The Vignette as an Expressive Tool

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

  1. I have an example that is not vignette: that shows that such covered heads are going in the opposite direction. See John Baldessari's Cliché series, one example here. By voiding the face, he moves it from the specific to the generic/cliché.

    Thinking about models versus photographic vignettes, I have a new description of the photographic vignette:

    A photographic vignette shows those qualities of a whole that cannot be put into words, that cannot be contained by words, that do not serve words; that qualify its symbolic content to exceed the symbolic; to be specific. You can try to describe why it's a part of your core/named whole, but it won't work (see David's many attempts to explain his ropes). OJ was probably found not guilty because the glove didn't fit. Prosecutors could talk themselves blue in the face, the glove refused words.

    Why doesn't that description include all photographs? Barry's claim for The Americans, for example? Because the maker of a vignette knows what it's about (or believes that he knows). Robert Frank didn't know: he was asking, searching, finding (but not knowing). A vignette knows, IMO. A vignette is enclosed, limited by that knowing.

    Non-vignettes either give a whole without abbreviation, or they are on the cusp of knowing, of an awareness of 'what the world means' without being any more enclosed or tied in than that:

    "I don't give a damn whether it is art, beauty, truth, or trivia so long as it causes a feeling of what the world means in the spectator. If it makes him 'remember what he does not yet know.' " — Walter Chappell
  2. Norman

    Norman Norman T Naffington

    aren't those two comments contradictory? if you know something you can describe it, write about it, non?
  3. Good lord, Julie. I am going to have to keep an eye on you. :cool:

    There are a number of elements about this conversation that give me the feeling that I am trapped in a fine arts department faculty cocktail party at Franz Kafka' house... o_O

    Which leads me to my new and innovative Kipling's Internet Rule of the Obvious:

    The proverbial elephant at this party is one of 'condition.' We seem to dance around this--and I have mentioned that in my cosmology of categorizing all stuff in the universe--there is a profound difference between "objects" and "beings." To establish certain parameters around the application of these terms let's loosely agree that objects are relatively static, non-living things; and that beings are any element that is living and dynamic.

    Anyone that now wants to muddy things up with stuff such as water and air will be forced to spend 8 hours trapped in an elevator with Donald Trump & Gilbert Gottfried. :(

    I Kant imagine why you just don't apply a bit of rigorous honesty (from Chapter 5-How it Works, The Big Book of Philosophers Anonymous) and admit that your description of the elephant's trunk is is a rephrasing of noumenon--an active dialectic of vignette 'becoming' (ala Parmenides) an ontological "thing-in-itself." This ideological framework works so-so as a lens with 'objects', but ultimately fails with 'beings' due to the ontic problem of static vs dynamic.

    In your illustration, just because Baldass is handy with giant Avery neon sticky-dots, or we with PhotoSlop--does not make an Indian or any other 'being' simulacrum subject a static thing. In the subconscious of the viewer, it still inculcates an animus/anima perception and here we have that SHADOW issue again. (You should hear this--Carl Jung is singing a cover to Neil's 'Helpless' in my head). :D

    We are going to imply the gestalt classification 'human' or 'bee' or 'tree' or whatever the being is. If we look at my hinge, or fire department water thingie--there is no direct connotation that states door, building, or anything else. Perhaps a conveyance of purpose--but certainly not any implication of being and all the derived expectations of such a thing entity.

    Of course, this all has absolutely nothing to do with whether anything in a practical or pragmatic way can be a vignette. If we spend too much time in our itinerant philosopher's armchairs dwelling on this differentiation as a qualifier--we risk slip-sliding away from the teleological application of vignette (that thing we as photographers ultimately present viewers with). Oh damn. Carl has finished his set, and I can tell you he is not nearly as good with a harmonica as Neil. The slippery slope of mental musicology has now shifted to a new track--Paul Simon just cued up with something about the closer my destination...

    So Julie, are you laughing? Do we need to keep an eye on you? I will leave you with my friend Puddles to sort all of this out.

