I just came across an item in BJP-Online, quoting Joel Myerowitz at a ‘Leica Hall Of Fame” event, where he has just been made a member.
Joel Meyerowitz is standing in front of a huge projection of one of his iconic images:
Meyerowitz explains that a man fell to the floor just as Meyerowitz turned his lens toward the scene. In the moment immediately after the fall, another man, carrying a hammer, stepped over the stricken figure laid out on the street “as if he were a piece of trash.”
“Photographers, these days, make and stage their own reality, ” Meyerowitz says. “People ask me now – did you set that shot up?” He pauses, with his hands spread incredulously. “What happened to the belief that photographers should go out there, open-eyed, open-minded, trying to discover reality?”
I don’t believe many photographs are set up. I think many good photographers can see a photograph developing at wait for the moment before taking the photograph. In this one, if it was set up I’m sure Mr Meyerowitz would have photographed it from a better angle.
Mmm… I’m not so sure, Peter. The dominance of Conceptualism in art means that the majority of fine art photographs these days are ‘set up’, which I’m pretty sure is why Meyerowitz gets asked the question: similar shots by the likes of, say, Jeff Wall, would have been carefully set up, as would the seemingly ‘natural’ pictures of complex scenes that Gregory Crewdson stages so elaborately.
Of course, almost all studio photography is ‘set up’, and not just fashion and commercial work. (And we don’t want even to begin to talk about ‘digital photographic art’ done with computers!)
True, much sports photography, nature and landscape isn’t ‘set up’, as far as posing or positioning of subjects is concerned; but there’s often a lot of careful preparation and technical arranging in advance to get shots set up in pre-designed ways. Indeed, Cartier-Bresson famously did this sort of thing: frame some interesting and elegantly arranged bit of background, and then wait for a suitable person to walk across the frame to exactly the ‘right’ place!