March 22, 2013 at 8:13 pm #3577
I did take some photos for the monthly ‘Diagonal’ assignment, but never got around to entering them. So I’m cheating a bit by by starting this thread on the theme.
I took this picture many years ago on slide film in an Athens museum. I thinks it’s quiet interesting as it has two subjects in opposite corners with a fairly empty middle, but there is an invisible, implied diagonal link between the two. I chose this angle because I didn’t want to disturb the artist and there wasn’t much room to move around. Do you think the two are too far apart? Does it help or hinder the picture with the subjects being in opposite corners? What do you think team?
March 23, 2013 at 9:54 am #3579
Although we see the connection straight away the link would be firmer if the artist was looking at the bust.
I actual fact you have another link in the picture; the artist, the bust and the plaque could be the same girl. For perfection I would like to have seen the plaque placed between the girl and bust, but I like it very much.March 23, 2013 at 7:37 pm #3580
Thanks John. I agree it would be stronger if she was looking at the bust as she could be drawing something else. A step to my left would have moved the plaque in front of the girl which would have placed it better.It was too heavy to move it there!March 23, 2013 at 10:37 pm #3581
This seemed a very strong image to me, but I couldn’t immediately see why. However, I looked at the geometry of the composition more carefully, and it became clear that it was very well constructed. (I’m not saying you thought about it this way when taking the shot, Pete; just that your eye arranged the framing in a way that had this effect.) So here’s a quick sketch of how it seems to me:
The main diagonal AB (it’s called the ‘Sinister diagonal’ by some) connects the sculpture’s eye with the artist’s drawing hand, as if the sculpture is carefully watching the artist at work. The artist herself is located by the important line XY that hits AB at right angles. (XY is therefore technically known as a ‘reciprocal’ – an important feature of compositional geometry.) XY touches the top of the artist’s head, and locates the line of her neck and spine in the pose she is taking while working; and this line that defines her pose is parallel to the strong diagonal AB, connecting her bodily attitude to the main emphasis in the image. And the tilt of her head is parallel to XY – shown by the line I’ve drawn connecting her eye to the main diagonal; and the angle of her pencil – clearly an important element in the photograph – is also parallel to XY.
(There are also connections in this geometrical organisation with the relief sculpture on the wall behind – one is that the reciprocal links to the hand of the figure there; but there are other parallels, not least of which is that the attitude of the figure’s head and neck in the relief echoes exactly that that of the artist’s head and neck. However this all got too complicated to include in the diagram!)
The overall effect is to create a tight integration between the bodily pose and activity of the artist and the eye of the sculpture. Think of this geometry as what someone doing a life drawing of this person would have been at pains to build the drawing on. And here we see Pete building his photograph on this compositional structure. Brilliant!!!
Very well seen and photographed, Pete!March 23, 2013 at 10:58 pm #3582
Many thanks Ian for taking the time and trouble to do this in depth analysis of my photo. I thought you wouldn’t be able to resist. It’s quiet amazing how it worked out that way because I certainly didn’t plan it to fall in line with those composition rules. I was restricted by the walls and other exhibits so I chose the best angle I could find. I liked the result, but couldn’t really understand why it seemed to work so you’ve clarified that. Sort of! I liked the way the sculpture was ‘watching’ the artist at work almost checking her work.March 24, 2013 at 4:51 am #3583
You’re quite right, Pete: the sort of coherence in the composition of a picture as we see it here is not something you can plan, but something you ‘register’ almost intuitively – though you have to have a lot of experience to be on the ball enough to register it!
The momentary alignment of many elements of the geometry of a picture that we see in your shot is what Cartier-Bresson calls ‘the decisive moment’. It’s a fleeting instant when things have ‘accidentally’ arranged themselves into the sort of visual coherence that a painter spends hours carefully organising on a canvas. But the photographer has only an instant in which to notice through the viewfinder that everything ‘looks right’ without exactly knowing why. (It’s only afterwards that we may work out why, as I have started to do above.)
However, the mere visual alignment of various elements in geometric coherence is not by itself enough to make a telling image. The compositional geometry has to support the meaning of the picture. And we see that happening in your photograph: the geometrical relationships between the artist and the two sculptures are a sort of metaphor for the deeper relationship between an artist and art works; the way in which your picture holds these three in a coherent pattern of connections expresses something quite profound about the nature of an artist, the things artists make and the human significance of that creative work.
(I particularly like the way the sculptured head she is drawing is looking back at her working in a rather quizzical, perhaps even dubious, way – a sense of challenging confrontation from the work itself that many artists must feel! But the figure on the plaque behind her swirls upwards as if rising out of her head, the curves of its body and garments flowing upwards in a continuation of the curves of her hair and body, as if it were her soul or spirit manifesting itself in the room as she works; and the three elements – the sculptured head, the artist and the plaque – stand in dynamic tension, seeming to express the striving of the artist’s creativity to overcome the recalcitrant material she works with. Stunning!)
This is what Cartier-Bresson really means by ‘the decisive moment’ that the photographer has to seize, and that the painter spends hours striving for: the coherence between the compositional geometry and the meaning and import of the picture. It’s the difference between a picture of something and a picture about something. Yours is very definitely a picture about something.
Indeed, I’m inclined to say it’s one of the best photographs I’ve ever seen a club photographer make. (Sadly, it’s probably too subtle and sophisticated to be appreciated in a competition; but Cartier-Bresson would have just loved it!)
Very well done, Pete. (And if you’re making prints, can I have one?)
PS The image below shows some of the relationships I refer to in this post. The main diagonal and alignments of elements parallel to it are the green straight lines. Alignments of elements parallel to the reciprocal are blue straight lines. (Rectangles built on parallel diagonals or their reciprocals are all similar shapes, with sides in the same ratio as the frame; by this means, a painter elaborates the proportions of the frame across the canvas, keeping forms and shapes based on the diagonals in constant relation to each other, whether those forms and shapes are large or small. By capturing the moment where these alignments exist, the photographer creates a coherent and tightly integrated image.) The wavy blue lines are intended to indicate the ‘arabesque’ of curves that connect the form of the artist with the form of the sculpture on the plaque.
March 24, 2013 at 7:42 pm #3584
That’s quite a heavy explanation and I think I get the gist of it. Thank you very much for the lengthy details and your kind comments. Flattery will get you every where! I mislead you a bit earlier. I’ve checked the details and it was taken in Rome’s Capitol Hill museum in May,2008 with my Canon 5D and my old 28-135 lens. This was really more of a happy accident than a planned event, but I do find that, like you say, with experience I get to ‘feel’ a composition I like when I see the elements come together. I’ll never be a Cartier-Bresson but it’s good have a picture with his style and insight to why it works.
I’ll be happy to email you a high quality jpeg if you can let me have you email address.March 24, 2013 at 8:19 pm #3585
Happy accidents are good – certainly, I rely on them a lot! But I suspect we do things from long experience without really thinking about it: it just ‘looks right’!
Thanks for the offer of a jpg, Peter. I’ve sent you a ‘private message’ with my email address.
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