    Sincerely yours,

    The Elephant's Child

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  4. I mentioned Gossage's The Pond. Paul Strand's The Garden at Orgeval is what I also consider to be a good example of a vignette, making use of the interrelation between subject and subject matter.
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  5. Norman

    Norman Norman T Naffington

    Phil, is that what defines a vignette for you?
  6. I think The Garden at Orgeval is an excellent example of Phil's previous discussion of vignettes having enhanced meaning as part of a community of images, giving a synergistic meaning to the whole, and similarly enhancing the meaning of each individual image. This also brings to mind the bi-directional nature of a synecdoche. This is little different from my baseline take on the vignette, but certainly there are a multitude of colors and flavors of vignettes and their application.

    Consider this: For a vignette to exercise maximum communicative power, absent titles or other context-giving additions, the photographer and the viewer must share some baseline bit of knowledge, a common point of reference, that the image can then serve as the fulcrum over which the two are linked. Absent this common point of reference, the vignette begins to lose its power and meaning. For instance, I expect my image of the coiled ropes will have more meaning to an experienced yachtsman than to an inland farmer who has never seen the sea or a large body of water. A collection of vignettes, on the other hand, together with the context-giving components of their presentation, serve to build an over-all, synergistic sense of context. That enhanced context serves as a bridge of understanding between the photographer and viewer, serving to build or reinforce a common point of reference that would not otherwise exist.
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2017
  7. That is a gorgeous project. One of my favorite books. Now I'm all distracted: I almost had a response to PapaTango semi-organized in my head.

    PapaTango, I hope I don't alarm you, but I am understanding you and have been mulling over much the same things. They're only partially mulled [isn't that something that's done to cider ... catching my mind as it leaks out one ear ...] ...

    The key thing for me in 'vignette' is that that which is being vignetted (do you know that 'vignette' comes from little vine? oh dear, there goes the mind again ... vining away ... ) is that the limited (named, cored, whatever it is that you've corralled, 'boatyard' in the specimen case) calls the response. You go to it and let it fill itself in/out. It doesn't come out of your pre-conceived mind beyond the knowing that this event, this process, this happening IS there/here. Supriyo didn't model his picture, even though he knew, knows the 'name' of the event he has vignetted. It showed itself, in all its specificity, to him.
  8. Vignettes can also be used in non-vignette photos . . .

  9. We often return to David's original image--and some of the 'classification' comments are most illuminating. The trouble in paradise concerns textuality and the conferred meanings that emerge from the language of its form. I am able to classify the thingie as nautical--recognizing it as a spar or boom. But what of those who have never seen a sailboat--or one close up? Is there any context or narrative that emerges for them, or does it remain an 'organized abstraction' whose textuality is limited to the simple classification of 'made material.' As an example, let's take a look here:


    Nice vignette of some crescents cut into rough sawn, weathered wood. It is also a symbol, and a signifier--for most people inculcated through secondary or tertiary sources and not a direct "experience" of the surrounding form and intended function. I see the form,and have been semaphored that this is an outhouse. My vignette has the ability to translate into a concrete and pragmatic expansion of the whole. Does the taking or display of this image show intent? This is relative, depending on whom one is asking--as there is absolutely no inherency to either side of the creative equation. From my perspective as the photographer, I can assure you there was none beyond the simple desire to capture an interesting image.

    But what then for the case of someone who does not have 'outhouse' in their lexicon of physical reality? For them, this is simply a structured abstraction of built fabric--far removed from its contextual whole. Thus, any emotive power is conjured in absentia of greater connotation--rather than through cognitive association with experience or narrative. Me, I can close my eyes and conjure up that sweaty box, replete with its heady aroma and sensation of flies buzzing my............. :eek:

    We also return to the application of the term 'synecdoche', which directly implies that there is an underlying categorical narrative to draw upon. Thus, such usage also connotes that this slice of a 'thing' or 'being' is a metaphorical representation--and properly classed within a metanomy of place, being, or emotive state emerging from a condition--even though it is a reduction. In many ways then (especially if the reduction is cliche) it becomes a trope of the whole. Follow?

    Application of synecdoche therefore fails when we remove the absolute predicate of pars pro toto in establishing the factual textuality of the whole. In this case we have indeed arrived back at the door of Kant, and may aptly designate the abstracted slice a noumenon--a thing in itself--as it brings no inherent and proscribed metanomy of meaning with it. It can be whatever the dickens I want it to be!

