WHEN MORE IS, WELL, MORE
By MICHAEL PERKINS
I AM CERTAINLY GUILTY, in these pages, of frequently harping on the need for economy in the composition of a photograph, of working purposely to say the most with the least. I’ve rhapsodized about how clutter and crowding can ruin a picture’s ability to communicate cleanly, and how best to streamline one’s vision with repeated layers of editing and cropping, in an attempt to pare away any extraneous junk that gets between a photo and its audience’s eye.
And in many cases, I still feel I am right.
Except when I am completely wrong.
Clutter & Buck, 2022
Occasionally, we’re faced with trying to capture a subject whose very complexity or density is not in the way of the point, but is the point. Intricate gears in a machine. A teeming crowd filling the frame with conflicting destinations and motivations. Or here, a rustic chicken coop that is all about noise, crowding, clutter, randomness. Certainly it would be possible to frame a picture of this subject with minimal elements, limited textures, going “clean” in a ruthless way. But that would result in a completely different image than what I wanted from this photo.
And so this is a kind of mess, this picture, and yet I am so sure that it’s the only true thing I could have made under the circumstances. In musical terms, composition is a deliberate arrangement of elements, and can be either richly layered or spare. The composer, wielding either a pen or a camera, must decide how best to get the music out. Photography proceeds from a given set of rules, but in breaking those rules, we decide whether they should have been written in the first place. I still love spare subject matter for many of my pictures, but sometimes, just sometimes, a song is best played fortissimo, with all the instruments blaring at once.