Grand and majestic OR small and intimate?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by photo_galleries, Sep 1, 2017.

  1. I realize that most of us take photos of subjects that are grand and majestic (think Ansel, Salgado) as well as small and intimate (think Bresson, WInogrand, FSA photographers) but do you tend to gravitate to or prefer one over the other?

    As a photographer, do you get more personal satisfaction when capturing majestic images or small and intimate moments?

    As someone who just appreciates looking at a good photo, would your answer be different?

    Yes, I do realize that many responses will be different shades of gray rather than black & white, but if you had to choose one -- majestic or intimate?

    Just curious.

  2. It's quite an interesting question. My preference is for a good photo, however you choose to define it. This is a bit of a cop out, I realize, but I certainly do not prefer an expansive landscape over a street or macro shot for example just because one is a landscape.
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  3. I am nowadays not motivated to capture the majestic subjects upfront, but I don't ignore them as well. I like to capture aspects of majestic subjects, that are small and insignificant. I like to see, how framing and composition can make those aspects feel special, and help me see the majestic subject in a different light.
  4. ..........
    Keith, I think you ask a really interesting question but:
    ... I can't agree that those photographers do "small and intimate" at all. Can you explain more what you're aiming for if the work of those photographers is what you have in mind in opposition to "grand and majestic"?

    Back to the question of what I like to look at, I think it's almost any good work that has some kind of complexity to it. Pictures that need more than one look, that are multi-layered. I also note, in thinking about your question, that I do seem to have a little bit of a prejudice against "grand and majestic" but I'm also not sure that it's not against those words — grand and majestic suggest that you're implying pretentiousness — more than against any particular examples (i.e. I like a lot of Ansel Adams's work and I have examples I can supply of other photographers of the sublime that I enjoy very much).
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  5. Hi Julie - by small and intimate, I guess I mean portraits or moments between people or images of everyday objects (macros would be in this category) -- photos that do not have the grandeur of a majestic mountain or landscape. And by 'grand and majestic' I do not mean to imply pretentiousness but rather grandeur in terms of size and scope. As examples: (1) Google "FSA photographers" -- the resulting images would fit the classification in his post of 'intimate' and (2) a couple of my own images below:

    What I'd classify as 'intimate' -- just for the sole purpose of this post, and not meant to be a Webster dictionary definition.


    What I'd classify as grand and majestic:

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  6. ...........
    Heh! Don't worry about definitions: I just want to know what you're hoping to discuss, and your examples are helpful. But (still looking for more clarity, nevertheless: LOL), you gave Salgado as an example of grand and majestic. I actually think that description fits his work, but, as you know, his stuff is often all about people, not grand vistas.

    Maybe grand and majestic is to do with what's more eternal, as opposed to what is more here-and-now? But then think about pictures from the Hubble space telescope. They're very (VERY!) grand and majestic, but also kind of ... what's a good description? ... not scenic (<< lame, but I can't quite put my finger on the big difference from Ansel's kind of grand and majestic ... help me out ...). And I love looking at Hubble pictures, even if the colors are fake.

  7. Also looking for the right word... and yes, I know Salgado's work is about people, but at the time I wrote the response above, I was thinking about some of the vistas in Genesis, so mea culpa.... Eternal might be a good candidate term, but even mountains crumble, right.... ?
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2017
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  8. Don't we wish! But photographers keep bringing us pristine, fresh, mountains and lakes with no signs of decay. They're the Terminators of photo imagery (They Will. Not. Stop. << my prejudice is showing)

    My definition of the kind of grand and majestic I am sick of is summed up by this song. Arghhh!! Noooo!
  9. Some of my favorite work is a combination of the two, so I don't see grand/majesty and intimate as necessarily mutually exclusive.

    I'm thinking of intimate landscapes such as those of Meyerowitz and portraits that have majesty such as some of Gordon Parks's.

    Beethoven's late piano sonatas and string quartets had a grand intimacy. Van Gogh's Starry Night Over the Rhone has an intimate majesty.

    Personally, I tend to like more intimate photos over more majestic ones, with a lot of exceptions.

    And, a thread on majesty :) and intimacy wouldn't be complete without including ANNIE LEIBOVITZ'S PORTRAIT OF QUEEN ELIZABETH - LINK
  10. I enjoy making (and viewing) photographs that embrace ambiguity, mystery, pose questions (rather than providing a lot of answers) withholding information, stir curiosity, and hopefully, a viewer's imagination and the creation of a narrative (any narrative being fine).

    That's primarily what drives me. Not finding moments, or simple/majestic (or any other kind of) scenes.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2017
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  11. An example...


  12. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    i like eye-candy so i will take both, either or none. i think the below has both.

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  13. ...........
    In the tradition of this forum, that no hair is too fine to be split, and, if you ask how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, will be asked: do they dance one after the other (which answer would then depend on the durability of the pin head's surface), or all at once (which answer would depend on your assumptions about both the size of an angel and the size of the head of a pin) ...

