Friday, March 18, 2016

Victorian Composition: Examples

Here's some samples of what I'm talking about in the previous post. I've put in a jump because my regular readers might, again, find this boring and off the path they expect on this blog.

We're looking for that classic Victorian look (well, it's quite a bit older, but as far as I know it was codified in the terms I used previously, in the Victorian era - as noted, Rembrandt and his homeboys used it a lot.)

The look is: darkish in one corner with a general gradation to lightish to the opposing corner. In the dark regions we see dapples, patches, spots of lighter areas, and vice versa in the lighter regions. The overall sense should be a balance of tone, light against dark, diagonally across the frame. Big light patch against big dark patch. Small light patch against small dark patch. Echoed/related shapes in the masses of tone. The dappling creates variety, interest. The echoing/relationships create unity, coherence. We're also looking for the single "dominant light", a clear perceptually-brightest patch, often made so by placing a small bright area against a contrasting dark area.

I pulled these off the internet by searching for Salgado, Adams, and Turner respectively, and spending a few minutes looking for particularly good examples. You can do it too! Look at these following pictures, judge them in terms of balance, unity, and variety. Look for the bootprints of The Template, and how that template creates these three qualities.

Now, a model for composition is no good unless it can actually separate good ones from bad ones. This is the basic problem with most "systems", the proponents will show you a bunch of what they imagine are good pictures, and illustrate that the "system" applies. The trouble is that the "system" will generally apply about as well to awful pictures.

Therefore, go over to or your favorite photo sharing site. You will generally find balanced frames, universally, in the "trending" or "explored" or whatever (well, either balanced or naked). What you will not always find is unity or variety. Look for yourself and judge whether the ones you like better, which seem more graphically powerful, follow the Victorian Template or not. If you like them in spite of the lack of Victorian bootprints, does the picture have unity? variety?

Dark lower left, lightish upper right, but really lighest upper left. Two dominant lights (though a good print may read differently), the sky and the reflection of same, in rough balance.

Dark uper left, light lower right. Dominant light on the left edge. The darkest regions seem to lack bright spots, though.

Dark-to-light trend goes bottom to top, slightly biased lower right to upper left. Textbook dappling of light in dark, dark in light. Clear dominant light in the center, the light on the robe of the middle figure.

Textbook again. Strong trend of light to dark from lower left to upper right. Note especially the balance of the spray of water echoing the shape of the plume of flame, they even have similar textures (unity!) but not the same (variety!)

JMW Turner doing his thing. Dark to light lower-right to upper-left. Dominant light bang in the center of the frame, and so on.

Structurally this is exactly the same picture.

This is essentially why I claim Adams as a Pictorialist. Turner's paintings were very soft and are clearly a precursor to Impressionism, but the overall structure, the playbook is otherwise identical. Squint at an Adams landscape, and a Turner appears.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the eye opener - I never saw the explained in such a precise way.