Posts Tagged ‘surfaces’

Patina and Photography

Sunday, July 26th, 2020

According to Wikipedia, “Patina is a thin layer that variously forms on the surface of copper, brass, bronze and similar metals (tarnish produced by oxidation or other chemical processes), or certain stones, and wooden furniture (sheen produced by age, wear, and polishing), or any similar acquired change of a surface through age and exposure.”

For his post ‘Patina in Photography‘, Jörg Colberg interprets the word a little differently, using it to refer to the qualities of any surfaces in photographs, something I might prefer to refer to as texture, but also extends it to consider the content of images.

The piece is an interesting discussion, illustrated with some of his own work, of what makes a “good picture“, something which he rightly says is “enormously difficult to describe” but is also “usually straightforward to see“, though I think we might often disagree with other viewers. Colberg continues to give what is I think a useful definition of “a good picture as a picture that makes a viewer look more carefully, that makes a viewer think.”

Colberg writes about the “lure of the easy picture” which captures many photographers – indeed all of us much of the time, including as he admits himself, writing “Mostly I now ask myself whether a picture challenges me. Not surprisingly, most pictures don’t. I still take them.”

He then discusses his different reactions to the very different cities of Warsaw and Tokyo, which he ascribes to their different patina. Colberg rightly comments that as photographers we react to what we see and chose to photograph because of our “background, culture, society…” but I think I would equally stress that what we have in the world to react to is also a product of these aspects, a different culture, particularly in terms of aesthetics, but also in terms of ideas about space and personal space.

Perhaps the most important picture I took in my early years as a photographer is one that I don’t think I have ever shown to anyone. Taken on a the building site of a new estate in Bracknell where I was then living, it showed a number of sewage pipes waiting to be installed. It wasn’t a great picture but it worried me because it stood out from the others I had taken that day and that in the terms that Colberg uses, it challenged me, though not at the point of taking, but when I saw it on the contact sheet and later as a print.

I couldn’t quickly find a copy of that picture, and I think it’s one I’ve never digitised, but probably neither you nor I would find it very interesting now, and if I had it to hand I probably wouldn’t have included it here. It wasn’t a bad picture – I was taking plenty of those – nor I think a particularly good picture but one that made me begin to think and study and change.