Saturday, November 04, 2006

What If An Image Doesn't Follow The Rules


I've been looking at this image from my recent trip to Hornby Island since returning. I love the sweeping curve of the central 'island' of rock but have been bothered by the asymmetry of the logs on the left but not right, the bright puddle on the right but not left and the general clutter at the top of the image.

Attempts to crop out the clutter left the raised part of the central rock cut off and very unsatisfactory. I played with the image again this morning because of my likes and have finally decided that despite not following compositional rules, I can live with the top of the image and that overall it works.

Questions arise:

1) am I deluding myself into accepting something less than ideal?

2) if the individual parts don't follow the rules does it automatically follow that the whole image won't work?

3) If I like an image even when it is less than perfect, do I damage my reputation, do I weaken my other images but showing this one?

Clearly by showing this to you, I don't in fact know the answers to these questions, but I think it is important to at least be aware of the issues. Perhaps next week I will be so disgusted with the flaws in this image I will deeply regret showing it, but hey, whose web blog is this anyway?

3 comments:

Kjell H A said...

My short answere would be
1. Depending on which scale you measure your ideal.
2. No
3. Why should it?

I would say that if you like the picture, even if it's not up to standard on the composition scale, there may be another reason you're not aware of yet.
I know very well the benefit of analysing your own pictures in order to develop your own skills. But do we really have to do this for every picture. Do we have to justify the reason for every single picture we like. Some times maybe just, "I like this picture." is reason good enough.

I immediately liked the picture when I saw it. One part of "liking", is related to the amount of brain activity needed to process the picture. More activity the good thing. Brighter people than me may not find it amusing at all, but I had to spend some time figuring it out. After a short while I realised what my brain was reacting to. There was a dog looking back at me. Right there in the rock "island". Not exactly the reason an art critics would be proud to write in her column, but still a reason.

If all this seems like nonsense, please excuse me. I was young and foolish and didn't know what I was writing.

good blog by the way.

Scott Jones said...

You know, I have an image that I really like of the side of an old granery with lots of horizontal and vertical lines that reminds me of a Mondrian painting. I just love it; everyone else just couldn't care less. This used to disturb me, but now I just know that that image is expressing something inside me that is honest and true. The image still does it for me a few years out. For me it is a keeper regardless of what others say. So I choosing to stop worrying about all the others and their thoughts. Sometimes others are right and I soon see their wisdom; sometimes they are just wrong as far as my pleasure is concerned and that is what really counts.

Matt said...

"1) Am I deluding myself by accepting something less than ideal?"

I didn't know there was an ideal image! Each image is what it is. It either works, or doesn't. Some that work, work better than others. Some that don't, are so close to working it's painful.

I happen to like this image on first impression, and I think the questions it raises about the importance of symmetry, and the applicability of "the rules" suggests it might be a lot more interesting, and valuable, than textbook compositions.

For what it's worth, I think the varied (a)symmetry and clutter are interesting, keep the eye moving, and add tension and life to the image. The electric blue spot does the same. The middle mass separates the image and allows the eye to move up one side or the other, without having to relate the two halves of the image directly. The two sides do relate--there's compositional themes and similarities in shape, texture, and color--but the mind relates the two conceptually, not immediately by eye. I think that might be why flaws that would break most images may be survivable here. These flaws might even be assets.

"2) if the individual parts don't follow the rules does it automatically follow that the whole image won't work?"

No. Take this image for example. The lack of symmetry doesn't break the composition; the image is about how interesting compositions within the image relate to each other and form the whole. "Flaws" in individual features say something about the whole.

"3) If I like an image even when it is less than perfect, do I damage my reputation, do I weaken my other images but showing this one?"

No. In fact, I think as part of a group of semi-abstract nature images that you've taken, this image can be even stronger. This image can also strengthen the group. Seen in context, it contributes to an understanding of abstract compositions, the unconventional beauty to be found in the vast imperfections of nature, etc.

This isn't the strongest image I've seen of yours, but I think in some respects it's more revealing than many (say the stumps you showed earlier) about what is distinctive about your vision contra every other nature photographer that explores abstract compositions. That you saw something in that scene to photograph, that you made it work (where in the hierarchy of images that work it falls I'm not sure myself), and that (at least some) others respond to what you saw should be revealing.

Can you think of any other photographer who would have seen that image in that scene, taken it, and made it work? I can't think of any obvious choices off hand. Instead of thinking about how (or whether) the rules apply to this image, you might want to think about what this image can teach you about what is unique in your vision. My hunch is that it is the unusual and hard images that have the most to teach us as we refine the way we seen and present the world.