When the Back View Looks Good

If you can’t see a subject’s face, your picture becomes an illustration of the subject’s figure. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I guess it depends on the subject — and her figure.

Her figure? Sorry to mislead you. This post is not about taking sexy photos of people from behind. It’s about those rare occasions when the back view is more relevant to the story than the front.

The fact is: by reducing people to “figures” you can sometimes say a lot more about them. This is especially true if they happen to be carrying an interesting object on their back.

The Basket Man
My featured image (above) is an example. Here’s a man who’s selling some really splendid baskets. You can tell he’s well-liked in the community by the respectful glances he’s getting from the stallholders. We don’t really need to see his face because we can see the faces of those who are looking at him.

What’s more: we get to see the baskets to their best advantage. They fill a good proportion of the image space with their delightful textures. In a rapidly changing scene, it’s good to see some fine-quality workmanship which has taken many hours to execute.

The Chimney Sweeps
When I think of chimney sweeps I’m always reminded of Charles Dickens and Oliver Twist. But there’s nothing old-fashioned or Dickensian about the two sweeps in my next photo. In fact, they could well be actors on their way to a wedding.

fake chimney sweeps

Most people have central heating and the days of the chimney sweep have long since gone from our towns and cities. You can still find them in the countryside, but, even there, “Chimney Sweep Hire” is more likely to be for a wedding than a chimney.

From my childhood I remember our local chimney sweep and he looked nothing like these guys with their trendy yellow and red backpacks, tight jeans and clean brushes. He was old, gnarled and ragged, and invariably covered in soot.

Why do people hire chimney sweeps (even fake ones) for weddings? They’re supposed to bring good luck to the bride and groom. Back in the 18th century, a small dog frightened a horse that was being ridden by King George II in a royal procession. A chimney sweep brought it under control, but disappeared before the king could thank him. The king said that from that day forward all sweeps should be regarded as lucky.

Even Prince Philip on his wedding to Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth is said to have left Kensington Palace at 11.00am to shake hands with a chimney sweep. Whether he would have wished to shake hands with an actor playing the role of a chimney sweep is open to question.

Red Backpack
Finally, here’s an everyday street scene (below) in which one young woman shows us the best way of carrying items in a bag. Her red backpack is so much neater than the carrier bags and shoulder bags carried by the others.

young woman with red backpack

Normally, good street photographers prefer to show people facing the camera, or at least have their heads turned slightly in the onlooker’s direction. Without the glimpse of a face there’s a tendency for an image to be impersonal and remote.

I think I get the best of both worlds in this image: smiling faces from the two girls on the left and an interesting, cross-legged back view of the central figure. We can only wonder what she looks like from the front.

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