Gary Stochl (Untitled)

At a recent lecture, Alec Soth spoke about how photographs fail to tell stories, that they merely suggest them, in the same way that poetry uses metaphor to tell a deeper, lyrical story that reflects and branches out.

The best street photography tends to be in the art realm rather than journalism. Everyone’s seen the picture of the uptight businessman or the drunk on the curb. It’s the job of street photography to show us something new, something we haven’t seen before, or at least a new perspective.

I first saw this Gary Stochl photograph a few months ago, while browsing his book, and I keep thinking about it. Here’s why:

  • The photograph doesn’t tell you what it’s about, and that’s part of its allure – the question makes you linger. It’s not clear where these people are (Chicago), where they’re going, or what happened just before or just after the shot. Because the figures lack narrative grounding, they’re free to do whatever they need to do in the frame. They’re unencumbered, cut-free, and because of this freedom, are able to engage your imagination.
  • The figure in the center of the frame with the lacey top and handbag isn’t looking at the camera. She’s facing us, which allows us the opportunity to look without having to confront her gaze, or figure out what she thinks about the photographer; her attention is elsewhere, and we follow it, which sends us on a roundabout path through the picture.
  • When have you seen a picture that so clearly shows the intimacy of strangers? How/why the heck are these five (six, including the photographer) all crammed together?
  • The composition is perfectly balanced. Two left, one middle, two right. Two men, three women. Two women bookending the middle woman from both directions. Both sides of the picture anchored by arm and bosom. Each man, occupied by something other than the woman in the center of the picture
  • There’s both a compositional centering that’s happening, and a dispersing. Viewer’s focus goes into the center, and then back out to all spaces of the frame, and back.
  • Tenderness.
  • The mirroring of the hooped earring.
  • The mirroring of the ear-whisper on the left and the “maybe that’s an ear-whisper” on the right. Makes you wonder what they’re saying or about to say. Makes you wonder if the guy in the upper right is about to whisper in someone’s ear.
  • The restraint of the handbag, hemmed-in by the woman’s right arm, and how the verticalness of the handbag strap and her dress strap keep the action anchored.
  • Subjects pop from the black background. Makes you wonder if they’re all heading into (or out of) the light. Thanks, black & white!
  • Pre-digital, so you don’t have to think about whether or not the photo was shot in color and digitally converted to black and white because the dress was too distracting and the women on the left was wearing a day-glo yellow jersey.
  • The caught moment. A small speck of time actually existed in which these five people were together (like this!) and so close and moving closer (or apart) and then it was gone, and everyone went their separate way (including Stochl), but Stochl had captured something, he’d taken a small part of their day, and their lives, and now I can sit and look at it, and look again and find wonder and be amazed at what I missed the last time I looked at it.

This post opens a new category called “Second Look” where I’ll try and write about single images. Thanks for reading. Now go make pictures.

6 thoughts on “Gary Stochl (Untitled)”

  1. coincidentally, i just got this book last night. that’s the photo that made me stop and look longer than any other.

    thanks for this great series of writings.

  2. really good photo (i had the same thought about “why are they all together like this?!”). so much about it is so good. to be able to capture a moment like this definitely involves a bit of luck, as well as attention to a the eye, and walking about with the proper camera settings to start with!

    Pre-digital, so you don’t have to think about whether or not the photo was shot in color and digitally converted to black and white because the dress was too distracting and the women on the left was wearing a day-glo yellow jersey

    i wonder how many are really thinking this.

    this may be simply a point only made by a photographer for photographers.

    the black and white way more than likely *does* matter, however (regardless of how it got there,although admittedly there’s something different IMO about desaturated bw vs. ‘natural’ bw).


  3. Thanks to digital, black and white’s becoming the default medium for all those poorly exposed color shots that have annoying or distracting color fields. “Ah heck, I’ll just make it black and white!”

    I’m hoping that photographers don’t forget how to “think” in black and white, rather than just shooting color all the time and switching in post-processing.

  4. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but most people shot black & white back in the day because colour was too slow, too expensive, and too inconvenient to develop (most people had to mail it in and wait). Not to mention, many of the famous street photographers shot colour alongside their black & white work, but rarely exhibited it, either by choice or because they were unable to, since for a long time colour photography was really looked down upon.

    Also, I don’t take pictures thinking “I wonder what other photographers will think of my processing.” If that’s the case for yourself, you’re a weirdo. That’s the problem with photography these days. I highly doubt that non-photographers would look at an image and think “Wonder if he used channels or Lightroom.” This is why pros get irritated with the legions of noobs that treat them like rockstars, asking them all the wrong questions about what gear they use, what film they shot, what bag the prefer.

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