Olli Thomson

Talking Pictures – Running Boys

This is, I believe, the earliest picture on display in my main galleries. It was taken in Munich during the annual Corpus Christi procession on 22 May 2008, about six weeks after I arrived in the city with my first serious digital camera, the Sony A200. The procession is long, slow and solemn but enlivened by the international representation of Catholics from across the world who are living in Munich, many of them processing in national costume.

This shot, taken with the kit 18-70 lens supplied with the A200, was one of a sequence of three I took. The first was a picture of the nuns only. I liked the repetition of patterns in the columns of walking nuns and in their simple black and white garb. This featured shot was the second. I hadn’t intended to take it but I saw the boys coming running from my right and thought it might make a good picture if I could get them in the frame with the nuns.

The timing was guesswork. Shooting with my right eye, I could not see the boys approaching once I put my eye to the viewfinder (no live view on the A200) so I had to wait for them to enter the frame and try to react quickly enough. I managed to take this and one other shot with the boys in the frame but the latter missed focus and was unusable. Thankfully I got lucky with this one, though it did require some cropping. So a mixture of judgement and luck then – judgement to see the possibilities of the shot; luck in the arrangement of the shot at the moment I pressed the shutter button.

This picture is all about contrasts. The nuns are ordered, slow, elderly, drab; the boys are freestyle, speedy, youthful and colourful. To me the nuns convey a sense of tiredness, heaviness; the boys are all energy and lightness. I also like the interaction between the two groups as a number of the nuns look on, disapprovingly in some cases it seems, while the boys are utterly oblivious. Luck also came into play in the contrast between the frozen nuns and the motion blurred boys. I was shooting in aperture priority so the shutter speed selection that created the effect was down to the camera, not me.

Of course if I wanted to I could try and read more into this – something about the death of religion or the joylessness of belief. But I’m not inclined to. For all I know these nuns are kind and generous; the boys might be horrible brats. A photograph can only ever show the surface. At best it can trigger an interest in us to find out more, to dig beneath the surface. But photographs are fragile things. They can only bear so much interpretive weight.

The technical details: Sony A200, Sony DT 18-70 at 40mm, F7.1, 1/125, ISO200.

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