The Vignette as an Expressive Tool

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by DavidTriplett, Sep 7, 2017.

  1. This thread is an extension of Keith's about choices of grand versus little images:

    This past summer I fulfilled a long held desire to spend a day photographing at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle, Washington. I quickly found my photography constrained by several critical issues: First, the positions from which I could make photos were constrained by not being able to climb onto the vessels independent of an invitation. Most were untended, so no invitations were forthcoming. Therefore, and because I have not reached a level of faith commensurate with walking on water, all of my images were captured from positions on the piers and surrounding quays. Second, the morning was cloudy, providing only flat, low-contrast light, and my window of opportunity was fixed and immovable, so I couldn't just wait for better light. Third, the harbor was crowded and tightly packed, making for busy and unavoidably confused backgrounds.

    While I had hoped for artistic portraits of whole vessels, the circumstances meant any large-subject images would be made from close up, with flat light, and with a visually confusing background. Hence, I determined to focus on detail shots with very shallow depth of field, in an effort to capture the nautical essence of these wonderful wooden craft, without the distractions of a busy background. The flat light and certain ongoing maintenance work (think lots of blue masking tape) further pushed me to a mostly B&W presentation. But I digress...

    The question is: To what degree and how do you use detail or closely focused/framed images to represent a larger subject? What criteria do you use to make that choice? And, how successful do you feel this approach is, both for you and for others? For the purpose of this conversation, I consider a "vignette" as a tightly focused image of a relatively small subject that is representative of a much larger concept or topic. Please share examples both successful and un, and why you chose that image to share. This one of mine is from the aforementioned day in Seattle:
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2017
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  2. ...............
    Such vignettes:

    1. depend on symbolism
    2. are about process, not things

    See David's picture, and Shomei Tomatsu's Time Stopped at 11:02, Nagasiki, 1961.

    I look forward to more posted examples with added philosophical commentary to spice the broth.
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  3. FWIW, When I think of vignette, I think of Photoshop>Filter>Lens Correction> custom

    While it makes things look "old-timey", it also serves to emphasize areas of the image when that is desirable.
  4. scott-cox-tear-FINAL-P2012-w.jpg

    David, here's how I introduced this photo in my PN portfolio:

    Generally, I consider my photos of people to be collaborations. Scott, who belongs to this face, gave a lot of himself and we got two or three shots that day we both loved. For this photo, I also collaborated with a close photographer friend in coming up with the crop. I knew the image as it came out of the camera had potential, but there was too much going on, several distracting elements, and I just couldn't get it to work. Well, another pair of eyes helped. Turns out I was locked into a bigger picture. The suggestion to consider a severe crop gave me what I needed.


    To answer your question, I think it became more symbolic, and I think about it more abstractly this way. The cropping isolates and emphasizes the main elements and their juxtaposition. It became bolder to me and it felt more committed to with the strong crop. Scott is an actor and I think the full scene captured that, but with a lousy composition and several problems. This feels less about Scott and more about something else. As an actor, Scott was happy to be used this way!
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2017
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  5. I want to add something, or slightly revise something. In being less a portrayal of Scott as a person in context, it may actually be more about Scott who, as an actor, is used to metamorphosing into someone or something else. This is, of course, from my perspective as photographer. Those who don't know Scott or who don't hear this background won't get the specifics of why it's true to who Scott is. That's ok. It's part of the fun for me.
  6. Fred, I like your image a lot. It pulls me in and makes me think about its essential, finite elements. Excellent example!
  7. David, I should warn you that shortly some wisenheimer is going to come along and point out that ... I'll have Frederick Sommer say it:

    "The greatest trick in the world would be to show that things are disconnected."​

    In other words, every photograph is a vignette. We need to be prepared to parry this attack.
  8. No problem. We just think in terms of degrees rather than absolutes. In other words, we can accept that all photos are vignettes (in that they exclude some greater context) while still noting that some photos are more close in than others. some seem more cropped than others, and some are macros. I'd just tell the weisenheimer s/he was making a good observation, but one that didn't undercut David's question.
  9. Julie, going back to my original question (quoted above), we only need point out that we are discussing the intentional use of a detail image to represent something bigger. In other words, the detail as symbolism. I don't worry about the boneheads who can't or won't deal with an abstract concept.

    True, but not apropos to this discussion.
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  10. Nor was it meant to be.
    That's what FWIW implies, after all.
  11. :);) Sorry, just heading off the diverging issue... I knew it would come up and hadn't quite figured out how to best keep on topic.
  12. Photograph as synecdoche?

    Deer Skull 1 CROP BW WEB.jpg

    Photograph not as synecdoche?

    IMG_8499 crop web 1000.jpg
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  13. Edwin, I think you have it exactly right, though, to my embarrassment, I had to look up "synecdoche". Thanks for expanding my vocabulary!
  14. ... or nothing but synecdoche (or, if not, it's nothing at all).

    Show me a picture that doesn't do that. It's a matter of scale. Or maybe proof. 100 proof vs 70 proof. :)
  15. The following image is a macro, and, by definition, a detailed image. Some might construe it as referential to the larger flower patch, or bees as a category, or one bee as a representative of the hive. But, in reality, it is a photo of a bee on a flower. It is not intended as representative of a greater whole, or of implying a larger meaning.
    Any further meaning is imputed by the viewer, rather than the photographer, and so misses the definition of synecdoche, or my definition of vignette for the purposes of this thread.
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  16. Good. Yes. Do you see the difference between your bee picture and Edwin's skull, and your boatyard picture? The bee and the skull are openings, they are freestyle starting points. Whereas, with the boatyard picture, you are steering the viewer to your out-of-frame knowledge. It's about control. You would like to narrow my construals (is that a word? spell check is telling me no .. well, it is now).
  17. 18419330-orig.jpg By contrast, this image of an oarlock is explicitly referential to the whole concept of rowing, rowboats, and human activity on the water. That is, at least to the degree that the viewer is able to make the same connections as I did in making the image.
  18. Not quite so. The goal is to invite, not control, the viewer into making associations and extrapolating the image into a larger whole. The direction of that invitation can be wider or narrower, but it is rarely constrained tightly. I expect an individual who, as a youth, routinely blistered his hands while rowing in practice for competition will have very different feelings for the oarlock image than do you or I.
  19. Ah. Then you won't want me seeing the oarlock as bulls horns and the lovely warm female curves in the upper left as tilting into his embrace as they fall together into the lovely velvety blackness on the right? Oh, wait. Boatyard. Rowing. Blisters. I'm back ...
  20. My point, exactly... (though I wasn't quite counting on the bestiality angle.)

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