Sug­gest­ing vi­o­lence with­out hav­ing to show it

NPhoto - - Nikopedia -

On the face of it, de­tail shots in pho­tog­ra­phy many seem like a one-trick pony – you just close in and change the scale dra­mat­i­cally – but in fact they have a range of uses, three of which we’re look­ing at here in this fea­ture. As pho­tog­ra­phers we can think of them as vis­ual so­lu­tions, ei­ther to get out of a rut or to solve a prob­lem posed by the broader scene. Clos­ing in on de­tail is es­pe­cially use­ful when

the wider sub­ject doesn’t lend it­self eas­ily to an ac­cept­able pic­ture. There are all kinds of pos­si­ble rea­son for this. It might be too ob­vi­ous, too well­known, too dif­fuse, or even, in some way, of­fen­sive.

This last was the kind of prob­lem I faced when shoot­ing fight­ing cocks in Colom­bia. Cock-fight­ing is a blood ‘sport’, and while it’s cul­tur­ally in­ter­est­ing, it’s very un­pleas­ant and, by mod­ern me­dia stan­dards, not re­ally ac­cept­able. Nev­er­the­less, I had to shoot it for a reportage as­sign­ment, so the is­sue was how to shoot a strong lead pic­ture.

Spur to ac­tion

I al­ready had shots of cocks ac­tu­ally fight­ing, and all the sur­round­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, like train­ing. One ap­proach might be a stu­dio por­trait, re­ly­ing on good light­ing and hop­ing to catch an ag­gres­sive pose. I did that, but it was still ‘just’ a por­trait. These are, af­ter all, quite fa­mil­iar-look­ing birds, al­beit birds with at­ti­tude. Then some­thing caught my eye. I hadn’t re­al­ized un­til I spent time with the own­ers that they all carry a set of vi­cious-look­ing ar­ti­fi­cial spurs, which are strapped to the birds’ feet. They’re not adapted from any­thing else; they’re specif­i­cally de­signed to help the bird fight more ef­fec­tively. They even come in their own case, like a fly fish­er­man’s tackle. As an out­sider I found them fas­ci­nat­ing, but at the same time un­set­tling.

From the se­ries of images I took, the most ef­fec­tive of all was when the fight­ing cock had them fit­ted (be­low). Much bet­ter not to see its head. The strut­ting pos­ture, con­fi­dent and ag­gres­sive, was per­fect, and the spurs seem to fit the bird all too nat­u­rally. I liked that as­pect of men­ace: a war­rior bird with its sword. Light­ing, as al­ways, plays its part in what­ever idea you have for a shot, and in this case, I shot with the sun be­hind the sub­ject and to one side, so that it would light up the translu­cent spurs – which are made from horn – and help them stand out against the darker back­ground.

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