Image Analysis by “Initiative”

I have been trying to analyse what are the factors that initiate my taking a particular composition and have devised the following processes to achieve it.
To start with I had to discover and give names to the factors that caused me to be interested in taking a particular image. By reviewing 76 of my “Iceland 2017” images I was able to identify and give names to the following factors:

Intuition – I see an image, I know it is right but I cannot yet explain why. I am recognising the potential for a narrative in the scene but not the narrative itself.
Recognition – I recognise a relationship to something else, a painting, a film, a style, that has previously inspired me. For me, such a scene already has a built-in narrative.
Design – There is something about the design of the scene that appeals – colours, shapes, etc. However, it may not have much in the way of a narrative.
Belief – A location that appears to have a lot of potential compositions that should have interesting narratives. For example, there are quirky         elements and or juxtapositions.
Spectacle – The lighting or something else makes for a spectacular image but often without other merits such as a strong narrative.

Some images had more than one initiating factor. For example, I may have started at a location with a “Belief” that good images could be found there. Then later I identify some elements of “Design” that appealed to me. Such an image would score for both Belief and Design. Hence a larger total number of “Factors” appear in the data than the number of images.

The second step was to go through each image and give it a score based upon my personal preferences, was I pleased with it, did it have a strong narrative, did it fit with my research goals, etc.

This is a purely subjective scoring system that left me with 35 images out of 76 classified as Good or Very Good.

Here is a chart showing the proportions of images that I classified as successful or not.

I am planning to engage with an independent group of photographers for them to rate my photographs against my stated objectives and against their personal preferences as a reality check of my own analysis.

Only those images rated as Good or Very Good will ever be considered for display in my project.

My aim here is to discover whether any particular factor or factors resulted in more or fewer successful images.

The following data table shows the factors versus image success.

Factor                       Good or Very good images                 All images
Belief                                        15                                               44
Design                                      15                                               28
Intuition                                   7                                                 8
Recognition                             5                                                 6
Spectacle                                  3                                                 6

When these numbers are displayed on a Radar chart (and referencing back to the raw data for Image Success) some interesting conclusions can be made.

The most striking observation is that all 7 images with “Intuition” as an identified factor also scored as “Very Good”.

Five of the 7 images with “Recognition” as a factor scored either “Good” or “Very Good”.

Just 5 of my images were classified as “Spectacle” and of these only 3 achieved a score of “Good” or “Very Good”. So being spectacular is not a strong indicator of success.

“Belief” is by far the most common driver for my actually taking an image. However, only ~34% of such images score “Good” or “Very Good”.

“Design” is not a good predictor that the final image will be a success.

Conclusions
Overall my experiencing feelings of “Intuition” or “Recognition” at a location are by far the best indicators that I will produce successful images.

“Belief”, based upon having seen quirky elements and or juxtapositions at a location, maybe a good starting point for taking images but I am not so good at turning this into successful compositions unless I also experience “Intuition” or “Recognition”.

Most of the locations for the images in this sample were only visited once. Consequently, I had little choice over the lighting conditions and this certainly had an impact upon my success rate.

Additionally, when “Belief” is the sole driver, perhaps I need to visit the location more than once in order to better understand it and its possibilities. This technique did work with my multiple visits to Cramond Island. For future field work I should plan to travel less and spend longer at each location.

Silence

“Silence is not just an absence of noise. It opens dimensions of experience everyone can take sensual pleasure from.”

This is a paraphrase taken from the trailer for the film In Pursuit of Silence.

I recently read a description of Edward Hopper’s paintings as being “metaphors of silence” and that they are about “tension and isolation” (Renner 2002, p85).

My own photography has long been influenced by Hopper, also Andrew Wyeth and, more recently, by the work of Hale Johnson. All American Realists who have created landscapes where the silence is profound and, even when people are included, they are images of isolation and loneliness. I do not consider these to be negative attributes, rather I find them comforting. Their paintings induce a tranquillity within me of a sort that I also want to convey through my photography.

Here are two images by Hale Johnson who specialised in paintings of New England.

Like Wyeth, and to a lesser extent, Hopper, Johnson uses a muted colour palette. This, along with his simple, austere compositions, helps evoke the silence in his paintings.

The isolation and loneliness come from the positioning of the houses on a hill, above the viewer, the empty space around the subject and the blank windows and open doors.

I have started to realise that I also use these techniques in my photography, albeit intuitively rather than as a conscious tactic.

The following painting is by Andrew Wyeth. I include it because it is a contradiction. Despite the obvious, stormy wind being implied (after all, the painting is called “Squall”), to me, it is a silent, comforting image.

