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The magazine of the art-form of the photo-essay “A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous!” Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
Nov 2013 back issue
The Darker Side of Light
by Robert Holmes
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Leg-rowing fishermen on Inle Lake, Myanmar.
Mountains of Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile.
Hanoi, Vietnam.
Butchers shop in Eldoret, Kenya for A Day in the Life of Africa.
Sumo wrestlers, Toyko, Japan.
These photographs are very personal.  I took them for myself with no thought of them being shared.  I've worked for almost 35 years as an assignment photographer but I shoot compulsively regardless of having a client but there is one fundamental difference.  When I'm shooting on assignment I search for images, for my personal work I let the images find me. My primary interest has always been painting, in particular abstract expressionism.  The inherent ambiguity of the work enables the viewer to use their imagination and re-interpret the work each time it's viewed. As a photographer, I want to create photographs that leave the viewer asking questions - photographs that reveal themselves slowly over time.  I am fascinated by dark space, areas with no discernable content and areas with maybe just a hint of information that allows the mind to wander and wonder.  It's the old conundrum.  Did my vision result in my response to the abstract expressionists or did my response to these paintings result in my vision?  What I know for a fact is that I never tire of their work and it continues to have a profound influence on how I see. Why do we have such a strong emotional response to certain images?  I literally cried when I first experienced the Seagram paintings of Mark Rothko.  It was an overwhelming sensation.  We can intellectualize why this happens but does it really matter?  Just accept it. So much art today is thought provoking and intellectual, but in a cold, clinical way.  It lacks soul.  I have no wish to be part of that movement.  For me soul is everything.  I want my photographs to generate in the viewer a warm rush of emotion.  My goal is to do to others what Rothko does to me. Bring tears to their eyes. If my work can elicit some emotional response from one other human being then I have been successful.
Golden Gate Bridge 75th Anniversary celebrations, San Francisco, California.
I'm always looking at light but it's in short supply in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.  Before the new generation of sensors this image lit mainly by candlelight would have been difficult to capture.  I loved the graphics created by the black cassocks on the choristers.
The sole illumination at this wholesale vegetable market in India was from the lamps.  It was still the middle of the night and it looked like a scene from an old master painting.  I was careful to make sure all the light came from within the frame.
How often do you see a stunning sunrise but no subject to make it into a meaningful photograph?  On the River Ganges I waited for a boat full of pilgrims to come into the frame deliberately cut off both ends to make it a strong graphic element rather than a straight documentary record.
Several years ago I walked across Nepal on assignment for National Geographic Magazine for a story on snow leopards.  In a remote village in the far west the only highlight in a depressingly dark, smoke filled teahouse was this white mug.
When I first visited Bhutan in 1986 the country had had fewer than 5,000 visitors - ever!  Little had changed for centuries and the shadowy figures of monks flitting through monasteries captured this timeless atmosphere.
Tourists are an integral part of the landscape at Abu Simbal in Upper Egypt but I wanted them to be secondary to the temple.  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  I clicked my camera along with the rest of the tourists but I waited until the guide was in just the right position.
I love back lighting and it enhanced the steam and color of molasses being prepared in a ramshackle building on the road from Luxor to Abydos in the Nile Valley.  Tourists pass here every day but never stop.  The unexpected often provides the richest material.
I felt that the dark interior of a monastery in eastern Bhutan perfectly captured the medieval atmosphere with novice monks studying in a shaft of sunlight shinning through an open window.  I love dark areas with a sense of mystery.
Gesture is fundamentally important in photographs.  In the rice terraces of Vietnam's Sapa region, I waited until the woman's leg was well defined as she bent down to tend the rice.  I always strive for strong graphics in my photographs but never at the expenses of content.  They must compliment each other.
The typical conical hats of these women market traders on the Mekong Delta where the subject of my photograph but it needed punctuation.  The hand provided that and brought an air of humanity into the composition.
Strong graphics and an air of mystery combine in this photograph in San Pablo del Largo in Ecuador.
I loved the color palette of this street corner in old Cairo.  I waited until people were in the configuration I pre- visualized and mystery was introduced by making sure all the faces were obscured.  I waited here for well over an hour until all the elements came together.  The secret is recognizing when a situation has potential and is worth investing in.
I was one of the photographers shooting A Day in the Life of Israel and came across dozens of Hassidim at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  It was a sea of black hats and I knew immediately that I wanted to make a strong graphic image of the hats silhouetted against the wall.  This was in the days of film and I shot 10 rolls of Kodachrome stalking this shot.  I knew that I needed punctuation and as so often happens, serendipity kicked in when the crowd opened up and an angelic little boy with ringlets appeared in the midst of the black-coated men.  This was exactly the shot I was after but I didn't know I had it until I saw the processed film.  Of course, it made it into the book.
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