At play with photography in Innsbruck

The updates have been fewer and much further between of late. The habit broke when the phone broke, but I’ll try and pick it up again. I’m in Innsbruck, Austria, which has been lovely, too lovely in fact, I’ll have to stay.

With one eye still on the clock — there being only 32 days left on my visa — I’ve started taking more days off. After doing 50 days without a day off between Canterbury, England and Oberstdorf, Germany I realised things were moving a bit too fast, and also I’m really enjoying Austria so I wanted to dwell here a bit longer. It means altering the route ever so slightly, I may cross from Croatia into Bosnia further north than I had imagined but that’s not a bother, one unknown in place of another.

One of the surprising effects of sharing this journey with all of you — having mostly kept my previous excursions to myself — has been the helpful pressure to arrange my thoughts in a digestible way. I write a lot — and I take plenty of photographs — have done for many years. But writing for myself is very different from writing for a (thankfully) small audience, what makes sense in our own heads and what can be transmitted to someone else’s are worlds apart. To be wholly honest I was half expecting to resent the effort but, while I do still reserve the right of indefinite hiatus’, I’m enjoying the pressure so far.

In the spirit of taking a break, this missive has nothing at all to say about walking. Naturally, every action has it’s balancing reaction: when in motion I look for stillness, when I’m still I’m looking for motion.

Here in Innsbruck I’ve been thinking about my photography. The act of flinging images at you lot has encouraged me to confront a pattern in my ‘lens’ that I’ve long known about but never set aside the effort to explore.

I tend to take very still photographs, not just when I’m in motion but more generally too. Walking notwithstanding, I’m drawn to stillness. I like to be idle, and so my view of the world is often along the axis of calmness and busy-ness, where busy-ness/business are to be avoided, or at least had better justify themselves. Idling more is an opportunity to look for a bit more motion through the viewfinder.

What do I mean by still photographs? Below are a handful of photos that qualify.

I like these photographs, I’m glad I took them, but they lack something, I think, because they are unopposed. Their stillness is only half stillness because so much of my photography is in this vein. Stillness only exists in polarity with motion, so if I ignore motion then I’m losing something of both.

To bring that to a point: I think by taking a closer look at things that move, I’ll find myself better able to connect with things that don’t. I want for my photography to reflect both sides of the axis and, conveniently, cities tend to be a richer playground for that than the mountains, so I’ll spend some days/nights (figuratively) off my feet.

A night out in Innsbruck

Here’s the output of that effort as the afternoon turned to night on August 16th in Innsbruck. I don’t like all these photos, particularly the next three but, in the spirit of working with the garage door open, here they are.

People are a pretty reliable subject for motion, so I started there. An intersection with cars and people crossing seemed a sensible place to practice, but the result (the first of these two) is just stillness + people, no motion. We’ll come back to people. The second photo (tram) definitely has motion but ends up looking sloppy because I set the shutter too slow so there’s no stillness in the smeared background to balance the motion in the fore. So motion yes, but no stillness and no people. The third image has blurred motion in the tram, frozen motion in the cyclist, stillness in the background and in the woman bending to tie her shoe. Too bad it’s not at all interesting to look at.

Putting it together

Later in the evening I got away from the bright lights of Innsbruck’s main drag and sought out the places that photos often go to die — the shadows. In little lane ways and in places where the skaters roam I found a few opportunities for motion.

The first: two people (and a dog), one in motion, one not. I like that the effect of one facing away and the other being blurred makes them both anonymous. The frozen motion in the mural behind adds something to the effect too I think.

This one was my favourite of the evening, two skateboarders just barely there, one coming off the ramp as another launches toward it. I cropped in to an anamorphic/widescreen format (2.39:1) which made for a much better frame. I like the ghosting effect in both figures and I tried drawing that out a bit more by dropping the colour below, but I prefer it as shot. In the process I noticed for the first time that their is a third person in the frame, adding a little to the spookiness.

Down below is the moment after, sending it along the top slope in a grind, but he is too far into the shadow by then. I could probably tease more dynamic range out of the darkness but I don’t think it would save it.

Then it’s both a crop and the full frame of a cyclist passing in front of a merry go round. I really wanted to nail this one but it was tricky to shoot from the other side of a busy intersection, hand holding at a low shutter, and I missed focus, ideally the lights of the ride would have been sharp in the frame. I can’t decide if the crop helps: it raises the motion but kills the context. Probably a wash.

Now that you’re motion sick, I’ll leave you with a slightly more experimental photo, the only one not from the 16th, playing with a slow shutter and introducing motion to a still scene with a backwards lean. The wispy trails mimic imagery of souls in ascendance. It took several tries to get a usable image, and it’s not perfect, but I like the effect and will try and remember to revisit the technique again.

If ever I do leave Innsbruck, I’ll be headed in the direction of Italy.