Friday, July 1, 2016

Internal Logic

I've had a thought, as I occasionally do.

Composition is an interest of mine, and while I'd like as much as anyone to discover a neat system of rules, or a way to draw and follow lines on the frame, or whatever, I have long since decided that this is not the True Path. All the lines and rations stuff is in fact nonsense. Kirk Tuck recently posted a portrait in which is becomes painfully clear that separating the subject of a portrait from the background with careful lighting is also something you might skip from time to time. It's familiar to all of us that any "rule" be it a stridently screeched rule from a forum hero, or a vague rule of thumb, is frequently honored more in the breaking than the following once you start looking at pictures that are actually pretty good.

If you get a little more serious, you can poke around at the ideas of graphic design, which appears to be a real thing, and there are rules of thumb, guidelines, principles, that can and are applied there. This is great if you want to make graphic designs, and render information accessible in an intuitive and useful format. What that has to do with Art, I cannot imagine.

And so it goes, any system seems to simply not apply a lot of the time, if you look around.

What, it seems to me, separates the good pictures from the bad ones is that the good ones have and obey an internal logic. The picture, or the group of pictures, sets its own rules, and then follows them. The logic might be inverted, it might be a logic of illogic, but it is nevertheless both present and obeyed. Which is maybe just a complicated way of saying "well, it works, doesn't it?"

One can imagine a sort of underlying concept for any picture. Whether there was one in the photographer's mind is irrelevant, the point is that we can try to imagine one. Pictures that work tend to have a clear underlying concept, and that concept seems to set rules, and a picture that works tends to follow them. Perhaps I have it backwards, that a picture that works follows the rules of its own internal logic, which in turn delineates a clear visual concept?

Anyways. Maybe there's a framework for thinking about these things, somewhere in there. Gonna noodle on it.


  1. My take is that if one encounters a scene which one deems worthy of a picture, then this scene already is the composition. If the elements of the scene won't arrange in a meaningful way, then it's not a picture in the first place. I as a photographer can enhance or diminish the power of the picture by determining where to stand and what to include, but this is about all. I can't make a boring scene into a powerful picture by clever composition; on the other hand, a weak composition doesn't do much harm to an otherwise interesting picture.

    The treatments about composition I read which where actually interesting originate from the world of painting. In this context, it makes sense to investigate underlying rules since the artist starts with a blank canvas and hence has all degrees of freedom. For us who have to make do with what's already there, not so much.

    So, in my opinion, for photography composition is an overrated topic.

    Best, Thomas

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