Un instant avec ElleMyself, intimate moment (2015)

So here’s a picture which proves an exception to the rule of my general distaste for close-ups in image making.

The gist of my objection is that by diminishing contextual cues with regards to setting (interior, exterior), orientation relative to other subjects (or lack of other subjects for that matter) in a given space, time of day, historical epoch, etc., etc., the information the image can clearly convey is severely truncated. This truncation has a tendency to be employed to foster a sort of forced intimacy–this is especially true with regard to portraiture, where seeing something with one’s own eyes up close invites the viewer to bridge the absence of detailed information with a sort of god-like omniscience; or–to state it in a less abstract fashion–the close-up encourages spinning the inherent lack of certainty as to the identity of the subject into a sort of nebulous knowing predicated upon predictable tropes and societal preconceptions. The close-up works–more often than not–because it gives the viewer permission to fill in a number of blanks. And while this is the base nature of the eternal question with regard to what the frame includes and excludes, typically, I feel like close-ups encourage the viewer to fill in blanks they quite frankly have no business filling in.

This image succeeds partly due to its simplicity. There’s a balance between the warm tone light and the dense shadow space, a similar equivalence between smooth skin-tone and texture; also, flatness and dimensionality–the subtle shadows imposed by the musculature are luminous here.

The composition doesn’t quite work: one triangle is formed from the vertices of the shadow space adjacent to the left hip, between the legs and in the fall off at the right hip; while either leg form vertices with an implicit third point at the navel just beyond the lower edge of the frame. This results in the image having an unbalanced visual heft–with the scale tipping slightly to frame right, undermining the careful balance so stunningly apparent throughout the rest of the image.

However, there is one incredible astute conceptual conceit managing to eclipse this minor transgressions. It’s sort of hard to explain it but try something: invert the image and look at it; now, return it to it’s normal orientation. There is a way in which the grammar of an image suggests that the bottom of the frame is closer to viewer and the top of the frame is further way. Orienting the frame as above makes the action depicted not for the viewer. (Given the angle of the frame it’s not strictly a POV perspective either. In tandem with the caption, an intriguing tension is created between a voyeurism one is allowed to observe even though they are not invited to participate with.)

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