Posted by: benshelor | November 5, 2008

Photography Critique

Mountain dweller on horseback. Xinaliq Village. Azerbaijan. June


The National Geographic Society’s “All Roads” film and photography competition has seen some of the best photography by young artists from across the world. In the tradition of other National Geographic photographers, these young people have captured images that have captivated and provoked viewers today and in the future.

Perhaps the most visually impactful image of the most recent “All Roads” competition came from that of young photographer Rena Effendi. The image of a mountain horseman from the country of Azerbaijan, entitled simply “mountain dweller on horseback,” is a stunning display of the landscape and provides immediate indication of the status of the man pictured in the middle of the frame. While the picture was taken very recently, the dress and pose (in combination with the muted colors of the background and surroundings and the lack of any modern references) make the scene seem as if it could be decades, even centuries, old and gives indication of the deep tradition of this isolated region. The dark but vibrant colors of the figure in the foreground of the frame draw the viewer’s eye as the background fades into more dull colors as the shot aims into the high mountains. The flowing green hills give way to high mountains as the green fades into the light of the sky. The photograph makes excellent use of the proper visual techniques to keep the viewer interested: the characters in the frame are placed in the bottom part of the shot which is angled up into the surrounding hills.

An image of the past that connects with the modern image captured by Effendi comes from the late Thomas Abercrombie, a famous member of the National Geographic Photography team that for decades brought the western world captivating pictures of his adventures from across the planet. His long-exposure shot of the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca during the Hajj (the annual trip to the religious shrine by Muslims from all over the world) stands out as one of the best of his many photographs. The excellent use of long exposure to show the slow movement of the crowd and his mastery of the lighting effects around the frame make the picture truly stunning. Abercrombie himself was a Muslim and was allowed to take the picture from a vantage point that very few western photographers were allowed to see because of his faith.

While the pictures created by these two photographers are simple breathtaking, what makes them truly come to life in the mind and eye of the viewer is their symbolism of the experience both of the subjects captured in the frame and the photographer behind the lens. Effendi and Abercrombie are/were (Abercrombie died in 2006) both of the Muslim faith but came from very different backgrounds. Effendi was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1977; Abercrombie in Minnesota in 1930. Effendi in her work captures the world around her in Azerbaijan (although she has become known also for her work in nearby Afghanistan); in so doing capturing peoples and places trapped decades or centuries behind the western world. She became a full-time photographer only in 2001 and has experienced travels much like those of Abercrombie and his fellow photographers at National Geographic living amongst the people she is studying. Abercrombie traveled the world on assignment for the publication- from Alaska to Saudi Arabia and everywhere in between. While the photographers came from extremely different backgrounds, their experience in capturing events and peoples around them seems to have been similar.


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