Monday, November 23, 2009

video nightmare

My dream last night: I was in Chem 140, a lecture hall from back in the University days, to show a film I had just shot. Projected on the screen was a live shot of my desktop. Chem 140 was full, the lights came down, and everyone watched the screen while I searched frantically for my film. I just kept clicking through empty folders, opening windows, and never getting anywhere.

I never find the film -- it just goes on like this indefinitely -- clicking away to nowhere. I start to panic, and eventually wake up....


Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to Compose a Photo?

I've been thinking more about composition, after some interesting and varied feedback from a previous post. And there is a good chance that this will get a bit messy, so apologies up front. I like to believe that art is subjective, so from one person to another, there is no "correct" way to compose an image. I only know the way that I do it. but I want to understand it better, because I think there is an underlying system of rules that apply.

However, I am starting to wonder if art really is entirely subjective, or if part of it adheres to a set of ancient laws hardwired into our genes. How each person interprets a work of art is subjective, but what about its physical properties? The lines, colors, shapes, forms -- that stuff can be measured and described by ratios and equations. It's mathematical.

People have been attempting to understand exactly what makes things visually appealing for thousands of years, going back to the Golden Ratio. Some claim that the Parthenon was built using the magic 1 to 1.61803 number. LeCorbusier was a fan of the Ratio, and incorporated it into his work. He even went so far as to develop his own system of ratios, also based on the Fibonacci Numbers, and DaVinci's Vitruvian Man, called the Modulor, which he described as "range of harmonious measurements to suit the human scale, universally applicable to architecture and to mechanical things." Sounds nice.

Here is what all of these ratio studies look like on paper:
There is something beautiful and soothing about all of these. The proportions just feel
right. And they bring order to a world of visual chaos. I guess part of composing images is learning to either see or create these ratios then capture them in a way that maintains their balance.

When I look at a building by Corbu, it makes me happy:

The first photographer that comes to mind as being very, very good at this: Stephen Shore. He is the 14th Degree Black Belt Ninja Master of composition. Take this classic Shore image for instance:

I'm pretty sure this thing is chock full o' Golden Ratios, Pentagrams, Fibonacci numbers, and each car has a Vitruvian Man behind the wheel. Again, it just feels right. Then again, that Chevron sign that's just a bit off center is uncomfortably close to the top edge of the frame, but you are saved by the giant double arrow which pushes you back to the middle of the image. Back in the middle, you are slowly sucked into the background through layers of vintage Americana, which thanks to his 8x10 is in complete focus. If you haven't seen a SS print up close, it's worth the trip to your nearest museum or gallery.

It's a scrumptuous visual feast of composition. But it's not perfectly composed. Although it sort of bends and dances around within the rules. Not to mention the image doesn't really have any particular meaning, which is what Shore is about. He is simply a hunter, gatherer, and curator of ratios, triangles, and fibonacci numbers.

Here is another tasty Signature Shore dish, with several pounds of juicy golden triangles baked right in: This image resonates with me in a deep, neurological way. Why? I'm not exactly sure. It just does.

Here is another one from Mr. Kander. Why does this work?

Does it work? Yes. Why? No idea.

I love knowing that images are inherently multilingual. They can speak to us in very literal, visual terms, or they can speak in these more complex, cryptic, underlying whispers. So, circling back to my previous post about Places to Drink Beer, and composition, which shot do I like? Although I feel weird putting this image right after Stephen Shore and Nadav Kander, it's this one, hands down:

The balance of the amounts of brick to sidewalk and window feels right. The sun and the orange stripe on the window cut through the middle of the frame, and connect the beer to the trash can. The crack in the sidewalk with the line of brick creates an arrow (golden triangle?) that takes me to the trash can. The wall angles away, which provides some depth and keeps the photo from being too flat, which also makes just enough room to fit an imaginary person, drinking a beer.

Another thing I like about this shot is the tension between the trash can and the beer can. My eyes want to pick up the beer can and throw it away. This is simply the end of a story, where the beginning and middle are open to interpretation. The composition provides a few clues about how that story may look.

This composition stuff is fascinating. Is it really hardwired in our genes? Is this a universal language that deep down all humans (and animals) know? If so, what does that mean for the future of photography? As more and more images are shared around the world, will we become more fluent in this complex, intuitive language?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hurts so Good: Mark Zibert

Mr. Zibert is on a roll. Great post on HMAb about 10 sources of his inspiration.

Every once in a while I'll see an image that is so good it actually causes me physical pain. Case in point, this recent shot by Zibert of Daft Punk for DJ Hero:

It is exquisitely composed, beautifully lit, and technically very difficult to pull off. This is the kind of work I want to do, right here.

I used to keep a big corkboard in my office. On the right side, I would post kick ass work from other people that I liked. On the left side, I would post images that I had done myself. Standing and looking at both sides of the board helps me figure out how to build a bridge from where I am creatively to where I want to be. This blog has effectively taken the place of the board -- it's hard to tack a video or a website to a board.

It's a never ending process, studying the space between where you are, and where you want to be, and slowly building this creative bridge. Sometimes it feels like Philip Seymour Hoffman in Synechdoche, New York. Once you feel like you have built the bridge, and are ready to cross, it's time to tear apart the foundation and make it taller, wider, stronger, and paint it a new color.

Right now, I'm feeling like I want to change the way I work. I want each image I shoot to be one of a kind. I want to spend a week, a month, a year, working on a single image. I want my work to be so good that it actually causes other photographers pain....

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hanging with Afro Leg

On a recent shoot at a beautiful old cabin near a small lake in a remote part of Alabama. The owner's son, about 15 years old, was hanging around the set. He was really shy, and just kind of stood there watching for most of the morning.

Later that day, he brought some of his drawings over to show us. They were amazing illustrations, especially for a high school freshman. This one was my favorite:

Who / what is that, one may ask? Oh, that's AfroLeg. I love AfroLeg. I asked the kid how he came up with the idea, and he said "well I started drawing a leg, then thought that it would be good to have an afro on top of it." I concur 100%.

Unfiltered, untainted, unjaded, and totally confusing creativity is amazing stuff.