Monday, May 28, 2012

Famous Photos

A commenter, my friend mjr, pointed me at this theme. Let's look at famous photographs, and see how they stack up against the formal "rules". My plan here is to pick out some photo I know and like, without consciously thinking much about how it's going to stack up, plug it in to a post, and start writing what I see.

Of course all of there things have been analyzed to death, but I haven't done it, and it hasn't been done from my point of view. Perhaps I'll learn something. Perhaps you will too!

The rule of thirds seems to apply here, roughly, although the visual center is little high and right to really fall on a 1/3 ruling. The best you could argue here is that the heart of the image starts on a 1/3 x 1/3 position, and proceeds from there to the edges of the frame. The gaze of the mother is anything but across the frame, there is no room at all in the frame for the line of her gaze. This might be ok, since the gaze is clearly on her daughter's face, so that "line" naturally terminates.

Eye-leading is a little vague, there are strong graphical lines, all leading to and from the wrong places. You could argue that diamond of lines making up the edges of the bath form a frame (and in fact, I think they do). The only strong leading lines are the very short mother's gaze, and the line of the girl's body horizontally across the center of the frame. The girl's gaze is straight up, to nothing and then out of frame, another rotten line.

The shadows are printed down to very very dark (although it's possible that texture remains in a good print), the contrast is extreme, the skin tones are not very pleasing. The light is harsh and unflattering.

I think a reasonable point could be made that there are two images here. There's a portrait of a mother and daughter contained in the upper right corner, and then there's the entire image providing a moderately gruesome context for the portrait.

Here we have Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath, shot by W. Eugene Smith in the 1970s, in Minamata, Japan. In terms of actual changes wrought on the world by a photograph, this comes very near the top. It is, by any meaningful measure, an extremely important photograph

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