jonathan pearlman

jonathan pearlman

FINE ART Photography


Scott Morrison aside, there is just one type of news story guaranteed to make me want to bring up my breakfast cereal: tips on how to take great holiday snaps courtesy professional photographers. The latest tour de nonsense appeared in two Fairfax newspapers - The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. 

I was fortunate enough to have half a page left on my free online monthly allowance and unwillingly (for reasons best known to my unconscious state of mind) clicked on the aforementioned article.

One professional suggested getting to know your way around the camera - learn to understand ISO, shutter speeds, aperture sizes and the relationship between all three. He (or she) could have thrown in, for good measure, a quick study of Ansell Adams'  'Zone' system. What better way to spend your entire holiday?

Another tip: ignore the boring touristy shots. Forget trying to emulate the Princess Di-type shots of the Taj Mahal, instead, why not wander around the vicinity of that wondrous edifice and look for hidden nooks and crannies. In all likelihood you'd cop a bullet in the head from the elite anti-terrorist squad. Still, the shot (both of them) would be an incredible photo opportunity.

Yet another: in Third World countries, make it a habit to pay locals for allowing you to take their photos. Grizzled, dusky faces, heads adorned with turbans en vogue at the moment. A close-up could win you awards and the old man will be thrilled and honoured to take home a bit of cash. Whilst you're at it, ask for a quick shoot of his body - concentrate on the area where his kidney used to be. He probably sold that to a nice well-meaning white tourist as well.

Worse: a professional made the point that since it is not innate in us (as humans presumably) to take great photographs; we have to learn to how to take great photographs. Ipso Facto: if you to want to learn how to take great photos you must first learn how to take photographs. Learn from a professional because they have learned how take a great photograph by learning how to take photographs.

Why do I despair, dear listener? Well, in the digital age, photography is once again, thankfully, democratic. We can all take photographs and see the results, good or bad, in an instant. Delete what we don't like and keep the stuff we do. Kodak, as I have recently mentioned before in these very pages, promised to make photographers out of everyone. All that was required of you was to snap away and let Kodak do the rest. This was at the turn of the last century and surviving family photos from around the world are breathtaking in their simplicity, naivety, in their composition and in the stories they tell. Who am I to judge their worth or worthlessness? By what measure do we, as photographers, judge what is a great holiday snap and what isn't? 

Holiday snaps from the late 1890s to the late 1960s are a wondrous tour of fashion, of social mores and graces; of modesty and the immodest. Snapshots of memories,  the good, the bad and the awful, down through decades. Those who have long passed tell us their stories through  memories they once stored in albums and in dusty drawers. Fleeting moments captured inside Kodak Brownies; small and square, black and white, washed and muted colours, evoking sights, smells, noises, crowds. Uninhibited and spontaneous gestures, frozen in time. 

Here are two small children, a boy and girl no more than three and six; inside the small square Kodak print they play near the shoreline on the beach at Westgate-On-Sea. It is 1956. Front and centre the smiling face of the boy, deliriously happy mucking about in the water; the girl, overcoated, turns toward the camera - no doubt called to attention. This is not a perfect photograph, it is not a perfect print either. It is a perfect memory 

No-one told the man who took the photograph how to take a good photograph. He would read the manual that came with the camera. He would take a photograph, in all likelihood, spontaneously. His composition is almost flawless; the story he tells is perfectly clear. It is a wonderful holiday snap and is a wonderful memory of a day that I recall quite clearly. That, for me, is the mark of a truly great holiday snap.



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