The Vignette as an Expressive Tool

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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."
  3. 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.
  4. I'll separate myself from that, David. I don't see pure-ness or essence in vignettes or synecdoches. I see symbolism and suggestiveness. My first photo in the thread, the tear/cross photo, to me, has no pure or essential elements. The cross and tear and eye are not essential or the most pure or concentrated elements. They are simply the elements that make up the story I decided to create. For me, it's the elements that built the story, not the story that got reduced to these elements. The elements are the workhorses, not the essence. The story was not there yet to have had an essence. The story is ongoing, alive. It's not a finished fact whose essence we can know. There are extraneous components. The shadow in the corner of Scott's eye, the touch of gray in his sideburns. There are still flourishes. It's not a most concentrated form, IMO. A vignette or synecdoche is not like reducing a fraction to its lowest terms. One never reaches purity, I believe, in art. There's always more . . . or less.
    Julie H and Supriyo like this.
  5. I think a vignette gives a particular insight into a whole, not an essential insight into it. There can be many vignettes from a bigger picture, none of them having to or even necessarily able to capture the essence, but rather very often simply highlighting a specific perspective on or aspect of the thing.
    Julie H likes this.
  6. David, I understand, when you say essence, because to you, the small part that you capture best describes the larger object. However, I always leave the possibility of someone else looking at the subject from a different angle, perceiving a different essence. That person may find some other small part relevant to his vision.

    Can we say, in a vignette, we are capturing one core aspect of a larger subject that's essentially multifaceted, often depending on the viewer too (a refinery reduces the crude oil to many essential components with different properties by eliminating the junk). Vignette, to me does something similar. It can show one core aspect of a larger subject and at times that may be the only one the photographer sees, but other times, different parts of the body can show separate but essential aspects of the larger subject. I realized this when I was photographing some of the Christian missions in California. I felt, these places have multiple core aspects, fraternity, humility, history, contrast with modern life, their interaction with the modern generation. Each of these aspects was important to me, and I took different pictures to perceive these aspects. I am not yet finished and plan to go back. Every time I go, I learn something new about these places.
    DavidTriplett likes this.
  7. Supriyo, how is what you describe different from almost every photo now on
  8. Can you elaborate your question?
  9. I can certainly allow that there are a number of ways to approach this, particularly when it comes to defining a concept as abstract, even abstruse, as we are discussing. In my example of the coiled ropes, I see the ropes, particularly in this context and arrangement, as being a very basic and fairly commonly understood reference to small boats and nautical subjects. In this sense, I have chosen to "boil down" (or reduce, or refine) my subject to a very finite, referential element, one which I hope is as evocative to my audience of small boats and nautical ideas as it is to me. Your description of your approach and intent in making Scott's image illustrates how two photographers can address this subject very differently, while still working towards similar outcomes.
    What you say is absolutely true. I wonder if the differences we are talking about are more in the realm of personal approach and perspective, than they have to do with outcome. You make a very good case, but I don't feel dissuaded from my own in any way. I find I am comfortable with both, in that they are not mutually exclusive. They could even be used in a constructive, synergistic way to more fully inform the creative process, whether in the making or seeing of an image.

    Here is the image I posted in the Small Things thread:
    Rte 66-7306b-xsml.jpg

    And here is the source image from which it was taken:
    Rte 66-7306-xsml.jpg

    Now, a superficial examination of the two might suggest they are not really very different. However, at least to my eye, the cropped image makes the interesting and engaging details much more accessible. The cropped image leaves out a lot, but what is omitted can be construed, at least to a degree, if one recognizes the cropped image as being of a sheep's foot compactor. However, as Fred noted in the other thread, it is engagement with the fine details evident in the crop that makes this image successful. The cropped image most decidedly does not contain all or most of the characteristics of the entire subject, but the details shown can evoke the larger object. I'll note that there are many varieties of sheep's foot compactors. The type construed from the detail image really does not matter. What matters is that the viewer make the connection between the details selected and the larger whole, even if that whole is not exactly the original object.

    So often we see whole objects and register them as such in our memory without taking the time to evaluate the individual details that make up the whole. When the photographer presents a detailed, almost abstract image of a finite part of the whole, then our minds are activated to try and find meaning. The act of making the connection between the detail and the whole becomes simultaneously an act of both creativity and discovery. I think this process is one of the things that make these type images so popular and meaningful. I'm anxious to hear PT's take on this, as he has the academic vocabulary to address in ways that elude me.

    Absolutely and emphatically true. A vignette of "gasoline" does not deny Diesel fuel, kerosene, paraffin, hydrogen, or any of the other products refined from crude oil. It just takes one of those essential components and makes it symbolic of the whole. You could also expand the vignette to include two or more, or combine vignettes of each (as in Strand) to more thoroughly represent the whole, while never, perhaps, actually providing a photograph containing all of the elements combined.

