Archive for April 22nd, 2021

To get this shot the photographer had to have been sitting or kneeling on the floor at the edge of the coffee table with the flower arrangement.  Seeing this photo in the newspaper (NYTimes) may have been shocking to some people who may have thought it simply was the only shot they could get from that event in the Oval Office.  I don’t think so.  I think it was the BEST shot.  I think it was chosen among many because this view is artful and expressive.

To appreciate this photo with the out-of-focus flowers in the foreground, let’s remind ourselves of the standard Oval Office photo. (I have blurred out the faces to make it easier to concentrate on overall composition and the gestures of these four characters.)

Symmetry rules!  Look at the placements of the paintings and the sculptures.  Why are these important? Because symmetry conveys the feeling of rationality, stability and order.  That’s what we want in our government.  Even the placement of the four people is symmetrical in the photographer’s frame.  Wonderful.

Then why is this picture comical?  Because the rationality of the geometry in the picture is contradicted by the absurdity of the non-communication taking place here.  The woman is articulating a point to which the man on the couch respectfully listens. These two are completely disconnected from the two figures in the background.   In the chair at the left someone has arranged a department store dummy. In the chair on the right, two pectoral fins are flapping while a long ventral stripe defines this noisy benthic entity.

The drama in this photo, therefore, consists in the contrast between the rigorous geometry of the stage set and the disorder created by the characters on the stage.

Now back to the first picture, the one with the out-of-focus flowers.

There is no symmetry, not even Jefferson’s portrait is in the middle.  No symmetry = no stasis = movement.  Movement here doesn’t mean somebody jumping, it means excitement in the mind.

We don’t even get a sense of the three-dimensional space of this room.  The photo looks like a collage. Your eye moves through this restless collage: flowers, man, portrait, lampshade.  The focus is on Biden, partly because you recognize him as the president, but also because the lines of the portrait’s frame behind him converge on his head, like an arrow.  Notice how the lines of the Jefferson frame direct your attention at the president’s head.  But that masked presidential face occupies a very small part of the photo surface.  What actually dominates the composition?  The flower arrangement in the foreground! About a fourth of the whole photo!  And it’s out of focus!!

Why is this important?  Because we’re looking not at the documentation of an event but rather at a juxtaposition—yes, a collage–of elements that invite interpretation. Your mind races to see connections:   Biden-Jefferson,  flowers-environment, decisions-environment, past-future,  known-unknown,  et al.

So, this photo is a work of art.


AP Photo/Evan Vucci

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.





Read Full Post »