Nagib El DesoukyArtemis (2018)

Every time I’m cruising through my liked posts, I always pause over this photo.

It’s not just this picture, everything El Desouky posts is quality and every third post or so is freaking brilliant. However, there’s something about this photo in particular that I find captivating.

I think it’s mostly the spot on-ness of Artemis’ daydream-y expression. Still, there’s something weird about the composition.

One of the things you learn when you’re studying photography in academia is that one of the ways you can balance a composition is to use the subject’s gaze to draw attention to negative space.

Think of it this way: imagine a photo of someone standing near the rim of the Grand Canyon–given that the camera is set up so that the edge of the canyon runs more or less diagonally from the lower right frame edge to the middle left frame edge.

You take two pictures. In the first, the model–let’s call him Edwin–is standing just back from the edge of the canyon at the left edge of the frame. He’s looking out beyond the left frame edge.

For the second, keep Edwin’s pose the same only move him so that he’s positioned in the right third of the frame.

In Photo #1 you’re seeing Edwin but you can’t see what Edwin sees. You might wonder if he knows he’s missing the view. Or, conversely, maybe he’s got a better view than you, the viewer. (Also, the human eye is generally more immediately interested in people over landscapes–thus: there’s a tendency to focus on Edwin without fully grasping that Edwin is standing in the landscape, due to photographs predominantly scanning from left to right.)

In Photo #2, his positioning dictates that you aren’t seeing the same view but there is at least overlap. It’s possible to follow the angle of his gaze and infer something of what he sees.

In the photo of Artemis, you can somewhat follow her gaze–there’s a bright circle of light (presumably from a gap in the trees foliage about 1/5 of the way down the left most frame edge that is more or less where she’s looking, although her gaze is at an angle that is slightly turned towards the focal plane).

Normally, this would be a trap for the gaze while scanning the photo. It’s not here. I’ve been trying to figure out why and here’s my best guesses:

First, there’s some interesting stuff with triangulation. That little black sprig sticking into the lower left of the frame? It forms a natural triangle with Artemis’ eyes and the aforementioned bright dot in the background tree. This pushes your eye left.

Then there’s the upward oriented triangle suggested by Artemis’ arms–this draws attention to her face but it also echoes a larger triangle between the three darkest points in the frame: the sprig at frame left, her hair to the right of her face and the area in the thicket of flowers near the lower right edge of the frame.

That thicket of flowers is rowdy and cluttered, but the slightly soft focus renders them a decorative anchor to the foreground without distracting our attention from the subject.

All of this is executed in a style reminiscent of the way Renoir tends to give solidity to objects in the foreground while rendering the background in a sort of teary eyed blur.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

Unlike most of the porn I post–which tend to be images with a certain audacity I appreciate, honest immediacy I crave or a libidinous savoir faire that resonates strongly with my own weird desires–I think this image ticks all the right boxes but also suggests something about the nature of the question of pornography vs art.

This image is constructed to convey context. I love that with the exception of the woman in the pink blouse’s left flip-flopped foot, both women are presented in their bodily entirety within the frame.

It’s not just my own personal preference here. Pornography–and especially pornographic moving images–there is this tendency of embodying the laziest and worst short cuts offered up by cinema. Establishing shots that suggest the scene is in a famous city that then later cuts to environs built up in sterile soundstage; or, worse, the excessive use of close-up inserts (a tact which only works when kept to a bare minimum since each instance is intended to cause the viewer to take special notice of the object or action depicted, porn tends to gravitate towards something on the order of 65% inserts–pun intended, sorrynotsorry.)

From the standpoint of form, it’s sloppy technique. But, since the advent of DVD players–if not before–a viewer has been able to zoom in on a portion of the frame at will. With the telescoping of increasingly absurd resolutions, there’s really no reason to have a scene play out in extreme close-up. With moderate thought given to composition and blocking, a wide shot could be filmed in such a way that it could subsequently be parsed by the viewer to focus on what interests them.

Back to the question of pornography vs art. I think a better dichotomy might be questioning whether the image is a document or a product. Let’s use the above as an example to show how such an analysis might go.

This is clearly someone’s back yard. And that invites questions of public vs private–in this case a private space that verges on public. The down tilt of the camera emphasizes this. It’s not quite high enough to be the view of a neighbor looking over their fence–but it’s still not entirely possible to shake that feeling that the camera is a stand-in for a voyeur. (In and of itself, the camera functioning as a voyeur does not exclude the the image from being a document. However, in this case, the fact that the woman in the pink top has carefully pulled her hair over her right shoulder so as not to block the camera’s field of view.

Given the absence of body hair, my gut is that this is intended as less a document than a product. Yet, I’m not completely willing to disqualify it from being a document. The use of color is mad on-point. The spectrum of reds–hair, lips, respective skin tone, bricks; greens–bushes, grass, cucumber; the pastel magenta shirt and the aquamarine cushion. There’s also that super-saturated, contrast-y color you get when it’s overcast.

Also, the composition doesn’t quite work–the brushed nickle lighting pylon and the windows and bricks, skew the balance so that frame right is almost twice as heavy as frame left. Still, it’s a solid idea with better than average execution.

Given the opportunity this is exactly the sort of scene I’d like to use as inspiration for a fine art image.

Amy Montali – [1] In the Garden (2004); [2] History (20XX); [3] Souvenir (2009); [4] September (2007); [5] Stain (20XX); [6] Holiday (20XX)

I’m sitting in a cramped little vestibule-like area that opens off my shitty basement apartment into a claustrophobic backyard sobbing my stupid eyes out.

You know those moments: when warm light touches the world just right; and the perfume of spring lingers in the breeze; or, the players on the stage play their music as if muddy horns and staggering joy were the only magic anyone ever needed, when words or subtle turn of phrase makes the truth of the song, a chorus you can’t help but sing and in singing it, singing as if singing were the only one that might maybe save this sick and dying world.

I exist for such moments. And people always fault me, tell me my expectations are unrealistic, that I am asking too much.

But then, then I stumble upon beauty like this. Work that shows me the world I already see, proving that someone else sees it too, sees hope and beauty and love and so, so much more joy than all the words ever spoken could circumscribe. And it is all so terrifyingly easy to overlook…

In those moments, I always know I ask for too little; I should ask for more.

Amy Montali is everything.