The rain coats and binoculars seem so peaceful and calming, hanging there that the whites-horses seen through the window can be ignored. Even the open door does not evoke any sense of noise or even disturbance.

Wyeth wrote about this painting, in his autobiography. “…that strange quality reflected inside the white kitchen became more luminous as the squalls grew stronger”. (Wyeth 2002, p129). Perhaps it is that warm light, against the dark exterior, that creates the comforting calm.

In the Outdoor Photography magazine, issue 217, May 2017, page 104, there is a selection of 13 images on the subject of “Quiet Landscapes”. All of these images have muted, or B&W colours, a very simple composition with a single focal point that has a lot of space around it. Most images are further simplified by mist.

Conclusions – A muted colour palette and an austere composition are strong drivers in the creation of silence. Isolation and loneliness are helped by having a simple main subject and giving space around it. Blank windows and open doors give an impression of the buildings being unoccupied and so even more isolated.

I finish with one of my own “silent” images.

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing stories versus Making stories

After taking an intuitively composed image I can often find quite complex narratives within it. Given that these images have been intuitively composed, that is quickly and without any overt thought, I wonder whether these narratives were intuitively seen or just made up later from my thoughts when deconstructing the image.

My hypothesis is that most of the narrative is already seen, but probably not yet understood at the instant of intuitive composition. I will us a “thought experiment” to test my hypothesis.

I start with an image that became the catalyst for my final undergraduate project. I saw this scene and immediately knew it was going to be important to the narrative of the whole project. I couldn’t explain why. I just knew!

At this point, I had little idea what my project would be about, except that it would be images of objects and scenes at the National Trust’s, Tyntesfield House that were not normally be visible to the public.

The House was closed to the public whilst the staff performed a major cleaning operation. Here a portrait of Tyntesfield’s founding father has been removed from the wall, placed on the floor with the rope and some tissue providing a little protection.

It was the incongruity of the arrangement and the impression of a face hidden but trying to peer through the tissue that was immediately attractive to me.

However, the fact that this was some form of maintenance work seemed obvious from this composition. There is a narrative here but not a complex one. I wanted to achieve something more enigmatic.

This was certainly an intuitive composition. For the final version, with little more than a few seconds thinking I concluded that a closer crop was required to eliminate information and so create the required enigma.

Here is the final version. The whole process, from seeing the scene to creating this final version, was a matter of a couple of minutes. I knew I had something special but without knowing why.

Consequently, I consider this to be an “intuitive composition”.

Over the next weeks, as I looked at and started to deconstruct the image, the following narratives come out.

This is the portrait of a of a very wealthy and powerful man, Anthony Gibbs. In the 1800’s he made large profits from the South American guano trade. A result of his success was the 100 room Tyntesfield House and its 600-acre estate.

His portrait has looked down upon his descendants and their servants for 200 years.

However, today it is the thousands of National trust visitors who look at him as if he is just an attraction in a zoo.

I wonder what would he think?

Even worse, here he is, with his face hidden by tissue and guarded by a rope. Instead of a demonstration of his authority, his portrait is just another object to be cleaned. Would he be horrified by the indignity?

I knew some of the history of the family and house so how much of this narrative did I unconsciously recognise at the time of taking?

Or was it an intuitive recognition of the narrative potential, created by this unusual scene?

Or was the narrative wholly created later, based upon the composition I had taken?

I do know that I was so excited in the moment of seeing and taking the image that I must have recognised something instantly and intuitively.

I immediately understood that this scene would become the foundation for my whole project.

From then on, my project focused on the quirky juxtapositions of objects, accidentally created by conservators as they went about maintaining the house and its contents.

Today, going back to my “Artist Statement”, written at the time (2010), I found the following:

“My photography is about exposing and giving significance to the unintended compositions and accidental beauty of stored, sometimes forgotten and usually hidden objects within their landscapes. There is no deliberate narrative. These are “found” objects in “found” compositions taken without manipulation.”

I was not trying to create any specific narrative but was more concerned about the visual relationships to be found in the “unintended compositions”.  Later in the statement I wrote:

My viewpoint and composition invite the viewer to invent a narrative and attribute their own significances to each object and its place in the image.

I do want to viewer to be sufficiently intrigued by the composition that they will take time to wonder about and create their own image narratives.

In Conclusion

I am not, as I hypothesised earlier, composing based upon having intuitively seen a narrative that I cannot yet articulate.

Instead I am being intuitively attracted by the juxtapositions of a scene’s elements and the possibilities they create for making narratives.

It is an intuitive recognition of a potential narrative that is driving my compositions.