Source unknown – Title Unknown (201X)

It’s a damn shame this is floating around uncredited since it’s especially thoughtfully presented.

The fallen tree splits the frame diagonally–imposing parallel right triangles. The upper boundary of the wood forms the hypotenuse of the lower triangle. This decision serves the composition well.

The portion of the trunk in the lower left corner is the closest thing in the frame to the camera and is evenly illuminated–as such, it anchors the foreground; the portion of the trunk in the upper right corner is only partially illuminated–as if it is being slowly consumed by an approaching shadow tide; this bit of the trunk anchors the background.

It would be a clever compositional coup on it’s own but the depth of field runs closely parallel–the lower left corner appears in focus as does the upper right corner. (The indication of thicker woods behind the trunk in the upper right corner, go a bit bokeh blurry, which also adds nicely to the frame.)

Across this diagonal divide, there’s also a balance between positive and negative space. The upper triangle is negative space interspersed with small plant leaves and tendrils; while the lower triangle contains the majority of the structured, non-amorphous, subjective content.

The position of the man is also just about perfect. His pose creates a third triangle–this one more equilateral than the other two. He is positioned a bit off center–situating him within the frames positive space; but the arm raised to cover his face reaches into the negative space and creates a flowing interplay between positive and negative, light and dark, human and nature.

Yet, the thing I’m most impressed with is the where the top and bottom of the frame lay. In my own work, I try to perfectly balance the space between the top of my subject’s head to the upper edge of the frame with the space between the bottom of their feet and the lower edge of the frame.

In this case, the lower edge of teh frame actually cuts off just a sliver of his shins/feet, whereas there’s a wee bit of breathing room at the top. (Functionally, the angle of the trunk draws the eye from lower left to upper right, drawing attention to the otherwise implicit depth of field. The slight imbalance between the relationship of the subject to the bottom and top of the frame, respectively, gives a slight sense of upward momentum–which also helps to balance the slightly less pronounced negative space against the heavier positive space.

Edward WestonNude on Sand, Oceano (1936)

If you ever get the chance, I recommend going to an exhibition opening party at MoMA enough. There’s nothing like getting shitty off an open bar and then wandering around transfixed by art.

I’ve been to two such events. The one relevant to this post was for Paul Graham’s a shimmer of possibility. Graham is a grossly underappreciated photographer and the show was excellent; but being more than a little inebriated, I wandered into either the permanent photography catalog or another exhibition. Come to think of it, it might’ve been part of the broader implications of Graham’s work in an photo historical context.

However it worked out, I ended up staring at this Weston print for the better part of an hour.

I’ve noted previously that I don’t really care for Weston as a photographer but I consider his skills as a print maker unriveled. That’s not an uncontroversial opinion–given that Weston’s son apparently made the prints for the majority of his father’s work.

The thing that makes me reasonably sure that this photograph was printed by the elder west is that it’s both flatter and both shadows and highlights are more restrained.

This capture doesn’t even come close to doing the physical print justice. But you can at least see the implication of the stunning texture in the sand and the luminosity of gradations in the mid-tones shine through legibly.

As such, when I read about the tempest in a teapot over at The Guardian–where several of their ‘esteemed’ art critics got into a tiff over whether or not photography is art, I was immediately reminded of Weston’s print.

Perhaps, I’m biased but I don’t understand how anyone could stand in front of this print and argue that isn’t Art without being a troll’s asshole.