The Pensive Artist, Montreal 2010

The Pensive Artist

“If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera” – Lewis Hine.

Great photographs tell a story.  Or rather, great photographs make us tell a story – and the more they make us think, and the more we wonder, the longer they are remembered.  That enigmatic smile has kept the Mona Lisa going since 1504.

Once again on the summer streets of Montreal, I captured these two young women sharing a private and humorous moment beside a street artist’s stand.  I was struck by the contrast between the animated women, with their close connection and private humor, and the artist’s bored and somewhat grumpy expression. Clearly, the two women found something amusing in one of the artist’s drawings.  Yet he is totally disengaged from the moment and his potential customers.  Are they making fun of his art?  Or he just tired of baking in Montreal’s sweltering summer heat and listening to silly tourists?  The possibilities are endless.

Processing this image was challenging.  The artist sheltered in the shade under an umbrella, while the women and distant pedestrians were bathed in Montreal’s scorching summer light, stretching the exposure latitude of the film.  Careful adjustments in Curves pulled down some of the highlights and brought out the details in the shadows.  Repeated adjustments to brightness and contrast maximized detail in the highlights, but some of the most highly exposed areas still burned out.  The image is not perfect, but the connection (and the lack of it) between the characters makes the picture.

The image was captured on XP-2 using the Ross lens on the Ensign 820, with the flaps set for 6x9cm format.