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civilized ku # 746 ~ Autumn color # 56 / on seeing

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Halloween yard ~ Au Sable Forks, NY - in the Adirondack PARK • click to embiggen
In a long comment on the recent entry civilized ku # 744, Swen W (no link provided) mentioned the notion of composition or, more accurately, the actual word "compositional" at least 6 times. I mention this point, not to fault Sven W but rather to make mention of the fact that I have avoided addressing the idea of composition as linked to / a component of the act of seeing. That is because, as stated in ku # 826, make no mistake about it, seeing and making good/interesting pictures of what you see are 2 distinctly different skills.

Up to this point the discussion has been primarily concern with developing / enhancing one's ability to see (as opposed to just looking) the at the world around one's self - to develop a sense of "feel" about what you look at, what some have called the "hidden life of things".

Simply stated, IMO, looking + feeling = seeing.

That said, let's move on to making good/interesting pictures of what you see ... On that score, it seems to me that the single element most concerning those who want to make good/interesting pictures of what they see (or, of what they are looking at without feeling) is some notion about the idea of "composition". This preoccupation with "composition" is entirely misplaced and, ultimately, counterproductive to the act of making good/interesting pictures.

Consider the words of 2 picture makers who's pictures are considered to be exquisitely "composed":

Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk. - Edward Weston

The so-called rules of photographic composition are, in my opinion, invalid, irrelevant and immaterial - Ansel Adams

IMO, both statements are spot on the money. If one is involved in trying "master" composition, one is embarked upon a fool's picture making errand because ...

When subject matter is forced to fit into preconceived patterns, there can be no freshness of vision. Following rules of composition can only lead to a tedious repetition of pictorial cliches ... To compose a subject well means no more than to see and present it in the strongest manner possible- Edward Weston

I would phrase that notion of "the strongest manner possible" in a slightly different manner:

There are no rules of composition. Period. End of sentence.

The act of composing a picture is entirely dependent upon the inherent character and qualities of the pictured referent together with how one wishes to convey one's feelings about it.

Now I am fairly certain that my composition dictum, and those of Weston and Adams, are sure to drive the compositionally obsessed to distraction. At least that would be so for those who are unable to let go of all of the rules and begin the not-inconsequential effort to learn, not only how to see, but also to put the feelings that result from that act into their pictures.

Anything that excites me, for any reason, I will photograph: not searching for unusual subject matter but making the commonplace unusual, nor indulging in extraordinary technique to attract attention. Work only when desire to the point of necessity impels – then do it honestly. Then so called “composition” becomes a personal thing, to be developed along with technique, as a personal way of seeing. - Edward Weston

All of that said, it should not be inferred in any way that I do not think that how well (strongly) a picture is composed is not one of the important / necessary qualities that a picture must possess in order to be a good/interesting picture.

More on that idea in tomorrow's on seeing entry.

Posted on Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 10:03AM by Registered Commentergravitas et nugalis in | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

Mark, where did the Weston quotes come from? Thanks for your continued writing on debunking rules.

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDennis Allshouse

After a hiatus of nearly 40 years, I have taken up drawing again. This burst of atavistic activity has been most enjoyable, reminding me of just how much I looked forward every day to the one and only art course I took as a first year college student...in 1969. The "seeing" required for a photographer and a charcoal artist are the same, but different. Aside from the obvious bromide that drawing is additive while photography is subtractive, that the sketcher arranges objects freely inside a frame while the photographer imposes a frame over a disorderly reality (putting aside studio still life), what are your thoughts on this? Do the skills of one reinforce the other? Do they compete? I don't think they are entirely separate worlds, but how to the relate? Can one strengthen the other? Many early photographers were trained as painters, but now most seem not to have come to photography through that route. Implications?

October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

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