Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis


Posted in photography, Uncategorized by Jason Gray on June 24, 2010

“To him [the primitive artist] a shape was a living thing… A carrier of the awesome feeling he felt before the terror of the unknowable.” -Barnett Newman

Long ago, Leonardo da Vinci realized the significance of shape in relation to the human face, and asserted that it would be troublesome to differentiate one person from another if not for the subtle, yet significant, variations upon proportion inherent to the individual human head and face. As a photographer, it is an awareness of the subtle, yet significant, variations that ascribe the potential for any given scene, in terms of its composition, that are often the points which differentiate the true artist from the common producer of snapshots. In addition, being able to recognize and order shapes within your viewfinder can provide you with an important skill towards finding new perspectives on same old subjects, such as familiar buildings/skylines, portraits, etc.

This was a revelation to me last year, as I spent much of my time photographing the St. Louis Art Museum and its environs. I have taken literally hundreds of photographs of the museum itself, and experimenting with shape and proportion, as well as the other rules of composition for which I am writing, helped me to always find a “fresh” composition. I think that it is important to spend a significant period of time photographing/painting/sketching/thinking about one subject in particular. By doing this, you are devoting yourself to figuring out composition, and for a photographer, the surest way towards producing images on a regular basis that are evocative and engaging, beyond even a technical knowledge of your equipment or a scientific understanding of how exposure is affected, is to develop an intuitive approach towards good composition. After all, “Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk.” -Edward Weston, and “In his own photography, and in his teaching, he proposed that successful photography was the triumph of intuition over science and design.” -John Szarkowski on Alexey Brodovitch

To illustrate, here is some of the work that I did on the Art Museum:

Example 1:

Example 2:

Example 3:

As you can see, even though the subject has remained the same for all three pics, they could just as well be different locations because of the divergent approaches to shape (and line/space/color). So, what is shape?

Shape is the central structural component(s) in a composition that direct the viewer to identify the objects in a picture/painting/etc. It is important to note that a traditionally held, though not universally true, idea about shape is that a variety of shapes increases the dynamic potential of a work. In other words, a photograph of a brick wall is less appealing than a photograph of a brick wall with ivy growing across it.

Example 1:

Example 2:


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