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.

Tim BarberUntitled [rain/shower] feat. Kaya Wilkins (2013)

I’ve probably seen this image at least three dozen times but today is the first time I noticed that it’s raining.

A good part of why I’ve never noticed is that the most circulated version features compressed contrast and lower resolution.

As a result, I checked out Barber’s work and discovered that not only is it of an especially high quality, it’s also categorically interesting. He’s rigorous about formality of composition while showing a rare ability to make color vs. absence of color integral to the image.

Further there’s something about his work that transforms rather typical, nearly-prosaic scenes into something that feels autonomous, distinct and thoroughly singular.

The above image was included in a 2014 show at Capricious 88 in NYC’s SoHo.

In relations to that show, Barber claims:

I’m interested in the slippery
narratives that my photos can communicate, and a good narrative always
involves relationships of some kind […] Photographs can be so literal, but I’m
more interested in them as entry ways rather than finales; windows on a
wall, question marks. Another way to put that is I’m less interested in
what they are about then what they could be about.

And while I don’t think he has an especially good grasp of what narrativity actually entails, there is a strong sense that this image “could be about” a sort of Thoreauean search for existential vitality.

In the same breath, however, there’s an undercutting of that notion: the absurdity of showering in the rain; the out of order sign on the cabin–a sort of winking glance toward the ‘backwards-ness’ inherent in the proposition.

I could never abandon the hustle and bustle of big city life but there is a part of me that craves departures, ruptures and disjunctions with that life. Is it too much to want to stand naked on your front porch drinking coffee and staring off into the forest or to bathe in the falling rain?

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.

Igor Mukhinimg167 (2009)

I’ve been looking at a metric fuck ton of Mark Steinmetz’s photos lately. And the reason I mention him is because of the fact that although I adore his use of space, he compositions don’t adhere to any ideal with which I am familiar.

With Mukhin, I can always draw a diagram. For example in the above image the staging from left to right of the nude male (standing in a modified contrapposto stance), the woman (whose semi-striding pose wouldn’t be out of place in one of those infamous Soviet war memorials) and the towel/purse hanging from the sapling form a triad that is not only easy to scan but also suggests a downhill slope from right to left toward the stream.

There’s also the little details: the darkest points in the frame are the purse and her inseam. This pulls the eye back to the man’s carefully man-scaped, uncircumcised member. (I enjoy the contradiction in his more modest post and the way she seems to be standing to block him from view slightly even though clearly whatever led up to this scene didn’t involve any sort of concern for modesty).

In fact, that’s what I think I dig most about Mukhin’s work: even aside from the fact that he tends to release images in groups inclusive of a particular happening, removed from the grouping there’s still very much a feeling of the image as rooted firmly in a very particular milieu. The virtue of what is included is that it points strongly towards what was excluded.

(In a value-neutral judgment, Steinmetz’s photos are dislocated, free floating, timeless. Thus his tendency to name images with their location.)

And I’m not sure if it’s because the first thing I encountered of Mukhin’s was his more erotic imagery but to me the specter of permissive sexuality seems to always resonate with his work. Such as here, where I can’t help wondering if what I think might have led to the need to brush one’s teeth is why the woman is brushing her teeth.

This photograph verges on being narrative because I want to know the nature of the events that led up to this moment. And the thing that Mukhin is so talented at doing is presented as a story something that he as the image maker stands in the same position as the viewer with regards to curiosity as far as origination.