Source unknown – Title unknown (19XX)
It’s one thing to direct one person to stand here or there, glance through the viewfinder, weave and bob for a bit in order to find an acceptable frame before clicking the shutter.
It’s another altogether to make a frame work with multiple people.
And to be fair: the above only works halfway. Here I think its more productive to approach what doesn’t work first.
For a photograph to demand a modicum of detective work of the viewer is not necessarily a bad thing insofar as the image provides enough context for a diligent viewer to at least attempt to ‘solve’ the mystery given only the presented visual evidence.
Here I think arguably the best starting point is to ask: what in blazes are the women at 5 o’clock and 9:30 doing?
An answer is implied–if only winkingly; note at frame left: the cups on the end table and the bottle between the table leg and the base of the couch.
Thus, I don’t think it’s really that much of a stretch to presume everyone is a bit soused.
(And with that context, the woman at 9:30′s mien becomes much easier to ‘read’–she’s so intoxicated she’s on the threshold of blacking out.)
My experience suggests the binge drinking explanation is correct. For example: Among my friends it’s a well established fact that given a fifth of vodka, my ability to navigate the finer points of sitting on a couch grows progressively jumbled. I’m certain I’ve ended up in a position mirroring the woman at 5 o’clock on more occasions than I should admit publicly. (Ed. Note: this is why the author’s friends no longer allow them to consume vodka under any circumstances whatsoever.)
So although the poses are at best odd (and more likely awkward), the information offered suggests a clear explanation.
Compounding the oddity and or awkwardness of the poses is the flash. Note: the way Ms-Stretching-Her-Back-And-Staring-Up-At-The-Ceiling casts a ugly shadow Ms Approaching-Black-Out-Drunk.
However, although this aspect of the flash doesn’t work, it was a great choice in other regards. It de-emphasizes the reflective qualities of the mirror and renders a super flattering even light on the woman sitting on the couch back. (Who, I have to add looks uncannily like a dear friend–it’s partly her facial features and partly the foot on the other woman’s knee, which is exactly the sort of thing my friend would do while mugging for the camera. Also, I’m probably the only one here but the position of the mirror and the vertical frame remind me of my third favorite painting of all time–Van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Wedding Party.)
Okay, so there’s some clumsy shit here: the ambiguity about what’s happening and the cast shadow. The ambiguity is–to my mind–clearly ameliorated given the broader context of the photograph. The cast shadow is a definitely detracts but since its a result of the flash and the flash adds an undeniably immediacy to the moment, what is one to do?
It’s likely the photographer already had their back–quite literally–against the wall. Given the couch and the mirror on the wall, the vertical frame is both logically appropriate and aesthetically wise. (A horizontal frame could’ve probably allowed for positioning the women within the frame better/having their relative positions in the frame relate to one another more organically; but it would almost certainly have compromised the intimate feeling that the vertical frame conveys here.)
Perhaps, it would’ve been possible to shift Ms-Stretching-Her-Back-And-Staring-Up-At-The-Ceiling ever so slightly left and then cheating Ms Approaching-Black-Out-Drunk right by a hair.
But a better way would’ve been to only include three people. (Whenever possible it’s always better to work with odd numbers of people. As anyone with a lot of freckles and a tendency to tune out when people drone on about boring shit knows: any three non-linear dots form a triangle, so odd numbered groupings, with a little thought and organization can be arranged into to triangular configurations.)