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"ANATOMY OF A COMPOSITION: MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACKS"
"MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACKS"
I usually think in black and white, which is not such a bad thing for a street photographer. Black and white is so entrenched as the preferred chromatic modality in street photography, that color may never supplant it as the traditional choice. Tradition is difficult to overturn. Black and white is so very expressive, and ironically---far more dramatic than its color sister. I also love to shoot street photos in color, but my natural inclination has always been to favor black and white. There is just something so soothing about the way that black and white showcases a subject. "Monday Morning Quarterbacks" is a good illustration of this ability of black and white to dramatize life on the streets.
I came across this scene on University Place in Greenwich Village in New York City. It would be a mistake to assume that the two people silhouetted are the primary subject. A case could be made that the vibrancy of the scene behind the two people sitting at this bus stop renders the interacting elements in the background the real, or "primary" subjects in this street photograph. Just a side note, here:
Street photography is a machismo-filled genre in which there exists an inherent bias against photographing the backs of people. Why? Because as a prideful group, street photographers insist that if a given street photographer lacks the courage to photograph people---up close no less---to their faces, then the picture must be considered unworthy. However, in cases like "Monday Morning Quarterbacks" where the silhouetted backs of two individuals act as mere elemental foils to the true subject of the picture, this denigration does not apply. The faceless silhouettes are passive, never aggressive. They are obesrvers, not true participants.
Look at all that is happening in the background. There are two cars in the picture, one entering from the left border and one leaving at the right border. Both show movement blur because the shutter speed was 1/30th of a second. Look at the two men interacting in the center of the picture. One is talking and the other is listening. Study their fascinating body language. The talker is gesticulating with his hand as he makes a point. One can strongly sense their conversation, can almost hear it upon close inspection. Look at the woman and the man on the right side of the photograph. They are not together. One can tell the woman is rushing forward as she leans into her fast pace. Indeed, there is a bit of motion blur to her. The man behind her is talking on his cell phone and walking at a languid pace. Any street photograph that makes a viewer pause and study, and then think---is effective street photography by any aesthetic standard.
As I walked in back of the bus stop, what caught my mind's eye and imagination was the backlit scene full of life across the street. The dramatic difference in lighting between the bus stop and the lighted menagerie made me see this scene in my mind, in black and white. A black and white specialist always perceives the end result as an exaggeration of reality. That is because black and white photography taken to its logical conclusion as a corruption of reality to begin with, becomes even more unreal with the limited dynamic range compared to the real scene. Because the human eye and mind can ultimately decipher a greater dynamic range than the black and white photograph---the black and white photograph will always represent an artistic exaggeration that is flavored by the photographer's composition. Soulful composing is necessary in street photography, if one's street photography hopes to surpass the haphazard stage. Don't ever let anyone tell you aesthetic composition doesn't matter in street photography. That is just an excuse for sloppy work.
This composition is compelling, and seemed compelling as I visualized it as I walked past the back of the bus stop. The vast exposure differences between the shadowed couple on and the bench, and the comparatively well-lit scene of life and action behind the silhouetted couple---called out to me to compose this photograph and to expose it. I preset the focus to ten feet using the distance scale of the focusing ring of my 20mm lens. The exposure was already set to the correct 1/30th of second at f/4, as it is my habit to constantly check exposure as I wend my way down the street. I always shoot wide open at f/4, as I believe that maximum shutter speed is the priority in street photography. I stepped back ten feet from the back from the back of the bus stop, and composed the picture as you see it. Later