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by Genghis


What constitutes a "special photo?" Of course, taste in people is admittedly subjective, and the appeal of given images are at the mercy of the whimsical intellects of those looking at those photos. Harken back to what a former United States Supreme Court justice had to say about an equally ill-defined subject, obscenity. To paraphrase....."Obscenity is hard to define but you know it when you see it...." So it goes with special photographs. With "Life Stands Still" I knew it was special even before I tripped the shutter. With other photos that had the potential, I didn't know until I post-processed the images, just as I knew back in the early '60s when I first began to process prints in the wet darkroom, when the images began to magically form on prints as they came up in a tray of Dektol developer. In the case of "Life Stands Still" however, I knew that the picture would be special as soon as the image presented itself on the street, as I was on my way to work that morning.

It was a typically chilly and bleak late January morning in the East Village of New York City, replete with gusting winds and temperatures below freezing. My trek to work from the Lower East Side where South Street ends near the East River to my office at 9th Street near Fifth Avenue, is a two mile walk. It's always early when I leave the house, usually around 6:15 A.M. Being so early, there usually isn't any usable available light until I reach Second Avenue in the East Village. On a typical winter day, I'm able to shoot at 1/30th of a second at wide open by the time I reach Second Avenue.

This morning as I got to the corner of St. Marks Place and Third Avenue, the possibilities for this image occurred to me. To my right was a striking looking woman with almost-white hair, and behind her was a man who was aligned with the woman on the sidewalk's curb. I was standing on the curb three feet away from the woman. On the left was traffic rushing by. I decided to compose the image so that the two people would be positioned at the right border, and traffic---which would no doubt demonstrate some motion blur due to the slow shutter speed dictated by the low light conditions---would be positioned at the left border of the picture as a counterpoint to the people. Although the traffic and the people would share image space, the people would dominate the picture as I biased the compositional frame to the right, so that there would be a space cushion to the right of the people. I set up the shot as you see it and waited until I had the attention of both the woman and the man when they were both looking directly at me, and then and only then---did I make the exposure. This was shot with a Nikon D1x with 20mm F/4 Nikkor shot at 125 ISO. I already had focus preset to three using the distance scale of the focusing ring of the lens before I brought the camera up to form the composition. Exposure was 1/30th of a second at an aperature of f/4. I always shoot wide open to maximize shutter speed.

What makes "Life Stands Still" a special photo in my mind? I believe these three attributes. First, the visual tension between the motion-blurred truck and the two human subjects---with the vanishing point of the receding street behind them acting as a buffer. Secondly, the fact the two people are looking directly into the camera. This picture wouldn't be as nearly as riveting if the people were gazing away from the lens. Third, it sure doesn't hurt that the woman is so striking in appearance. Special photos like this one are perhaps ill-defined, but I do know one when I see one. Later