3rd party inspiration #3: Steve McCurry

This Sunday my good friend Niels and I went to an exposition of Steve McCurry in Helmond, The Netherlands. I just love the work of Steve and I’m a fan of his work for years now.

A couple of years ago he gave a presentation in Amsterdam. Another friend notified me on the event, but I couldn’t get a ticket anymore. Fully booked. I ‘compensated’ this by buying a couple of his books, hardcover and a nice large format. I used to browse the books and put the book opened on a specific page on display in my living room. I actually mounted a bookshelf specifically for this purpose. I would change the page every couple of weeks. Such an inspiration, both the stories of Steve and his photos.

The exposition showed 132 of his photos, printed big, and mounted in black, wooden frames, which were beautifully light by a carefully placed spotlight. Amazing!

As we all know, photography is about emotion. It’s about the feeling it evokes. A lot of the photos I saw triggered a good feeling in me. A feeling of the beauty in the world. Or a feeling of hope. Sometimes this feels odd, because of the terrible circumstances of the subjects. I think that’s why I relate to the photos of Steve. I’m also focused on the good, the positive and the beautiful things around me / in this world. And even when the situation is not too nice, I’m always looking to make the most of the situation.

At some point I notice that some photos didn’t work quite well for me. For some it was the content / the subject and that’s fine, right? We can’t like everything. But I also noticed that some other photos did not work for me because of the technique, or actually the quality of the prints.
Most of the images contain some amount of noise/grain. This makes the scene a bit soft. It gives the photo some specific mood. Like a dream, or a memory being recalled.

Some other photos did not contain noise/grain. For me, these photos were just too clean. Too sharp. Too much details. Too much dynamic range. Too realistic. Too perfect.

This doesn’t work for me at all. These kind of photos do not evoke the emotion that the other photos of Steve do evoke. These photos being too perfect, did not resonate within me as the others did. Quite interesting!

One of the first images I made with my first Fujifilm camera, the X-M1, I loved instantly. Accidentally, I’ve set the ISO to 2000. I had put the XF35mm (also new to me) on and I was very curious about the shallow depth of field the lens could produce. I was curious about the bokeh. I think it is still my favorite photo of my wife. Partly because of de grain, the shallow DOF and the feeling of the details being ‘filtered’. I just love this ‘filtered reality’, the mood it evokes.

Eye Contact
Fujifilm X-M1, XF35mm

I’ve been aware of this for years. I’ve embedded this style in my post processing so that I can decide if I want to apply this mood, and how much of it I want to apply. Seeing the photos of Steve printed big, side by side made me realize even more why I don’t like photos that are just too clean, too perfect.

Now I’m going to think about this. How am I going to use this awareness in my own photography style. I know myself. This will be a lot of thinking, visualizing and doing the actual tests in camera.

Looking forward to it!