Sunday, November 28, 2004

Independent on Sunday: Window of Opportunity

The Broader Picture, by Keith Laidlaw
Photographs by Max Forsythe

There is beauty that passes us by every day as we travel though the world; images that are there for an instant and then are gone just as quickly. Capturing these moments on film as they flash by is rather like bottling lightning, but this is exactly what photographer Max Forsythe has set out to do in his new book Drive by Shooting.

The resulting collection of pictures - taken during Forsythe's travels over the past year - are at once foreign and familiar: foreign, because of the surreal mixture of locations, subjects and colours; yet familiar, because they are framed by the unmistakable shapes of a car's interior. The curves of the windows and silhouetted mirrors leave you in no doubt about your point of perspective and, instantly, give you a strong sense of place, no matter what weird and wonderful events happen to be going on in the world outside.

They could be a set of stills from the film of his life. This cinematic feeling is enhanced by the wide, panoramic format, which he chose to use simply because it was "windscreen-shaped". Photographing from inside a car also adds to the sense of movement. The images seem almost accidental, and their beauty is enhanced by the knowledge that they are so fleeting.

"The moments were such that you couldn't orchestrate them, and very often you couldn't predict them," explains Forsythe. "All you could do was put yourself in the way of them and hope that you captured them."

Of course, this spontaneous, point-and-shoot approach leads to a fairly high failure rate - the majority of pictures you take will either miss what the eye sees or simply end up out of focus or incorrectly exposed. But this is a necessary part of what attracted Forsythe to the project in the first place. "Suddenly a photograph is there in front of you and you get it in a second and walk on," he says. "For me that is more thrilling than having spent two days setting something up."

Forsythe believes this basic concept can be traced all the way back to French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue, who took pictures of seemingly mundane, unposed domestic scenes in the early 20th century to reveal something far more profound about people's ordinary lives. "If you stop things, if you stop motion, then you show somebody something they haven't seen before," he says. "You freeze a moment so that you can examine it in a lot more detail."

As well as having a wonderful, wide-eyed instinct for the unusual, Forsythe also has a childlike enthusiasm for colour. "I think real life is in full colour, not in black- and-white. So, as well as things that might be compositionally or in other ways interesting, I am also very attracted to something that is quite childishly bright."

This is also a reaction against the seemingly widespread belief that only monochrome images can be truly artistic. "Traditionally, the vast majority of photographers have been scared rigid of colour. Black-and-white was what you did for art and colour was what you got from Boots when you got back from holiday. It is astonishing that someone like Cartier-Bresson went through his whole life, right into the 1950s and 1960s, and didn't shoot colour. So few photographers actually seize that opportunity."

These images not only demonstrate that photography still has the power to reveal new and astonishing things about the world around us, but also remind us of the rich rewards to be had simply by travelling through our lives with our eyes wide open.

'Drive by Shooting' by Max Forsythe is published by Booth-Clibborn Editions, priced £25