...I might add, on the subject of context and no context (re the Avedon and Wilson shots in the "Trees and Bees" post below), that I almost cannot look at studio photography. The reason is that I consistently and persistently "see," in my mind, the studio around the shot.
That is, when I see this, I also "see" this. Maybe not specifically, but generically. I can't help it; I've spent too much time in studios, seen too many lighting setups. My brain always fills in around the shot. I've actually struggled to get back to being able to "see" just what's in the shot and no more, but it hasn't been much use—I can't not imagine the studio, the lights, the camera, the people, the ever-present cabling, etc. The pictures, of course, depend for their success on being separated cleanly from of the context of the larger reality, but I imagine the context, too. Just because it's out of the picture isn't enough to make it invisible to me.
Note: Sorry to have to say this out loud, but I hasten to add that I'm not critiquing the linked illustrations in any way, shape, or form. In fact I was pleased to find good illustrations to show what I mean. What I'm talking about would be equally true of any other studio shot as well.
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Ken White: "This seems to be a common problem for individuals who work with technologies that create the illusion of simplicity from complex infrastructure. I have a similar experience with many kinds of common computer software. I see the programming logic in my mind as I interact with the applications. Overactive visual learning and recall I guess."
Mike replies: My friend Nick, who is a translator, says the same thing about certain bad translations from German—he says he sees the structure of the original German behind the awkward English. And my friend Bob Burnett, a film director, says more or less the same thing as well—he mentioned once that he can't really look at commercials on television because he just sees the technique of how they're made behind them. I'm not putting it as eloquently as he did, but I don't know the right terms.
Featured Comment by Ken Cobb: "This reminds me of something I read by Mark Twain, when thinking about his time as a river boat captain. He said when other people see the river, they see the beauty of it, a nice sunset reflecting off the waters, etc. Where he only saw dangers lurking just beneath. The various swirls on the surface indicating hidden sand bars, tree trunks, and so on. He said it totally ruined it for him. Even after so many years away from the boat, he still couldn't appreciate the beauty of the river."
Featured Comment by Ross Chambers: "In my days as a post production supervisor of feature films it was always interesting to listen in after the cast and crew screening: continuity worried about cigarettes at different stages of burn and actors in slightly wrong positions, costume about inconsistencies between sequences, DOPs worried about what they considered dodgy lighting, sound dept. about half frame out of sync on the odd ADR line. Of course no department noticed problems with any other department's results.
"I was cured altogether when someone from the lab was aghast to see 'applicator spread.' Explanation: when an answer or release print is processed the image and sound track (in those days, anyway) needed slightly different chemistry. The track area had chemicals "applicated" on that area only. Sometimes it spread very slightly and to the extremely trained lab technical eye this was apparent.
"The devotion to task by the lab person was praiseworthy, but the ordinary viewer would never even think of it. I suspect many viewing your sample wouldn't parse their way through this shot either."
Featured Comment by Patrick Snook: "I find that I can get some entertainment from reverse-engineering pictures (still and moving) that would otherwise not pique my interest. Recent examples come to mind: twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my family in a department store, in a clothing section, I spent several distracting minutes imagining the context of the fashion photos around me. A month or so ago, attending the opening of a blockbuster kids' movie, the teenager-angst story interested me less than the technicalities of the cinematography, and I found myself quite comfortably enjoying the lighting, camera movements, editing, and lens choices for the duration of the (unmoving) movie. It became for me a masterclass in enviromental portraiture, without the blather from the master. No tell, just show.
"The music analogy referred to by Ed Nixon (in the Comments section) obtains, for me anyway. I do precisely toggle between hearing and naming chord progressions (and other things) and wallowing in the emotional sum of the moving parts. That phrase reminds me of a lovely and pertinent WWII poem by Henry Reed, "The Naming of Parts." I think that musicians—well-trained ones, anyway—likely do both things at will or even without trying. I'm not sure how I swing from one to the other, but I do know I find more pleasure in listening to the emotion."
Featured Comment by John Baker: "Of course the granddaddy of them all is the Great and Powerful Oz."