June 26, 2017 at 1:57 pm #14402
I recently posted this picture on the CPS Flickr Group:
I guess that folk may find it odd, if not daft. So I thought it might be helpful for me to say a bit about why it interested me – and why I didn’t just delete it immediately from my camera as a mistake!
Perhaps the most important thing to say at the outset is that this is a picture. It isn’t a record ‘of’ something; it isn’t meant as a means merely for recreating before your eyes the objects that were in front of the camera when the shutter was pressed. It is, instead, only concerned with ‘picture stuff’. Of course, the picture comprises recognisable elements – an arm, a clothed woman’s torso, part of a face, some human figures, etc. But these are, in one sense, merely the design elements out of which the picture is built.
A picture of this sort is concerned with what we think and feel when we look at it – as an expression of something or some things, offered visually on a flat surface – rather than about matters such as what was going on in the physical world in front of the camera, who the people are, or other ‘narrative’ concerns beyond the picture itself. It is essentially to do with what the viewer experiences through the means of shapes, forms, patterns, textures, and colour, arranged according to some visual design. But this only works if the viewer attends to the picture itself, rather than getting lost in thinking and speculating about some story that ‘explains’ the content of the picture, in an effort to build a rational account of ‘what was going on’ when the shutter was pressed.
As a picture, it is a formal visual arrangement of shapes on a surface, which the viewer may experience as pleasing, striking, moving, disturbing or whatever. And as such, it is an almost abstract thing. Thus, in the picture presented here, one level of what interests me is the geometry of the woman’s body and its gesture in the frame, separated by various formal attributes from the background (tonal contrast; proximity; the orientation towards the viewer in contrast to other figures that are turned away; etc). I like the strong formal alignment of elements parallel to the descending diagonal (top-left to bottom-right) ; and the set of simple alignments with the four golden ratio lines that the shape and proportions of the frame imply as a grid on which the picture is organised.
But what’s interesting in the attitude of the pictured human figure is the gesture, here isolated and almost abstracted. There is just ‘pointing’, but nothing being pointed at. I find something intriguing and mysterious about the force of this gesture of itself, without its being ‘earthed’ or ‘discharged’ by some object pointed at into which our attention would then drain away. The feeling of this gesture, stark and powerful, is hard to put into words – but that’s why this is a picture and not a poem!
Another element that interested me is the woman’s lower jaw, to which the line of the arm connects backwards as a ‘leading line’. I was very struck by the way that the teeth of the lower jaw almost grip the edge of the frame, and call to mind the famous picture by Garry Winogrand, expressing the frustrated rage of a captive bear at the New York zoo:
And this cross-reference makes the picture of the woman’s gesture vibrate with a different set of emotional echoes.
There’s more one could say about all this — and that’s without even considering all the other responses that may be stirred in other viewers. But I hope I’ve been able to give some idea of what made this picture interesting to me. The complex responses that pictures elicit are not easy to put into words. But that’s why we make pictures, in the hope that their viewers will be open to the mysterious ripples of feeling, emotion, and association that our visual arrangements may give rise to.June 26, 2017 at 6:29 pm #14406
Nobody has done more than you, Ian, to broaden our appreciation of the intellectual possibilities of photography.
Personally, studying these aspects of photography has greatly increased my interest, enjoyment and, dare I say, confidence in my own work.
June 26, 2017 at 9:43 pm #14409June 26, 2017 at 9:44 pm #14410
- This reply was modified 1 year, 3 months ago by ajroyle.
John means like this–I’m the guy that found the lost chord.!!!!!June 26, 2017 at 9:55 pm #14411
Good subject!June 27, 2017 at 5:55 am #14412
Thanks, John. (But you were telling people about James Ravilious a long time ago!)June 27, 2017 at 3:29 pm #14413
I’ve just been watching ‘The Art Of Japanese Life’ on BBC Four, in which the presenter, art historian Dr James Fox, gave an interesting short summary of what makes a work of art: technique; form; meaning; symbolism. And it struck me that photographers often concentrate on the first two at the expense of the second two.June 27, 2017 at 4:21 pm #14414
Very enjoyable programme.What a contrast between the sparse, elegant, intensely composed ikebana and those ludicrously cluttered tiny rooms depicted in Suzuki’s photographs.
Of course the answer is that it is commercialism that is to blame. They are just being sold things!June 27, 2017 at 4:41 pm #14415
Indeed – but it also gets tricky if, unlike the guys in the old “I’m sorry, I’ll read that again” sketch, you really are living in a shoe box!June 28, 2017 at 9:11 am #14417
Regarding Ian’s picture, I think it’s not about the subject mater but the shapes and composition. My eye initially captures the ladies white top and then follows her pointing arm. Like Ian says it asks the question what is she pointing at. I think the photograph is dominated by diagonal lines leading from top right to bottom left and they give the picture its strength.
I wouldn’t expect a photograph like this to do well in a camera club competition as it’s outside the ‘rules’ the judges teach us. Work that is a bit more creative and off beat doesn’t usually go down well with the judges. I think club photography is more concerned with subject matter rather than content. Photographs like this have their own strength.June 28, 2017 at 9:22 am #14418
But what validity do those rules have? The answer is; none. They are simply guides to make your picture easy to perceive.
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