    ... I will claim that most nude photography is "grand and majestic" and can easily be separated from any nude photography that is "small and intimate." For your disputation, I offer the work of Jock Sturges. To my eye (I think he would disagree with me, probably violently), his nudes strain to be grand and majestic rather than small and intimate. But when he was given a Rollei as a temporary challenge, I think the pictures he made with it, as opposed to his usual 8x10, are small and intimate. See the Rollei work here, by clicking the "Book Tease" link:

    The Rollei Project, by Jock Sturges

    I'm assuming you already know what Sturges's 8x10 work looks like. If not, Google Image Search is your friend.
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  14. Grand and majestic vs small and intimate? For me these both lay along a continuum of photographic opportunities that I find intriguing. For example, one of my long-lived desires is to photograph large sailing yachts or ships in a strong breeze at sea. That opportunity has not yet presented itself. Such images I would categorize as grand and majestic. In lieu, I have chosen to focus on vignettes of wooden boats and other craft in harbor, where they are more accessible to me. I find images of ships in port, tied to a pier or wharf to be mostly boring and not engaging. But there are myriad details that scream "nautical" to me, and isolating those details can make for very successful small and intimate images. Hence:
    I love landscapes, as well, and these can range from small and intimate details found along the trail, such this:
    Zion Waterfall-5083b-sml.jpg
    To grand and majestic images such as this one of the Three Patriarchs in Zion Canyon, taken on the same day and within the same hour as the image above:
    ZNP Waterfall-5099a-bw-sml.jpg
    In the final analysis, photography is, for me, an artistic tool by which to capture and share a moment in time and in my own experience. It is likely something else for others, and so their approach and interests will be different. My own photography is a developing, dynamic craft (and art, I hope) that allows me to share my life's experience with others. I feel successful when those with whom I share my images capture some small sense of the wonder I feel when I made each image. In the end, when I am gone and turned to dust, maybe my great grandchildren will be able to see Canyonlands the way I did on a magical late afternoon in February:
    Cyn Storm-01a-bw-small.jpg
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  15. David, looking at your two "details" photos, I find they each work differently. I see the second photo (the branches with water drops) as more intimate and the first photo (of the nautical ropes) as more majestic, even though it's a detail. I think there's a bigness to the way you shot the ropes which, to me, reads as more grand than intimate. While you used a similar depth of field effect in both photos, that effect acts very differently to me in each of the pictures. In the ropes, because the background is a contextual background, a place where the ropes are, blurring the background gives those ropes a prominence over their place, a majesty if you will. With the branches, the blurred portions are an echo of what's in focus, giving the background and foreground more interaction and I think that gives the photo as a whole more intimacy. With the branches, I feel I'm let into a secret dialogue, softened by the water drops. The ropes feel more revered and more impenetrable.
  16. "Wonder" is not what it used to be. People get more "wonder" before breakfast than you or I did in the first twenty years of our life. We're in an age of serious wonder-overload.
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  17. Fred, this speaks directly to my position that any of these images can be placed along the same continuum, even though each is a separate and unique condition. I agree with your assessment completely. Both of the images you addressed are as much about context as content, even though that context is more implied than defined. In each case, the viewer is asked to expand his or her perception to embody a larger view in order to complete the image and give it full meaning. Viewers who can do so successfully (like you) will likely obtain more meaning and comprehension. However, in the end, each of these is still only a vignette captured from a much larger experience.

    I explicitly chose to shoot details of boats at Seattle's Center for Wooden Boats because I could not remove the vessels from a distracting and visually chaotic context. My goal was to capture the nautical essence of the sailing yachts, which I find majestic, in their details. Your response suggests that I succeeded, which I find very gratifying. Thank you.
  18. Julie, I can't spend time and effort worrying about other peoples' level of wonder. It would be an exercise in futility. Rather, I'll try to capture my own wonder, in the hope someone, somewhere, some day might find it equally wondrous, and provide some insight into how I saw my world.
  19. I agree with David the the difference between small and intimate vs grand and majestic is a continuum. As I said in the original post, I realize that I was asking for an answer in black and white, when I fully expected to get different shades of gray. WRT David's photos, I would categorize the first two as being close to the small and intimate end of the continuum, while I would place the latter two toward the grand and majestic end. What Fred said regarding the sense of majesty about the ropes is fair, but I tend to see more of an intimacy and closeness projected by that image. Personally I would never assign to that a distinction of grand and majestic in the same manner that I would to David's photo of the Three Patriarchs or my photo of Mount Fuji. Now I"m NOT saying that Fred is wrong and I'm right. There is no right or wrong here. As Julie ,s said -- angels dancing on the head of a pin.

    Norman's photo, as he says, has qualities of being both majestic and intimate. And those qualities are easily perceived. But for me, what prevails in this image is the majestic hues of the sky, while the people in the foreground act as complementary subjects that enrich the photo. Take away the people and to me the image would still be majestic; take away the sky and the photo becomes more intimate. So, within my own worldview, I would put this photo towards the grand and majestic end of the continuum. Other may say the exact opposite and that would certainly be fair as well.
  20. Keith, I experience the closeness you're talking about, but I'll explain a little more why I don't experience intimacy from the rope photo. Intimacy, for me, involves not only closeness but some type of affection or personal relationship. It doesn't detract from the photo for me, but I don't find affection or personal relationship in the rope photo. David may have felt affection but, to me, if he did, it translated photographically not as affection but as a different form of closeness, a more studied and articulated kind of closeness. I don't think there's necessarily a one-to-one relationship between the emotion a photographer feels at the time of shooting and the emotion that comes through the photo. For me, the rope photo is detailed and refined, similar to or at least leaning toward some of Blossfeldt's flowers (LINK) which are close and amazing but which I don't find intimate.

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