urbanfaerietalesTitle Unknown (201X)

The above images are interesting–if a bit muddled. Yet, the way in which they’re muddled suggests several things to me about visual grammar. So like good Wittgensteinians, let us conduct a grammatical investigation!

A lone photo or image must stand on its own. However, as soon as you position photos or images adjacent to one another–each subtly shapes and informs how we read not just the one image or photo but how we read both of them together.

In the loosest sense there are two ways that photographs can relate to each other: as polyptychs or as sequences.

The above is not a triptych.

Strictly speaking, a diptych means ‘two-fold’. A triptych would indicate three folds. As such you can see panel A alone, panel B alone, panel C alone or panel A & B together or B & C together or A & C together or A, B & C all at once.

While polyptychs can be seen as relating to each other in a way that conveys are broader, overarching narrative–their construction is not intrinsically narrative. The each panel stands alone but that together each comment, enliven and enrich each other so that the piece as a whole comes to constitute more than the sum of its parts.

A sequence, on the other hand is fundamentally tied up with the movement of time. (To be 100% clear, a polyptych can be sequential but a sequence is not automatically a polyptych.)

There’s several things the above sequence does well. First off, the use of depth of field to direct the viewers eye is totally on point–in the first panel, only the top of the head in the foreground is in focus while everything else goes soft; in the second panel, the focus point is ever-so-slightly behind the kneeling figure; the final panel shifts the focus towards the middle ground between the two lovers.

Compositionally, the first and last panel are #skinnyframebullshit–there is absolutely no effing reason given the frame that vertical orientation contributes fuck all to the logical consistency of the whole.

In the first panel, the way the supine figure’s legs open up to the room begs for landscape orientation, further given the narrative auspices of the piece as a whole–it’s extraordinarily poor form to employ portrait orientation.)

The contrast and overall tonal range are best in the third panel; however, the frame feels constricted; it makes me nervous that it’s so clearly supposed to be set in this room but the view of the room is so claustrophobically limited.

The second panel is actually a fabulous example of when a vertical orientation actually serves a goddamn purpose–the frame reads up and down and by fitting it to a form that is predisposed to that sort of scanning, the image maker employs the appropriate visual grammar to convey to the viewer how to best engage with the image.

In summary, there is a great deal of raw potential here. I’m of a mind that this would’ve been more effective if all the images had been landscape oriented or if the second panel had been extracted and presented independent of the others (I do think you’d lose something but the image is strong enough to stand on its own).

Alternately–and probably even stronger–would have been if the first and third image were landscape oriented and the second image remains in its current, portrait orientation. This would’ve pushed things more in the direction of a polyptych and would’ve also suggested an altar piece–which is more in keeping given the almost liturgical tone of the images.

And that’s why I make such a big deal about using portrait orientation correctly. Maintaining that it doesn’t matter is the same as saying that the comma in Let’s eat Grandma vs Let’s eat, Grandma doesn’t make any difference in the end result.

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