“Bridge Railings” by Djura Stankovic (Or Creating Magic With Simple Subjects)
Photography is a tricky little medium. A regular (non-photographer) views our art in amazement, dumbfounded by the seemingly impossible images that are before us. They gasp at the worlds that they have clearly overlooked in the smallest of spaces. To their eyes, we are magicians – capturing feats and subjects that are sometimes unimaginable. But like that magician, it's a slight of hand…it's about telling stories where none are evident to be told. This week, we'd like to share a performance of Djura Stankovic: Bridge Railings / Lindau on Lake Constance (flickr.com).
Slight of hand…magic and capturing feats? That's a crazy setup for a close-up shot of rivets. But that's precisely my point. Stop thinking like a photographer for a minute and start thinking like a regular. What, exactly, is so thrilling about these bolts presented in the way that Djura has presented them? Drama. We are looking upon a detail that is so often overlooked – more overlooked than the gum stuck in the center of the sidewalk or under the desk chair at the public library. People walk by such rivets each and every day, yet they never stop to focus on the detail and beauty behind this man-made structure. That's where a photographer like Djura earns his keep: By presenting the common as if it were uncommon.
It's not that Djura is doing anything particularly crazy with this photograph. Bridge Railings is a simple narrow depth-of-field presentation with some dramatic lighting. The light source and the aperture are the hero's behind such a shot. These are the tools of the trade. The lighting creates a high-contrast element. Or, more importantly, it focuses our attention to the rivets as it blacks-out all other potential scenery. Now according to the EXIF data, a flash didn't fire. But that doesn't mean that Djura didn't have a somewhat controlled environment. It may have been a dark evening where the light from an ancient street light might just have been enough to lick the edges of the steel in Djura's shot. As for depth of field – that part is obvious. Djura has focused on one bolt in particular. Everything closer or further away from that point becomes more and more blurry than the rivet that now commands attention. It is the star of the show, and no other is going to be as crisp or as tack sharp as he.
And all this was made possible by Djura's box of tricks.
My point is that you don't need to create complex compositions featuring equally fantastic subjects to impress the viewers. They can be wowed by simple and well presented subjects that they've never seen in such a way. Like the magician with his deck of cards for a trick everyone has seen before but still marvels at, you have your camera and your light sources and your bag of lenses, filters and accessories. These are the tools of your trade. These are what you will use to set the stage. So keep things simple and use your tools.
Djura is truly a magician when it comes to presenting simple subjects elegantly. What sets his work apart from others is the minimalistic approach – a limited bag of tricks that are used in combination sure to please a large audience. He tweaks elements such as backgrounds or lighting in a manner that would isolate the subject. A lot can be learned from Djura's work.
For more of Djura's simple and magical experiences, I would encourage you to view his photostream. Djura also has a website of his own featuring some photos not exhibited on his photostream. It is in German, but if you' don't speak the language (I don't), there are plenty of photos there to browse for your own inspiration.