One-Sixth of a Second
Project info

There is something wonderful about a great photograph of life on the street. I think it’s because we humans are naturally nosy. We like to stare, absorb the details and imagine the facts, but on the street, we don’t have permission to stare. All we get is a glimpse. The great thing about a street photograph is that we have permission to stare.

In 2017 I started to experiment with motion-blurred street photography – the sort where the camera is fixed in place and the subjects are moving. I was using motion-blur to eliminate the very detail that we like to stare at in a street photograph, but I reasoned that the resulting images would have a look and feel closer to the glimpse we might get of strangers on the street. My theory was that, with less detail, there would be more room for the viewers imagination to wander – more imagination space. Well, it was only a theory, but the great thing about theories is that they drive us to experiment and when we experiment, we learn.

The first thing I learnt was that to simulate a glimpse I needed just the right amount of motion-blur to eliminate just the right amount of detail. I was taking close-up images of pedestrians with a wide-angle lens. I found that a shutter speed of 1/6 second created photographs with a strong glimpse-like impression of the subject. The resulting images also led to a discovery.

When we walk some parts of us move more rapidly than other parts. One leg, for example, will be stationary while the other is in full swing. Motion-blur, which is produced by the camera’s technology, renders human movement in graceful arcs and soft brush strokes. It produces an image that is more poem-like than the detailed essay of a straight street photograph. Motion-blur renders the poetry of motion.

A poem does not have to be factual. Sometimes there is more truth in fiction than in out-of-context facts. Some of the photographs in One-Sixth of a Second are single shots. Others are combinations of two or more images from a sequence of exposures. Their compositions offer the imagination space of a poem, at least that is my intent.

Poetry is one of the more conceptual arts. It encourages us to seek its meaning and play with the rhythms of its language. Visual art can also be poetic if it too has a rhythm – an internal logic – that encourages us seek its meaning. To explore the poetry of motion I therefore sought structured compositions that create an imagination space within which we, as viewers, might invent a story and, by inventing a story, create a meaning.