Book Review: Visual Stories - Behind the Lens with Vincent Laforet
New Riders Press, 2011, $54.99 (264p), ISBN-10: 0321793927, ISBN-13: 978-0321793928
As Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Vincent Laforet transitions away from still photography and more towards film and video, he looks back at his photojournalistic and commercial career and shares some of his hard-won wisdom and technique in this engaging book.
Part of the ever-growing 'here’s-what-I-was-thinking-when-I-took-this-shot' genre of photo technique books, Behind the Lens stands apart for two primary reasons: Mr. Laforet’s shots are extraordinary and his thoughts when he took them are revelatory. Many enthusiasts engage in the idle fantasy that with right access and the right gear, they could get the same shots as the high-end pros, but Laforet’s obsessive quest for the right angle, the perfectly timed composition, and the illuminating expression (backed by dozens of tricks of the trade) illustrate that intent, vision, and skill are what truly make a great photographer.
In style, Laforet’s imagery veers more toward grand symphonic than string quartet - the brassiness, exuberance, scale, and guts of his imagery demonstrate his interest in painting on a broad photographic canvas. In fact, much of his best work is aerial and even with a potentially vast vista, Laforet shows how he can organize elements into a telling and graphic moment (e.g. a Coney Island beach, Central Park ice skaters, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina).
In chatty and anecdote-driven prose, Laforet covers many areas of basic technique. His writing is strongest when covering sports and lens choices, as when he articulates the importance of finding the ideal placement for the frame and then waiting for the 'apex of emotion' or a 'sustenation moment' during a sporting event. In explaining lens choice, he cautions against choosing a lens for how much or little you want in the frame. Rather, he urges the reader to choose lenses primarily for the way they render depth perception and to what extent they widen or compress the scene.
Though this easy-to-read book can occasionally be repetitive, turning the page to find another striking frame makes the repeat anecdotes, examples, and shots easy to forgive. Perhaps Laforet will ultimately take his cue from Stanley Kubrick and smoothly transition from an accomplished photographer to accomplished filmmaker. One thing his book makes plain: Laforet is already a masterful visual storyteller.
Adam Koplan is head of the Performance Department at the Dreamyard Project which brings arts programs to NYC schools. He is also Artistic Director of The Flying Carpet Theatre Co. Follow him on Twitter @FlyingCarpetNYC