the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

ALONE AGAIN, UNNATURALLY

Your choices as a photographer will determine if the woman in the cafeteria is alone...or lonely.

Lunch For One, 2011. Your choices as a photographer will determine if the woman in the cafeteria is alone…or lonely.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

PEOPLE ARE ONE OF THE MOST COMPLICATED ELEMENTS in a photographic composition. Unlike furniture, foliage or flotsam, humans are the one “prop” in an image which convey associations and meanings that render a photo complex, troubling, intriguing. Put a person in your picture and you have changed the terms upon which you engage the audience.

At the very least, you have posed a series of questions which color the viewer’s reaction to your work. What is that person doing there? What does he wish for, or intend? What are his dreams, his goals? Is she merely in the picture, or in some way a commentary on her context within it? You can move things around in the name of composition alone, but move a person and you have started a conversation.

The original framing for the above shot.

The original framing for the above shot.

The placement of people in a frame creates speculation about the motives and origins of those people before they were in the frame. A man shown standing at the platform at a train station could be eagerly awaiting an arrival, sneaking out of town, or merely wandering around. The mind starts to supply his backstory, if you like, his actions before appearing in the finite world of the frame. Put two people side by side, and you have, according to your viewer’s whim, a rendezvous, a goodbye, a conspiracy, a reunion, a chance meeting. People change the perceived intention of a photograph as a storyboard, either in the original framing or in the cropping afterwards.

The above image is the final crop of what was, originally, a scenic overview, taken at a large campus of museum buildings on a hillside. The image, as first conceived, was an overall “postcard” with the restaurant in only the lower right quarter of the frame. Later, I became aware that a single woman was visible in the cafe. Now, it’s not that she was actually the only person inside, but the photograph could be cropped to make her seem like it, meanwhile accentuating the emptiness in her immediate area.

As a consequence, instead of a lady who is merely alone, the image can make her seem “lonely”. Or perhaps you disagree. The point is that, by changing the human information in the frame (note that, in the original of the cropped shot, there is also a man standing outside the restaurant), we’ve re-drawn its narrative.

What gets left out of a picture, then, sparks speculation by the viewer, based on what has been left in.

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3 responses

  1. Very nice images. I like the lines and the idea behind taking the images from your specific vantage point.

    January 18, 2016 at 4:42 PM

    • Thanks. This is one of those cases where I had lived with the original image for a long time before realizing that the window grid really served to contain its own little world, and it interested me that she seemed to be its lone inhabitant. Like yourself, I’ve learned that you’re never really done with a picture, even if it satisfied your original intent.

      January 18, 2016 at 7:59 PM

      • Yes, I agree. The challenge is to go back when we take some many images.Even when we mark an image for a redo or for the first time. Somehow they get lost in the pile of so many new to look at. Any secrets to share on how you organize your files that allows you to return?

        January 18, 2016 at 8:34 PM

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