an instinct. It’s a way to interpret and make sense of the outside world, and I feel stripped when I don’t have camera nearby. It’s become both an extension of my hands and my eyes, and in working through a photo365, I’ve maintained a constant awareness. This awareness is like radar. Dots will show up that indicate something is there, but I won’t know until I go closer. Those dots are moments that, if executed properly, become photographs worth looking at.

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julius motal the phoblographer inspiration

There are times when the images just don’t happen. The places you shoot feel lacking, as if the colors are a bit duller, the shapes and lines softer and the people are absent. Your inspiration’s dried up, and your keeper rate has gone way down. What do you do? Shooting more will only yield greater dissatisfaction. Perhaps you try something new, but that, too, feels lifeless. The emotion’s gone from your photographs, and you want to find a way to give them the vibrance and the impact they once had.

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Social media has democratized, and in many ways diluted, the internet and the content we see. Photography is one the greatest examples of this, with some cameras advertising built-in abilities to instantly send photos to Facebook, Twitter and wherever else before you’ve had the time to properly look at them. While sharing is an essential part of many photographers’ work, oversharing can lead to unintended consequences.

The oversharer is the type who tends to post photos throughout the day. While these photos can be well executed in composition and exposure, they don’t say anything. They’re more of a visual diary than anything else, and as anyone with a diary knows, you do your best to keep it tucked away.

Perhaps the biggest consequence of oversharing is that it dilutes your value as a photographer, especially if you don’t have a specialty. Not every image needs to be seen, especially when that image is one of a million. I’ve been guilty of this at times. I’ve shared more than I probably should have, and I’ve realized that a discordant body of work can lead to various impressions, not all of them good.

A concise tightly edited body of work is one of the dividing lines between the photographers who get work and those who don’t. That’s not to say, don’t share at all, but moderation is key. The last thing you want is for an image to be something somebody scrolls past.

Good images ought to be seen, but they won’t get proper exposure, if they’re sandwiched between everything else you shoot. An important thing to consider before putting an image online is if it’ll help or hurt how people view you.

Maintain a consistent online presence, one that people want to return to.

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Look out your window. What do you see? You might find that you have a steady cast of characters, and that the show is always interesting. That’s what photographer Hye-Ryoung Min found when she looked out the windows of her apartment in Prospect Lefferts Gardens from 2009 to 2011. Her five windows became her television set, and with her camera in hand, she took stills from the “set” for her project “Channel 247″.

“Repetition helped me understand actors’ basic characters; nuance and difference offered me clues into their hidden stories,” Min wrote in an email about how routine was essential to the development of the project.

Firing off random surreptitious shots of her neighbors wouldn’t have worked. Fortunately, her apartment and her neighborhood put her at the nexus of a motley crew of characters that played in equal measure outside of her front and back windows.

“The three windows in the curved construction in the living room had the most interesting and varied shows and actors, since they give out on the main boulevard with its constant flow of people and situations,” Mind wrote. “But I also enjoyed the daily shows in the backyard featuring a more regular cast of actors and private moments throughout the windows from the bedroom and the kitchen.”

This isn’t voyeurism for obvious reasons. The characters in her photographs are engaging in life at its most quotidian, and it’s those moments that can be the most revealing.

“There are moments when people are oblivious of others, or simply don’t want to be mindful of anybody other than themselves,” Min wrote.

It’s when people are focus on themselves that we can see who they are, even when the moments aren’t necessarily that grand. Her project has airs of street photography even though she never set foot on the street, and it’s that candid, spontaneous essence that makes Channel 247 a compelling character study.

A project like this couldn’t work everywhere, but fortunately, Min realized what was happening and set out to capture it. Scroll down for my photos from Channel 247, and for the entire project go here. For more of Min’s work, check out her website.

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Street photography isn’t the easiest discipline. If you’re a practitioner of the form, some of your friends might ask you if you ever talk to the people you photograph. I’ve asked that of many street photographers, and I’ve had it asked of me. The answer is, almost always, that the street photographer does not talk to the people in the frame. Definitely not before the shot, and not after. Yet, there are occasions when talking is unavoidable, when the person in your frame is more aware of you than you anticipated. While street photography is, in large part, the art of stealth in a public space, you have to be ready for the occasions when the person in your photograph talks to you.

Talking to your subject takes a good deal of confidence, both in yourself as a photographer and in your photography. We can leave the deeper questions to Humans of New York. For now, all you need to think about is explaining who you are, what you’re about, and inevitably, why you’re photographing them.

This isn’t necessarily the time for artistic statements, especially if you’re in a city where people are short on both time and attention. Perhaps you’re working on a project in which the person you photographed fit the bill for the next shot in your series. Give a quick synopsis of what the project’s about, and let them know they’re good for it. Or perhaps you’re just shooting on the street. There’s something about them that made you take their photograph. Tell them what that something is. People often respond well to flattery.

Of course, you may be caught offguard by someone who doesn’t want to be photographed, someone who takes a hostile approach to anyone who aims a lens their way. Be calm in all aspects of your practice, and be particularly calm if someone storms over to you after realizing you’ve photographed them. Keep it brief, and don’t stumble over your words. Simplicity and directness will, more often that not, be enough to defuse any hostilities.

Anything can happen on the street. If you’ve got quick feet and an unassuming manner, you can move from one shot to the next with ease. Just be prepared for when you have to talk.