    The discussion of Strand is interesting, as it opens further understanding of the reduction of a contextualized, structured, and defined whole--his garden. I think it is important if we are going to use Strand's work here to realize that he chose to return to that which was most familiar to him--an environment of the known and familiar. Where abstractions and reductions were indeed metaphors for the whole--in fact a very comprehensive polyptych of the whole. For him, each reduction/vignette held deep meaning and context--defined by place, behavior, and season. Without suitable expository from a third party--we have no such cognitive map. We have no way to know whether an individual reduction was captured in a garden, or the side of the road somewhere.

    This all simply reinforces David's last contention--that different synergies emerge depending upon the knowledge and referential understandings of the viewer.
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2017
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  10. Papa, your photo can be a detail, not a vignette. Not every closeup is a vignette and not every vignette is a closeup. If a viewer chooses or happens to see a wider subject when looking at your photo, that viewer is entitled to turn it into a vignette in addition to or instead of appreciating the detail for the shapes and textures. Whether or not it's a vignette for you will only go so far in determining whether or not it's a vignette for anyone else. That said, many good photographers are able, if they so desire, to direct their viewer (most of their viewers) in a direction. That power, the power of the photographer over the viewer, is not necessarily minimal.
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  11. Fred, I will only partially agree with that. If I take a photo of a newel post, it may connote stairs. Or it may not. Such an image is not laden with signifiers, nor does it stand as a metaphor for the greater whole.

    However, if I proffer the above image, or an elaborate mailbox slot in a door, or a even a door knob--there is a charged meaning and a number of connected behavioral semaphores that accompany it. In such cases--as with particular 'partial' studies of people (such as your hands photo) then through elaborative connotation have created a reduction that serves as shorthand that give insight toward the whole. In other words, and the literary sense of vignette, the scene is drawn!

    My cat agrees with me too.
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  12. I have to grumble about the reproductions of Strand's book on the Aperture page. You need to get the book ...

    Here is a bit from Meyerowitz's essay to it. I'm not going to tell you to what his first sentence refers. You don't need to know:

    " ... How can I be sure of this? No one can be certain of anyone else's state of mind. But one can posit a sense of possibility, and I feel open to trying to do so at this time because I am feeling in my own tendencies now, ways that speak to me of Strand. There is more of a connection to him at this moment than I ever thought possible before, and so, with that delicate sensation, I read his work and I think I recognize his instincts. One just has to accept that artists using the same equipment, if they are fearless about influences and open to instances of brotherhood, may actually come close to standing in the shoes of their predecessors. I am not Atget or Sander or Cartier-Bresson, but I have felt their hand on my shoulder on days when the spirit of the medium was alive in me and their anima passed close by. Knowing is part of the communication which photography, even from its mechanical heart, shares among its tribe."​
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  13. I agree completely. At the same time, the degree to which any image succeeds as a vignette (if such is intended) is founded substantially in the "...knowledge and referential understandings of the viewer." (Thank you, PT.) Meyerowitz's " can posit a sense of possibility..." and other statements seem to address the feeling of connection that a viewer of a photographic work can achieve, given sufficient understanding of the photographer. Just as The Old Man and the Sea is a masterwork of English prose, and Frost's The Road Not Taken a masterpiece of poetry, even if both are very brief, there are photographers whose work stands out as both exemplary and vignette. In Meyerowitz's case, he feels an intimate relationship with photographic greats, such as Strand, Atget, Sander, and Cartier-Bresson, based both on their power of their work, but his shared knowledge of their medium. It is this shared knowledge, in this case taken to an extreme degree, that contributes so much to the potential power of the vignette. Thanks to Julie for sharing the Meyerowitz quote. It is wonderful.
  14. And I also think the degree to which a vignette succeeds is founded substantially in the photographer's capabilities.
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  15. Indeed, and not remarkably different from the basic process utilized by a playwright or other writer.