    Consider, for example, a coal mine of the tunnel variety. There is no perspective from which one can photograph the entire mine and its operations. One, then, is forced to present the mine in a series of vignettes. The photographer with a message in mind would carefully choose the subjects, manner, and order of such images so as to transmit a meaning about the whole. An advertisement or tease for the article might pick one image as representative of the whole, pulling the audience towards and into an exploration of that whole. Again, I don't think any of these issues is exclusive of the others, but they can be used in synergism to visualize, construct, communicate, and receive meaning.
  10. What photographer isn't doing those things every time he frames a picture and considers pressing the shutter release? See David's post above. It's a description of photography. We know how to do that, I think.
  11. Imagine the photo of an elephant as opposed to only it's tusk. The tusk to me is a vignette of the elephant, but beyond that the symbolism gets too smeared I think. One may think of the whole elephant as a vignette of wild life or a zoo, but that may or may not work depending on the scenario. The tusk IMO, more often works because its so specific to the elephant.
    DavidTriplett likes this.
  12. Julie, consider the two images I just posted. The original is a photograph, of course, but not so engaging as I might have hoped at the time I captured the image. The crop is, in my opinion, a much more engaging presentation, but one which required creativity, thought and skill to generate from the original. The image of coiled ropes was seen and captured in the field in large part due to my experience with the compactor and similar images. Perhaps I am the only one who didn't already have this all figured out?
  13. [responding to Supriyo's post] How much do you know about whole elephants? Is this about elephants or about what this makes you feel, which may have nothing to do with elephants? Does your concept have a perimeter or is it wide open?
  14. Isn't every photo about how we feel about the subject? Thats the plane we always work on I think.
    Will be back after lunch ...
  15. I think, perhaps, not. Some photos are simply not subject-oriented, even photos that seem to have one. Some photos are more about the photo than the subject. I have taken photos where I feel more for the photo than for the subject, some where I feel more for the subject as photographed than for the subject as not photographed, some where I feel way more for the subject than the photo, most where I feel differently for the subject and the photo, and some that don't seem to me to have a definable subject at all.
  16. How I feel about a subject ... LOL I'm not dead. Yes. I think it's safe to say that's true.

    I spend 99% of my time doing composites these days, which are an entirely different animal, but when I do out and shoot for the sheer pleasure of it, I do the opposite of vignettes: what I look for is what's strange about something. I look for what I don't recognize, what I am surprised by, what departs from the expected. That's what turns me on.
  17. When you share these images, what response do you expect or hope for from your audience? Do you frame the images such that they have sufficient context for the viewer to suss-out the unusual, or is the intent to leave the viewer befuddled, with only the graphic content as the intended message? I'm not saying the second option is any less desirable, far from it. It is just a different approach than I usually take.
  18. PapaTango

    PapaTango Itinerant Philosopher

    David, I am bereft at this moment of any scholarly linguistic legerdemain concerning vignettes--this will remedy itself in the near future--but I wish to say how much I am enjoying this discussion.

    My apologies (or condolences) to the group over a previous malodorous utterance. I perhaps chose a bad metaphor to describe something noxious hanging in the philosophical air. Let's not scratch at it too much, lest it bleed and leave a nasty scar. As it is I am stuck with a looping mental movie of a black swan propelling itself at high speed around a pond. That said, we will not delve too much further into the ontological semantics that surround the use of our particular F arty word--nor the epistemic modality in which it has twice now been proffered.

    Rather, I seek to find some way to validate it, to (and in synchrony with the literary allusions we are bantering about) tie such a thing to something of more depth and meaning. What a wonder it would be to bestow it with profundity. I considered what great authors have had to say about the subject. Twain came to mind, but he juxtaposed and conflated the matter with another practice that is not accepted well in public or polite society. Something from Joyce and his letters about the matter emerged from the trunk of literary mathoms at the back of my consciousness--but unfortunately a cursory parsing revealed why drunken Irishmen are not often invited to erudite social gatherings. Then it struck me! Hemingway! From '88 Poems' we cover the miasmatic F and the diaphanous arts all in one fell swoop:

    Unfortunately, Ernie spent far too much time alone at home, drinking. I wonder if he was Irish? o_O

    1. Your simile of the first date only stands to prove a single point. DO NOT eat chili or cruciferous vegetables within 16 hours of a first date. Don't ask me how I know this. Such consumption is a deal-breaker.
    2. Your second simile of the old couple holds no dialectic potential. The reason for this is by that time, no one cares anymore...
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2017
  19. Enabler! Pusher! PapaTango leadeth me and I goeth willingly.

    The Language
    by Robert Creeley

    [ … ]

    I heard words
    and words full

    of holes
    aching. Speech
    is a mouth.​

    [I've been trying to figure out how "Spoiler" works since my days with poll jumping. Now, let me think what I can do with this new toy ...]

    Your #1 assumes that the results of your DO NOT are undesirable. Some of us really enjoy ... what happens thereafter. Much merriment and admiration can ensue (just ask my little sister and my dog).

    On #2, yes, but it will be missed when it's gone. The essence of her.

    Which reminds me of something from Bakhtin:

    "The present is something transitory, it is flow, it is denied an authentic conclusiveness and consequently lacks an essence as well."​

    Absence makes the nose grow fonder.
  20. —Oscar Wilde

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