Moving Pictures of Still Photography
“In the last hour, in the world, probably more digital images have been made than in the entire history of analog photography.” Ralph Gibson: More Than The Rainbow
On average, 60 million photos are uploaded to Instagram on a daily basis. With the proliferation of phone culture,the number of people who actually have a camera on them most minutes of the day now numbers in the billions. Photography is the most popular it has ever been since its inception. People are taking an astounding number of images, but are any of them any good? Assuming that the monkeys on typewriters theory holds water, shouldn’t we have the complete works of an Ansel Adams portfolio by now? Where’s all the visionaries, where’s the art, and why are there so many damn pictures of what people had for brunch?
Sifting through the endless sea of forgettable snapshots, it is truly refreshing and inspiring to encounter the work of the Matt Weber‘s and Vivian Maier‘s of the world. Both photographers create arresting images that stop you in your tracks. In fact,the two share a lot in common: both were self taught, both use film, both practice the highest form of street photography, New York features in both their work and they are both the subjects of their own documentaries that recently have come out on DVD. Matt Weber’s work along with a few of his contempories is explored in More Than The Rainbow and the mystery of the reclusive Vivian Maier is brought to light in Finding Vivian Maier. Both films are wonderful introductions to these artists whose work is slowly being recognized by the insular art world.
More Than a Rainbow really excels at exploring the art and craft of photography. The candid discussions and interviews with the photographers featured reveals the insight and process that goes into capturing a successful image. There’s great observations about the differences between black and white vs colour compositions and what goes into Street photography? Street photographers especially have to walk a fine line between being a documentarian and being aware of their subjects’ boundaries and thresholds. Over the past 25 years, Matt Weber has gotten very savvy at walking that line. Matt started out as a cab driver, this opprotunity gave him an expansive unfiltered view of New York City where he lived. The unbelievable events he would witness on a daily basis driving the streets inspired him to pick up a camera to capture what he had seen. Soon the pictures took over and his driving days were behind him. More Than a Rainbow does a great job of showcasing Matt’s work, but if I had one criticism of the film: it stumbles a little trying to put it into the context of his life.
The life of Vivian Maier (1926-2009) was nothing short of a mystery. She took an estimated 100 000 pictures in her lifetime; none of which ever saw the light of day; until a box of her negatives was purchased at an estate sale for $400 dollars in 2007. What was found in that box led to a storage unit which in turn turned into an astounding discovery of an artistic treasure trove. No one in her life had any clue that this plain french nanny was anything but. Finding Vivian Maier unravels delightfully as we learn more and more about the photographer from the people who used to employ her, along with the grown children she used to mind. Her motives were cloudy and her history even cloudier. Her future is also uncertain: a previously unknown heir has just come forward and is contesting the rights to her artistic legacy.
The films: Finding Vivian Maier and More Than a Rainbow are excellent introductions to the world of street photography and the photographers that document them. With so many pictures being taken these days, we need visual pioneers to show us the right way to hold a camera and provide a welcome photographic blueprint in the new age of instant image makers.