Why Buildings Matter

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Over the last few years I’ve given numerous talks, run various workshops and taught lots of people about how I work. When asked for advice on how to take good parkour photographs my answers include: take a LOT of shots, get low, use a wide angle lens, use a fast shutter speed, pre-focus, don’t put the body in the middle of the frame, create space underneath the body to increase the sense of height – lots of rules that work about eighty to ninety percent of the time. Of course there are plenty of other ways to capture parkour but this is what works for me and forms the basis of my approach.

I’ve since realised that amongst these rules there is one that works for me almost one hundred percent of the time when creating what I call ‘performance’ shots: the architecture must determine the frame. I don’t track the body’s movement with my lens; I compose in advance, visualising where the body will be, all within a frame that is decided by the shapes and surfaces in front of me. Within many of my pictures, the body is almost incidental. If it were to be removed, you would hopefully be left with a photograph that is still effective in terms of its composition.

This led me to question why it works out this way. For me, the interesting aspect of parkour is not the movement itself but rather its physicality combined with the architecture. Without architecture, parkour is just gymnastics or dance. This is not to say that these disciplines aren’t interesting, it’s just that parkour’s significance comes from its setting. When you take it off the streets and into a studio or amongst purpose-built structures, parkour loses both its impact and its importance as a spectacle.

Our feeling for what impresses us is linked to an understanding of familiar textures and surroundings and seeing them negotiated in new ways. It’s when I’m able to capture the perfect form of both body and building together that I’m able to produce my best photographs.

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