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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book


“Just what the hell is gesture?” This question has been put to me often. Of course, I have less often been asked about light or color.

I wondered if I could find a word less esoteric, more to the point. So, I went to the dictionary and I confirmed my daughter’s analysis of me as having egomaniacal tendencies by concluding that the dictionary was wrong.

One dictionary has 42 definitions of light, 30 definitions of color, but for gesture only four that concern us, and of that four, there is not one mention of gesture in the context I am interested in showing you.

Then, I turned to a thesaurus and tried to look up gesture. It led me to some alternate words, which might make it easier to understand gesture. I was led down the tortuous path that thesauruses employ to drive you nuts and, after eliminating the weird things, I’ve got a few good words that make it all a little more transparent.

Here it goes: essence (probably the best), characteristic (also good), and others like descriptive, revealing, signature, and off we go with calligraphy, indication, ad nauseam.

Gesture is the expression that is at the very heart of everything we shoot. It’s not just the determined look on a face; it’s not just the grace of a dancer or athlete. It is not only the brutalized visage of the bloodied boxer. Neither is it only limited to age, or youth, or people, or animals. It exists in a leaf, a tree, and a forest. It reveals the complicated veins of the leaf, the delta-like branches of the tree, and when seen from the air, the beautiful texture of the forest.

It reveals the essence of each thing we look at: human, mineral, or animal, or brick, stone, or metal. It doesn’t stop there. We see it in clouds, crowds, magnificent mansions, and humble huts.

We have been shooting gesture all our lives but we didn’t have the nomenclature or the compulsion to categorize it.

We have always wanted to find the “it-ness” of anything we shoot. We want to get as deep into the subject as we can.

I call it gesture. You can call it anything you like, but it involves identifying and working to get to the heart of everything you see. I said, see, not shoot, because as you become aware of it, your “seeing” will intensify your “looking” and deepen your shooting.

You will, in time, see and show others not just the superficial, but the details, the meanings, and the implications of all that you look at: the wetness, reflectivity, and power of water; the subtlety of clouds; the texture of the bark of the tree; the delightful surface of a finished piece of wood; the smoothness of a baby; the rough, ragged face of the aged; or the aerial perspective of diminishing clarity in a series of mountains.

It’s obvious that it’s not just people who have gesture. It’s in everything we look at: chairs, tables, houses, cars. If we look…it’s there.

Choose the gesture you wish to show. It will make you infinitely more aware of the world around you. It will broaden your perception and awareness of everything.

Years ago, Marlon Brando used to sit in a drug store on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway. The telephone faced 42nd Street. He would make believe he was using the phone. What he was actually doing, by his own admission, was studying people through the window. He talked about trying to be aware of how a speaker held his head when he spoke as opposed to when he was listening. Did they stand equally on both feet or was one foot taking all the weight? He was, in other words, trying to be aware of gesture.

He understood that the little eccentric things that people did gave them individuality and made them interesting. He delighted in the perception of intimate little details. When I see these things and I’m lucky enough to get them, I can’t stop grinning like an idiot.

When you get to the point that you start smiling to yourself or just bust out laughing with delight at seeing wonderful light, gesture, and color, you’re on your way.

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