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Peter Levi

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Open and Closed Photographs (PHOTOS)

Posted: 04/12/2012 1:23 pm

I read a short quote by a Magnum photographer named Paolo Pellegrin and it went like this:

"I'm more interested in a photography that is 'unfinished' -- a photography that is suggestive and can trigger a conversation or dialogue. There are pictures that are closed, finished, to which there is no way in."

After I read it, I thought to myself, "What does that mean?" But, the more I thought of it, the more I personally found it to be correct. There are probably more than one way to interpret his words, but the way I did it was to look at different images to decide which ones I saw as "open" or "unfinished" and which ones that were "closed."

I started out with a bunch of Reportage images, and I could very fast draw the conclusion that I felt that most of them were open. The greatest documentary photographers in the world cut off heads, arms, legs, trees and buildings, etc. Subjects were out of focus, or blurred with motion because of too slow shutter speeds. Still, the images were amazingly filled with drama, storytelling, and yet fantastic compositions. In each and every shot I somehow found a way into the image because it was not closed and finished.

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Then I started to search for shots that were closed. I looked through fine art images, landscapes and advertisement shots and there I found a lot of closed photographs. It seems like that perfect compositions with every detail intact and tack sharp focus without cut off limbs, buildings or trees and so on closes the images. Don't misunderstand me now: The closed shots are not less good or anything. The word closed has a negative sound to it, but in this case it is not applicable as it has nothing to do weather a shot is great or not. In fact, I discovered that I personally has a tendency to close my shots most of the time. And that was an eye-opener as I'm always drawn to "unfinished" images when I look at other people's work.

At the moment I'm trying to get comfortable with a 35mm lens as I most often use wider angles than that. So, I have found myself almost crawling on the ground to be able to fit every single treetop or roof into my shots. But maybe I should just cut that treetop from now on to create an entrance to my work. As long as I capture the essence of the subject that I am photographing, it'll have to do -- or maybe even bring more power to my work. The only way to find out is to experiment, I guess.

Is this one a closed shot? I kind of feel that it is...

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