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The Inevitability Of a Moment

One of the differences between painting and photography, even when they come closest in aim, is time.

A photograph, however calculated and contemplated, is by nature a faster fixing of an image than a painting can be. A painting may look remarkably spontaneous. A photograph may look as if it reproduces some indelible permanency.

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But we still know, at least subliminally, that the photograph is virtually instantaneous in the making while the painting required extended time to produce, anything from hours to years.

But once the image is fixed, both painting and photograph (all questions of materials and conservation aside), propose the same kind of unalterable state.

Looking at Dorothy Bohm's "Bond Street, London, 1996" is not unlike looking at a painting. It appears very carefully composed. It has a balance of light and shadow, space and solid, flatness and dimensionality, color and monochrome, movement and stillness that a painter of a similar subject might aim to achieve.

But Bohm is not like a painter in certain respects. She does not modify or alter the images in her photographs, nor does she even crop them. Her decisions are made with a camera on the spot and at the time. Precise choice of subject takes on a significance that a painter, who can freely edit, alter, or reconsider, need not be so concerned about.

The photographer must also accept details that cannot be eliminated. And the photographer makes split-second decisions about those parts of the subject that move.

Part of the admirable magicianship of this particular photograph is the precise positioning of the figures. In a painting, this quite rightly could be called deliberate "placing." But a photograph like this seems to involve a high degree of fortunate coincidence, as well as a quick eye. The figures are not "placed" in the least. They are moving rapidly, and an instant later the composition would have been destroyed or radically different.

IMAGINE trying to remove any of these figures, altering the play of spaces between them, or turning one of them so that he or she goes in a different direction. Something crucial would be lost. It is the same with the subtle interplay of color. Imagine the no-entry sign being any other red, or any other white.

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Imagine any of the dark-clothed figures sporting any color but black or white (finding the red tie of one of them is a game of hide-and-seek).

Imagine the minimal touches of red in this overall abstract arrangement of grays having greater prominence. Imagine the white line on the road being absent or in a different relationship to the framing edge. There is an inevitability about everything in this photograph that is a paradox when you consider its essential spontaneity.

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