Skimboarding I, photograph
“Exaggerate the essential; leave the obvious vague.”
– Vincent van Gogh
Every image has obvious elements – too often we find ourselves representing these qualities in excruciating detail. Why? Well, it’s… obvious. It’s easy and comfortable. It can make the viewer comfortable, too, and anticipation of that can compel us as well.
What is essential, on the other hand, requires some thought. We have to abstract from the obvious, sometimes deconstructing it, to reach what is essential in the scene. We may get it wrong, or we may not be able to express our conclusion well. It’s riskier than the obvious, but it is only when we stretch to touch the essential that we have any opportunity to make a real connection with the viewer. I think what draws people to art is the chance to connect with the essential and skip past the obvious that surrounds our daily lives to completely.
Part of my fascination with images partly out of focus is that it allows me to be intentionally vague about elements in the image that are not essential. Vagueness can be an enigmatic quality, a tool to employ to help with the essential. Just as the eye is attracted to the area of greatest value contrast in an image, the mind is drawn to point where the vague and obvious surrounds the exaggerated essential.