I’m very suspicious of the idea of ‘non-subjects’ in photography, I don’t think there are such things
– charlotte cotton (Nigelshafran.com, 2014)
Most photographers usually explore the majority of the iconic genres and elements of photography, from landscapes to portraits, they have portrayed their own version of these genres through fresh eyes. However, only a select through have really tried simply photographing what’s in front of them, what’s on their doorstep.
Andre Kertesz, one of the biggest figures in the photographic world for his contribution to photographic composition and photojournalism, is on of these photographers he began to shoot locally. One of the reasons Kertesz might have tarted shooting locally is due to his illness, as beforehand, he was an “out and about” highly prolific photographer. However, Kertesz has also said the he had “a desire to create something from a personal place” (Eric Kim Street Photography, 2014). He was familiar to his surroundings, and therefore, his strong familiarity and sentiment is projected into his images.
“I had this notion of what I called a democratic way of looking around, that nothing was more or less important.”
– William Eggelston (Behrmann and Behrmann, 2013)
William Eggleston is another prolific photographer, who seems to be the master of taking photographs of anything in front of him, and making these images powerful, his later work is certainly characterized by its ordinary subject matter. Eric Kim explains that when he first viewed Eggleston’s work, he “didn’t get it”, believing the photographs were just “snapshots , photographed without much thought or conviction”. He then decided to confide in his friend, who explained what he liked about Eggleston’s photographs were “the colours”, and that was when it clicked for Kim. He realised that Eggleston was no Henri Cartier-Bresson, aiming to capture the “decisive moment”, but instead, aimed to make the ordinary and mundane extraordinary. Transforming the way we look at a bicycle or a vending machine or even a “for sale” sign, Eggleston makes us stop and look at something we pass everyday, and makes us admire.
Another example of photography with a more enclosed, sentimental element, is Nigel Shafran’s work. From 1997-1999, after his dad passed away, Shafran did a meticulous project on his father’s office. Although this was a form of mourning and dealing with the departure of his father, Shafron’s images of the office make us think a re imagine his father, and how he lived inside this small mundane space. Not only do the images build the character of his father, but they also give us an insight to the past, letting us see through the eyes of the deceased. Shafran had created other projects that focus on so simple and close-by subjects such as his “Washing-Up” series in 2000. Charlotte Cotton explains that these photographs are only what Shafran has seen, meaning that these inanimate objects in his images read like a diary of the events of his life; of what he eats, who he meets, and what the places he goes to look like. Shafran is letting us have an insight into his private, intimate world. Shafron explains that “sometimes I see photographs, and what’s interesting to me are the things on the edge that are not meant to be there, the soap packet, the bit of litter,the things that we can relate to and hold that everydayness”(Nigelshafran.com, 2014). Shafran states this perfectly; what he is taking photographs of is not just simple and mundane, but a bit more complex..he’s showing what we perceive as ordinary, life.
Furthermore, we can look at the crowd sourced documentary project “Life in a Day”. Produced by Kevin McDonald, Ridley Scott and Youtube, Life in a Day aimed to capture a moment of the day on camera. The global community responded with over 80,000 videos to youtube, containing 4, 500 hours of deeply personal , powerful moments shot from contributors all over the world. From a remote home in Zambia, to a busy city in Australia, we are taken through the whole of one single day, 24th July, 2010 in 90 minutes. Starting with breakfast, we soon get taken on a journey that leads us to a young girl and father mourning her mother, to a boys first shave, to a marriage proposal. The film offers a unique experience, projecting beauty, humour, love and fear, giving an honest, heart warming, and beautiful film of what it’s like to live on Earth today.
Overall, it’s safe to say that it appears the “simple” photographs, that appear ordinary to us, the ones created closest to the photographer, right in front of them, have so much more meaning than we originally give them credit for. They are the image the give us a glimpse of our everyday life, perhaps that’s why we ignore them? We find looking at photography a form of escapism, and we want to see something unique and overwhelming, something aesthetically pleasing. But when we really stop and think about these images that at first seem ordinary and mundane, it’s not long before we see that they project a glimpse of what it is like to be alive.