Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

Working on this blog for the last four years, the seed of an idea has taken root, grown. More and more, I am of a mind that there is something not unlike a visual grammar which applies to image making.

I’m not sure it’s fully formed enough of a notion at this point and I’m probably going to disavow what I’m about to bumbling attempt six months down the road but here goes:

I think when one looks at an image one does so with a question–whether conscious or not: what does this tell me?

In the case above, the image seems fixated upon itself as ‘pretty’. (The initial response to the question what does this tell me? is rarely more than a cursory, instinctive response–in other words, it’s acritical.)

What follows my own notion that this image is ‘pretty’ are questions about genre and form that occur in tandem. This is ostensibly a portrait. It’s presentation is very studio-esque; however, removed as it is from a studio, it is also a landscape.

This second point is heightened by the way the image emphasizes physical location in a manner similar to strategies codified by pictoralism, i.e. the off-balance composition and the way light is subtly sculpted–there’s likely a bounce board of some sort reflecting the light so it accentuates the model’s face.

At this juncture, I am inclined to ask why her shirt is unbuttoned. She’s sitting in the shade, so it’s not to get a tan. And of all people I understand the instinctive desire to be naked in nature; but her pose suggest she is about to nod off.

The Baby’s Breath she’s collected in a basket explains her presence–and also reminds me of John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia. Further, her outfit is strange. The turquoise of her skirt seems very modern and clashes with her blouse, which could–with a certain squint–strike one as provincial.

My own inclination is to look closer to make sure I’m not missing cues that might, if not rememdy, then better focus my questions. But there are no further answers and instead I begin to notice all the things that diminish this image’s overall quality: the way the bounce that’s directing such flattering light onto her face also is highlight the tangle of low hanging limbs over her left shoulder, the weird motion blur at her knees contributing a sense of tension which contradicts everything else in the image.

I walk away from viewing this with the idea that the image maker had something in mind more along the lines of the gorgeous work Owen Gray has made with Dolly Leigh but either failed to achieve it or (more likely) neglected to communicate the true impetus of the image to the model.

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