December 17th, 2007

Her Image, Not Mine

Vittoria told him to pack his cameras because she wanted to show him a very special place. After a long drive they parked in a deserted lot and then walked along a narrow cinder path between a canal and a small river. She led him through a tangle of brush until they arrived at a clearing at the riverbank.

She sat down at the base of a big tree. He raised his camera. What he saw in the viewfinder was something that she—not he—had previsualized. In this instance Vittoria was the producer and he was merely her camera man. The image was her creation, not his.

Not too long afterward he posted a JPEG of the scene in the internet gallery run by Andrew Davidhazy, Professor of Imaging and Photographic Technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology. It elicited viewers' comments that affirmed Vittoria's vision and artistic sensibilities:

A nude woman sits in a sylvan setting. Across a river, there’s a factory. Her face seems melancholy or wistful, maybe dejected. To me, this could be about the feminine spirit of Nature (Gea) and how man’s works have failed to integrate/consider the natural world. This is a complex composition, and the author has managed its components expertly. The weighing of the two “halves” of the image for emotional impact was critical. Mask off even a tiny bit off each side and see how it shifts.

The sylvan side is sensuous, extured and rich with depth, while the factory side is kinda flat and nondescript. I like those foreground roots (brought to mind Eliot’s “Where are the roots that clutch?”)***. Note the black halo around the model’s head, how it emphasizes (through tonal contrast) her head/fce. It keeps her from getting lost in the image.

***What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

--The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot

* * *

Compare this waterside image with those made by the Impressionists. This image appears to be a composition in Photoshop. What attracted me to it is the idea behind it. You have the usual symbol of the river of time flowing between banks, one is urban, the other is nature’s. The human figure is portrayed in nature’s realm. B&W is used to contrast these elements.

* * *

The figure appears to be a nude, no longer a girl. She is drawn to herself, her leg and arms supporting her head in a thoughtful posture. It is a rather painterly construction. Were the figure dressed, what might the viewer’s reaction have been?

The French Immpressionists liked this type of environment and I have no doubt that it inspired the photographer. Here we are in the realm of ideas, so my review poses the question of relationship. The figure, being nude, is exposed to her conscience.

The truth of her life. The photographer, as the artist, hopes it is a universal candid statement. The natural setting says: Am I the last resort of someone whom time is threatening? I don’t fear time. I always exist. If you stay in my domain you are of me. You associate yourself with me.

A tree, like the nude, wears no foreign garment. So the parallelism continues. The lighting picks out the tree and the figure in the same way. The background has been darkened in PS to isolate the figure and the foreground trees; and hide theh object or prop on which the figure is seated. This latter dark-fill editing tends to make the figure too formal and isolates her from her surroundings. And the technique reveals itself. Which is a no-no in my view of photography. It takes away from the unity of the idea. Even composition in PS must be thorough. It must not be used to hide, but to reveal.

* * *

The black border infers that the photographer has used a full negative and that this isn’t a PS job. I hope that’s true, because I like the fresh air of location in which all living beings that participated interacted at a particular moment in time. Then the fact that the author used a model doesn’t detract from the aura of the image. She was there!

* * *

Bob, I am quite sure that the woman in this photograph is not nude. On my 15” Mac monitor she appears to be wearing a black bathing suit. BTW, the image to me does not appear to be a composition in PS.

* * *

This is reminiscent of Charles Sheeler, a Philadelphia painter and photographer, who was involved in the Precisionist movement of the 1920s, which included Charles Demuth, Ralston Crawford, Preston Dickinson, Niles Spencer, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Precisionism is regarded as “cool” art, which keeps the viewer at a distance. Sheeler had the notion that the artist ought to be detached, and not given to much social criticism.

Sheeler saw in industrial landscapes something religious. Indeed he is the iconographer for the religion of technology. His paintings avoid the organic, the living. Humans are present only to provide scale. Sheeler believed the world is in your back yard, if only you have the eyes to see it. His backyard, though, consisted of factories, mills, and cityscapes. The inorganic.