Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

The ubiquity of built in flash systems (point and shoot devices, smart phones, prosumer dSLRs, et al.) has fostered an understanding of the flash as a tool to increase illumination in low-light situations.

A clearer way of putting it might be to say that a flash is increasingly treated as a key light thus relegating ambient light to the function of a fill light.

This is in keeping with magnesium flash lamps of the late 19th century and the flashbulbs of the early-to-mid 20th century. Slowly, studio photography appropriated the flash in service of painstakingly orchestrated lighting design. There are and will continue to be outliers–Diane Arbus, for example, used a flash in a great deal of her exterior shots as a means of separating the subject from the background.

But strictly speaking if the purpose of a photograph is to freeze time, then a flash is meant to freeze motion. (Consider that most flashes have a maximum shutter sync (on the slow end) of 1/250th of a second. For those who aren’t die hard shutter bugs: ignoring film speed and aperture, it’s usually only possible to take a picture hand-held–without camera shake–down to about 1/30th of a second with an SLR type system. Rangefinders give you a bit deeper of a basement; I can operate handheld sans noticeable shake with a rangefinder down to about 1/8th of a second.)

I’m being overly persnickety and pedantic on this point because the flash here is not only the key light in this scene. It’s a motivated key light–it’s easy to think that there’s a lamp overhead and that’s the source of the light (even if an overhead lamp would never give off that much or that sharp of a reflected illumination).

The motion that is being frozen is not a sudden, dynamic motion–stretching the languid, perhaps even somewhat tender moment of this pulling of foreskin into the realm of the timeless and infinite.

It also reminds me of William Eggleston’s The Red Ceiling due to the similarities in the way the use of flash interacts with the composition and the way in which how what is seen (it’s aesthetic) is emphasized over what is seen.

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