Now You See It, Now You Don’t

dripping with color, photograph

“A great photograph is a distillation, a reduction of the chaos of our wider experience to a visually satisfying essence where what is excluded is as important as what is included.”

David Ward

A characteristic of photography that makes it such a unique art form is that it starts by confronting what is essentially complete and continues by carefully choosing what to eliminate. The scene in front of you, whether a landscape, portrait or abstract, has all of the basic elements needed for your creation already there. What you need to do to get started is to decide what not to include in the final work.

The closest thing to this I can think of in other art forms is in sculpture, which often proceeds through a process of elimination. The stone is gradually chipped away, and what is left is the finished  art. But what is removed is nothing more than unrealized potential – simple stone. In photography what we eliminate is realized potential – it is real stuff that might be interesting to leave in. This makes it harder to get rid of because its presence often tempts us by its color, its interesting shape or some other unusual quality it possesses. We have to overcome the tendency to leave well enough alone.

It’s best to be ruthless when considering what shall remain. What is the picture about? Why are you taking it? What compelled you to stop and consider whether there was something worthwhile there? Anything that isn’t part of the answer must go.

And since these things are there to start with, it is a conscious decision to remove them rather than the quite different decision to simply not create them to begin with, as in painting, writing, music, etc. I don’t think one type of decision is any easier or harder than the other. I suspect that some people are more comfortable with one or the other and that may be what draws them to their artistic path.

I just bought my son his first camera and he asked me for advice about taking pictures. My first suggestion was “get closer and then get closer still”….

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4 responses to “Now You See It, Now You Don’t

  1. Pingback: Merry Christmas! Happy Faces! « Susan’s Art and Sketchbook Blog

  2. Got here from your wifey’s daily sketch bookk. Just wanted to say I’d been here. Great Picture of that Apple. You’re probably famous, top selling, and me, I’m a visitor. Be Blessed!

  3. Yes, distilling an image down to its essence is probably the most important thing I’ve learned in my journey to understand what makes a strong image. That challenge got more difficult as decided to shoot the Hasselblad XPan with its wide angle of view. But a funny thing happened…. I realized the same principal applied. The more simple this wide angle shot was, the more it appealed to me. Good thoughts Bob. As for the image… yummy! I love the soft glow treatment, well done.

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