    This is something I have alluded to in many of my posts in this discussion--and brings us around to the fart in the elevator. In direct substance, the term 'vignette' is well defined and accepted as it applies to photography--and has very little to do with the subject we are discussing. I make it by burning or dodging the edges of the frame. Rather, we are borrowing and somewhat bastardizing a definition from other artistic genres such as writing and performance; whereas the vignette is a short encapsulation or skit that illuminates a matter, personality, or concept.

    This is why I have used and prefer the term 'reduction.' Increasingly, I am seeing the world as a giant version of "Garden of Earthly Delights" wherein the interest lies in smaller and smaller reductions of the whole. Perhaps I play the simpleton in stating the intent of my little reductions are nothing more than ".... (the) simple desire to capture an interesting image." They must contain signifier elements that call out and evoke further knowledge and meanings from the viewer--or truthfully they are not very effing interesting. :cool: They must help the viewer create a story or trigger some evocative memory. In this, to further Fred's contention that "....(a) photo can be a detail, not a vignette" draws a sharp line between the forensic or documentarian reduction--and what we are grappling about with in this discussion--the production and presentation of something that evokes underlying meaning through encapsulation of a small, reductive slice of the garden...
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  16. PapaTango:

    Suppose you are on a first date with a person you don't really know at all. You're alone in an elevator with him/her. She/he farts. That's a detail

    Suppose you have been married to the same person for fifty years. You're alone in the elevator with him/her. She/he farts. If this is characteristic of her, that's a vignette. If not, then it is neither a vignette nor a detail. It's an aberration. A black swan (that farts). [desperately trying to control the urge to make ALL KINDS OF LOVELY FART JOKES at this point .... I am in tears ... ]
  17. Why does Julie always seem to latch onto the one word or detail that is least apropos to the discussion and blow into an issue out of any proportion to the topic at hand? I think PT's point about "reduction" vs. "vignette" is very worth discussion. I still think vignette, from an artistic and literary application, is an appropriate noun for the principle we're addressing, but reduction may be equally applicable, perhaps even more so, as suggested by PT. Dwelling on farts far less so, and something I would expect from a group of 13 year old boys rather than educated, engaged adults.
  18. I expect PapaTango understands what I was saying because he doesn't "latch onto the one word" in its literal meaning. The word "fart" carries many useful figurative connotations that won't be noticed if one "latches on" to its hanky-to-the-nose meaning and takes it as a 13 year old boy apparently does.
  19. Perhaps your quoted intention is a vignette in itself. The word "interesting," especially when used in an art and/or photography context, is usually a flag. Mrs. Fishbein, my first-grade teacher and one of the best, never accepted "interesting" or "beautiful" without secondary clauses or supporting statements elaborating on what exactly was interesting about whatever it was that was interesting. And therein lies the rub. You're not really playing the simpleton, or at least not playing it well, and the reduction photo really isn't as simple as it seems. Because what boils down to "interesting" is something more. The minute you start unpacking that "interesting," which Mrs. Fishbein had us doing at P.S. 89 in Queens on a daily basis even though we didn't yet have the more contemporary figure of speech to describe it that way, you see that "interesting" is just short-hand for all the stuff that is going on in your choosing the reduction you make and in your choosing the way you reduce what you reduce and in your choosing the style in which you portray the reduction of whatever you've chosen to reduce in the way you've chosen to reduce it. My contention would be that your intention involves way more than "interest."
  20. It is interesting to consider that "reduction" can be very similar in meaning to "refinement", or even "essence". I've had some push back from people in previous threads when I suggest one of my goals in an image, particularly a vignette, is to capture the "essence" of an experience or moment in time. A refinery or distillery reduces a raw product to its essence, or its purest, most concentrated form. A cook reduces a sauce to concentrate the most flavorful components. The Old Man and the Sea is storytelling prose stripped down to its most economic form, where there are no extraneous components; every word and sentence is essential to telling the story. An artist selects a few very limited components of the larger subject and renders them so that they are as purely representative of the larger subject as possible. All of these processes and outcomes appear to me to be very analogous. There is no one-to-one equivalency, but as representational descriptors they provide an understanding that we can use in evaluating our own photographic process and work and those of others. Whether we use the term reduction, or vignette, or synecdoche, or essence, I suspect we are, as PT suggests, driving at the same thing.

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