The Vignette as an Expressive Tool

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

  1. PT, where did u get the term 'gentle reader'. i used it earlier in a thread but i can't remember its origins and it's bugging me. is it dickens?
     
  2. ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
     
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  3. OK, so I'm going to agree with much of your commentary but differ with your conclusion, because I prefer the uncropped version. I think if the details are important and the subject (compactor) is important, what you observe is also important. But, visually speaking, I like seeing the entire curve of the machine which vanishes in your crop and I like the feeling the sense of space gives me in the original. The bluer sky of the original feels more harmonious to me and the more naturally-colored sand in the original fits better to me. And this goes back to something I said earlier about the relative importance or unimportance, sometimes, of the subject. Since I wouldn't know what this machine is one way or the other, and since both versions pretty much take it out of any particular narrative context, my relationship to it stays mostly abstract, and I suspect that even if I were intimately familiar with sheep foot compactors both these versions wouldn't, for me, be about sheep foot compactors. They'd both operate more on an abstract than concrete or narrative level. To me, the details aren't near as interesting when the sensuousness of the bit of original curve from which those details protrude is gone.
     
  4. Fair enough. This is exactly why critiques, at least meaningful critiques, are so important. We may never agree as to the best presentation of this subject, if for no other reason than our personal connections or references to it are so different. Still, it is helpful and informative to me, as the photographer, to have some understanding of how others perceive my work. It should make me better, or at the very least, more empathetic with my audience. I hadn't gone back to the original in a long time, and I agree that the detail image lost something in the background colors. Chalk it up to a steep learning curve on PP. Having this pointed out, and being willing to accept it, I can now go back and see the possibilities with new eyes, and, perhaps, apply new skills in developing the image. I still find strength and meaning in the small details, and my goal will remain keep them visually accessible. Success in doing so will be entirely dependent upon the medium through which the image is presented. In the 1000x666 pixel format of an image posted on P-net (to be visible in a single screen view), those details will never be accessible. A well executed 24x18, high quality print at 300 dpi could bring them out, so mode of presentation remains, as always, a critical component in both message and perception. The issue for me, and any photographer in a similar context, is how to find the best (if there is such a thing) balance between detail and context. It is in this range that most of the images apropos to this discussion live. Fred, your feed back is, as always, well considered and sincerely appreciated.
     
  5. .............
    on specificity and essence

    Using photojournalism as our case study (because they do vignettes all day long);

    "As in the case of all popular arts, the basic rubrics and protocols of news photography are well understood by its audience. Thus, a subject hiding his or her face with a hat is understood to be either a criminal, a famous entertainer, or extremely rich, and the hat itself generally identifies which of the three hides behind it. The role, which is permanent, is more important than the individual, who is transient. But even eternal verities must, to remain interesting, change their aspect.

    [line break added] To this end, photography, which is in detail unreconstructably specific, particular, and local, is the perfect foil for the categorical structures of the daily paper. In the camera's eye each felon cowers a little differently, every candidate has a different smile and a different wave, even beauty queens are subtly unique. Thus, the factuality of photography renews the art of journalism.

    "Factuality is, as is well known, a different thing from truth. The truthfulness of any picture, whether an altarpiece or a news photo, is ultimately moot — an issue to be decided, if at all, on the basis of religious faith or aesthetic intuition. The related issue of honesty, though prickly enough, is marginally more susceptible to objective tests." — John Szarkowski

    David, might we agree to use "honesty" instead of "essence" for what it is that makes a picture ring true? I think most of us are comfortable with "honesty" even if we may have different requirements for it. (Szarkowski's very next sentence is "In the case of news photographs one should begin by recognizing that many of these pictures are, in greater or lesser degree, setups.")
     
  6. .................
    on titles / captions / texts

    I would submit that the text which accompanies a vignette is integral to the vignette. It's not extra, additional, optional: rather it is a necessary, even definitional requirement of vignette. I think this not only answers many of the very reasonable doubts raised in previous posts to this thread about "how (or why) do you know that this picture is a vignette?" it also deals with the issue of cliché (and "essence") by putting the categorical into the words while admitting the deviating specifics in the picture.

    "In their newspaper context the specific meaning of photographs is made clear by a caption and a boldface lead ... . [Without their caption] their narrative meaning is often far less clear than we would have assumed with the caption to help us. Without reference to their meaning in narrative terms, news photographs have long fascinated modern painters — those who have been by definition most interested in the independent life of pictures. Picasso, Magritte, and Bacon are among the most conspicuous examples of painters who have been moved by, and have borrowed from, news photographs ... "

    "[Modern news photos] are (or seem) unimpeachably frank; they have redefined prior standards of privacy, and the privilege of anonymity; they deal not with the intellectual significance of facts, but with their emotional content; they have directed journalism toward a subjective and intensely human focus. As images, the photographs are shockingly direct, and at the same time mysterious, elliptical, and fragmentary, reproducing the texture and flavor of experience without explaining its meaning. They have worn the aspect of fact, proven nothing, and asked the best questions." — John Szarkowski

    I think that last paragraph could be a description of Frank's The Americans. But I dare you to caption or title any of Robert Frank's individual photographs. The book's title is an idea, but the pictures are ... see Szarkowski above.

    If we move from journalism to art photography, in Wright Morris's work for example (referenced in the recent Documents thread), where he tried to combine his photographs with his texts (he was both an outstanding photographer and writer), he says that readers invariably told him that either the text interfered with the pictures or the pictures interfered with the text. Oddly, I think this was because his pictures are so good; they don't submit to the text.

    Here is Wim Wenders:

    "In the relationship between story and image, I see the story as a kind of vampire trying to suck all the blood from an image. Images are acutely sensitive; like snails they shrink back when you touch their horns. They don't have it in them to be the cart horses, carrying and transporting messages or significance or intention or a moral. But that's precisely what a story wants from them."​

    ................
     
  7. Here is Emily Carr:

    "If you're going to lick the icing off somebody else's cake, you won't be nourished and it won't do you any good . . ."​
     
  8. David, glad you got something out of my comments. And thanks for the response.

    While I, too, consider personal connections and references important, I would also include, as importantly, differences in aesthetics and vision. I like to think that I and others can have empathetic responses even to objects and subjects we're not intimately familiar with. So, for instance, if I take a photo of my father and someone suggests an alternative perspective, crop, or style, I tend to accept that as a matter of aesthetics and consider it in that light. He may not know my father, but he has his own father and can probably still give me some good insights into how to shoot a man of that age, given what he sees of what I've already presented.

    Though I'm not intimately familiar with the particular type of compactor you photographed, I'm familiar with many other types of machines and obviously familiar with skies and sand. So, in this case as well, I think it's in part about our personal references to the specific subject but probably more about the way we would treat and see that subject aesthetically. Neither of us is necessarily "right," of course, but I believe neither of us is closer to being "right," even for our own visions, because of personal references and experiences. I think aesthetics and vision are the key things to zero in on. Aesthetics do involve an intimate and personal point of view, but not one that is necessarily limited by specific subject matter, at least in my opinion.
     

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