a new focus // slow photography

In this world of selfies and digital DSLR cameras that supposedly do it all for us (at 30 snaps a second), we at mahabis have become fans of art photographers that work outside the box. We love the following quote from American landscape photographer Ansel Adams. It reminds us how much both photography and our expectations have changed over time...

‘Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.’

 photo: ansell adams


As American philosopher Tim Wuu explains in Slate magazine in 2011:

‘photography has become like our attitude to food and so much else: Speed has gained ascendance over everything… It is easy to take hundreds or even a thousand photos in a single day. I don’t know how you’d count, but I suspect that as many photos have been taken over the last decade as in all of human history preceding.


photo: robert doisneau, entitled 'le baiser de l’hôtel de ville' (kiss by the hôtel de ville), 1950


Slow photography in the 21st century was the only photography and despite, or perhaps because of its time consuming clumsiness the images that were captured well were few and precious, and came to symbolise the times. Photographs like Robert Doisneau’s magical Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (1950) (above) of two lovers spontaneously kissing on the streets of Paris are embedded in the human collective subconscious. At the time they represented the youth of post war Europe.

So much of modern fast photography seems to be recreating those images but using tricks, apps and editing software. But what of today? Are too many images defusing the power of photography? Are we even looking out our world when we look through a camera?

These days, with an abundance of smartphones apps we can instantly make a shot of our dinner look like it was taken with an old polaroid... or a sunset in Cornwall look as balmy as the Bahamas. Then we share them to social media and await the ‘likes’ from our envious friends (even though we are actually freezing on that cold grey beach in Cornwall). 

We can photographically chronicle every smile, every step of a child’s life and upload them immediately.

We take a 100 profile pictures of ourselves and choose the most attractive not the most truthful. We go to a concert and wave our cameraphone in the air rather than our hands.


photo: speedboat, by rene dissel 


With a long telefoto lens the amatuer and professional alike can take a photo of the beggar on the street from a 5 star balcony without permission and without even looking in their eyes.

Once we marvelled out the length a photographer would go to in order to chronicle our world and find the beauty in it, now we doubt the authenticity of many pictures we see.


photo: rene dissel 


As Wuu explained ‘In slow photography, the basic idea is that photos themselves, the result are secondary. The goal is the experience of studying some object carefully and exercising creative choice.’ 

If you look the term up in Wikipedia you’ll find a Norwegian exhibition and book claimed the term in 2013 inferring that the slow is about using slow equipment and process to recreate pictures that looked like the past. 

Though this isn't what we're ascribing to. Slow movement is about the attitude, not the gadgets or the technology. You can take a slow picture with your Smartphone or any camera. It’s about using your eyes to truly see, and the device to merely capture. It’s about using the technology but not letting the technology dictate the result. It’s time to start looking out rather than focussing in. 

Most of all, it’s about thought and mindfulness in a world of speed and narcissism.


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