Part 2 – Environment, Isolation, Empathy, Diversity, & Story
This section is closely tied with Location in part 1. Almost everything we do is governed by our environment, and much of our behaviour is also a product of the environment. Parkour could arguably be said to be a product of Lisses (the birth place of parkour) and its modern, concrete, urban landscape. With that in mind it doesn’t take a genius to realise that we should probably show some environmental aspects in our own photographs.
Fortunately, depicting a subject within its natural environment is a sure fire way to add depth and foster emotional attachment to your photos, that’s something we should capitalise upon. As an example, take a look at the photograph of Ben below. Whilst the group were on the move from Leeds International Pool to another favoured location Ben told me that he had been tattooed with a parkour emblem. Now for me this is a pretty hardcore statement which really underlines Ben’s commitment to the discipline
So, how best could I show his tattoo? A close up shot? No. We happened to be on a foot bridge overlooking the location where my, perhaps most notable, photograph, Leeds Leap, was taken. Light bulb! By taking a photo of Ben looking out at the view I could immediately gather together the following ideas: parkour as an urban pursuit, the spiritual nature of the discipline (free your mind), the inspiration and start point for my own parkour photography, the power of Ben’s conviction, the tattoo itself, and the cyclical nature of things — the pool is soon to be demolished.
The environment is all around us, duh, make use of it, it is a powerful tool that can be used both very easily and very effectively to add character and strength to your photos.
© Ben Anderson
Isolation is really the counterpoint to environment. The idea here is that you should totally direct all of the viewers’ attention on the subject and nothing else.
On occasion the message you are trying to get across is so strong that to have anything else in the scene will only serve to dilute it. One very simple trick is to make sure the background is very simple, a wall, the sky, the ground – something uniform. Or even something so boring or at odds with the subject that it immediately makes your message stand out.
Colour can play a very strong role in achieving subject isolation. If you had a traceur dressed in green doing a move then it wouldn’t be a good idea to shoot them against grass or some trees would it? Instead find a red background, brick works well. Conversely red shirts against green work superbly.
Even though you are isolating a subject, you can still let some environment creep in to add depth, take a closer look at the photo of Devin below.
© Ben Anderson
Whenever you approach a subject photographically you should bear in mind the implications of any photographs you take. For example, parkour is non competitive, so you should definitely not take a photograph that appears to portray it as such. Similarly, parkour is not a team discipline, and although traceurs train together it would be questionable to display parkour moves performed in tandem or give the appearance of teamwork. Of course this is not the case for photos of Acro.
Again I’ll refer back to some of the other subjects, Anticipation, & Rapport, you can only truly empathise with your subject if you are knowledgeable about it – ensure that you are. By depicting your subject with empathy you help to engender rapport with its practitioners – this is a feedback loop that can lead to some great insights and future benefits.
Although photography will always be exploitative to a certain extent, you can minimise this by helping to portray the goals and dreams of your subjects’ practitioners. Remember that you as a photographer are also being exploited by your subject – it’s a two way street. Don’t be evil – ever!
© Ben Anderson
When you start to look critically at everything which is happening around you, then you will start to see things that would not normally be apparent: forms, the play of light across a face, how the shape of a person interacts with the environment, perhaps a juxtaposition of your subject and something as banal as a commercial banner. There are interesting photographs everywhere, even in the most mundane every day places. By framing them with your camera’s viewfinder you freeze them in time and allow them to be shared with others. If you’re not taking a photo then you’re missing an opportunity.
Eventually as your eye becomes more familiar with this mental ‘framing’ of the world you will know when to shoot and when to wait for the truly sublime: we all have the ability to transcend our everyday existence, catching those rare moments is what you should aim for – people don’t want to looking at boring photos.
Originality is perhaps the single hardest thing in photography, but it always keeps you on your toes, and working out a new and refreshing way to show something is reward in itself.
© Ben Anderson
Telling a story is perhaps the single most difficult thing to do with photography. Much can be learnt by looking at cartoons and film story boards, think of the key ways in which each ‘frame’ interacts with its neighbours, flow, form, rhythm, are all important. Consistency of style and format are also paramount (I’ve broken this rule myself in my parkour set so far!) – you should also either use all B&W or all colour photos, or aim to have sections of all the same.
Think about the everyday aspects of your subject, the journey, buying a ticket, mucking about on the bus, the meet, stopping for food, all the little ‘boring’ every day things that happen can help to punctuate a larger body of work and most importantly ground them in the understanding of the viewer — this connection with the viewer is important, never forget it.
© Ben Anderson