Over the past month I've been returning to Ray Metzker's 'City Still's' book, sadly out of print because Ray is no longer with us, having passed away in 2014. The book is a fascinating study of form and tone.
Ray was a master printer, who could use his darkroom techniques to help bring forward the graphical elements in everyday street scenes.
Metzker also had the talent to spot graphical elements in the everyday at the point of capture, and to work with them later in the darkroom. He was no 'post' processor - I doubt very much that anything he did in the editing stage was an afterthought.
I really abhor the term 'post-processing' because it encourages us to think that our editing may be something we do 'afterwards'. It encourages us to think of the two tasks of capture and edit as unrelated. They shouldn't be.
With Metzker's finely printed work, it's clear to me that he saw his edits at the point of capture. He knew how far he could pull and push certain tones in his darkroom, and this propelled him to go looking for tones and forms that would work within the parameters of his darkroom skills.
Photography is sometimes about making the viewer reconsider, to think again, to look at something in a way they may have never done before. Who would have known that the curve of a car door could be the focal point of a photograph as we see above?
Nor would one expect to be so enthralled by the coat tail and side lighting of clothing of anonymous passers by, as in the photo below?
The people in the image above are not important. We cannot see their faces and we do not need to know who they are, because the photograph is not about them. It is instead a study of form and tone, and Metzker uses the interplay of frozen people's clothing to bring us to certain forms. His printing approach is to subdue almost everything in the photo, and to give high relief to the highlights on the clothing. It is as if Metzker saw this kind of form and tone as an ongoing symphony in his everyday encounters, and I'm sure his darkroom work informed his choices when he was out shooting.
So I would ask of you, what do you see when you walk around your town? Are you seeing beyond the obvious? And if you are, how much of what you see is graphical?
To my mind, Metzker saw the graphical in the everyday. I sympathise with his ability to abstract the normal into a beautiful photograph because this is what I aim to do with my landscape work. I'm not interested in the verbatim. I'm much more interested in finding graphical forms and tones in nature and bringing them out in the printing / editing stage. So much so, that I go looking for them in the first instance.
I'd hate to think I am still doing things as an afterthought, as this is really the approach of a beginner. Instead, I would like to think that my capture and editing have become two pieces of a whole, an interrelated activity where one informs the other, as they should.