Roger Hicks considers…
‘American Fair’, 2015, by Pamela Littky
Pamela Littky is one of those photographers who makes you feel bad about yourself, but in a good way. Bad because her latest book American Fair, like her previous books from Kehrer Verlag, makes you realise that you’ve never accomplished anything similar yourself (to those who have, I apologise). Good because you know you could do the same, if only... And then you slip back into feeling bad again.
Her compositions are deceptively simple. Yes, well, most of us can do that. Sometimes. Can we do it often enough? She can. Most of us would need more practice. Her theme is crystal clear; wide ranging; and comprehensively realised. Again, yeah, well, most of us could do that... if only we could spare the time and effort. And had the talent. Do I believe that Ms Littky has access to greater reserves of time and effort than many of us? No. But she knows how to handle the time and effort she can spare. Talent? Well, we all like to fool ourselves. But even if we aren’t fooling ourselves, the truth is that most of us just aren’t actually getting off our backsides and doing it.
Besides, too much has come together in this picture to be attributable to the ‘infinite monkeys’ scenario. It isn’t just a question of taking very large numbers of pictures and then selecting the good ones. Life isn’t long enough. You need a number of reasonably good pictures to start with, and you don’t want too many of them. Otherwise, you’ll spend too long sorting through the dross. Even if you have lots of fairly good pictures, you need to be able to select the outstanding ones. This is as much a skill as shooting good ones to begin with, never mind really good ones.
So what has to come together in order to achieve this? The lighting, for a start. Fill flash? Almost certainly. But so unobtrusive that it’s hard to pin down even when you start looking. The rest of the light? Superb. Not too early: not too late (look at the sky). The lights on the roundabout lit. The composition? Just enough of both the trailer (caravan) and the roundabout: not too much or too little of either. The man? The sagging camo shirt; the well-worn (and none too clean) jeans with the turned-up cuffs; the moccasins; the position of the hands; the glasses; the facial expression: you could not ask for more.
Yes, yes. It’s simply a question of being in the right place at the right time. And being there often enough, all across the United States, to fill a book that sums up the subject.