Balanced, calm composition (veering slightly toward hysteria)

I was instantly struck by this four-quadrant checkerboard pattern of vertical and horizontal lines and areas of shadow and light when I walked into my office around 1:00 this afternoon after teaching my freshman report-writing class.

I fooled around with my iPhone’s editing filters and had planned to use one of my black-and-white versions in today’s post. That made sense because of the picture’s emphasis on light and dark contrasts. Wouldn’t those contrasts be enhanced by limiting visual elements to the grayscale spectrum?

Yet once I saw the edited photos, I decided I liked the original image best. It wasn’t the patterns of light and shadow that were calling to me, I realized. It was more the sense of calm I felt emanating from the balanced composition of vertical and horizontal lines and planes and blocks of color.

My zen office corner 🙂

Only the original photo’s muted colors and soft contrasts truly captured what I felt when I walked into the room.

I’m posting all versions here so you can see what I mean. Maybe you’ll feel that one of the other versions creates a better photo.

When I first started fooling around with the filters, I initially thought I’d go with the “Mono” filter. I even originally titled this post “Arrangement in Black and White No. 2,” which would have been a nice follow-up link to my earlier “Arrangement in Black and White No. 1.” Here’s the “Mono” version.

Then I tried another b/w filter, “Silvertone,” seen below. I liked the warmth and richness that one seemed to add. But you couldn’t really understand what was going on with the black and white vertical lines atop the cabinet. There was so much contrast that it was hard to see that these were shadowed set-back areas of the corner.

Finally, to really heighten the contrasts and make the lights lighter and darks darker, I went with “Noir.” But this one seemed flatter and suddenly only about the black and white. 

When I looked back at my original, I decided I liked the muted colors after all. But since the “Vivid” filter was right next door to the original version, I gave it a try. And I actually did like the way “Vivid” (below) brightened up the colors and heightened the contrast. But the tan-colored walls were a bit too bright now. And I was rapidly approaching my insight that this picture was less about contrast than it was about balance.

So in the end, the muted colors of the original came closest to capturing what I saw when  I spotted the photograph “in the wild,” as it were.

Sometimes the simple truth of an unedited photo is best. In fact, that’s almost always my approach. If I see a “picture,” I try to capture an image in camera that best approximates the flash of “sight” (insight?) that created the photo in my mind’s eye. And I try to do it upfront instead of via editing as often as possible. For me there’s an authentic integrity in that simplicity.

Kind of an Occam’s razor approach to photography 🙂

Someone once told me that photography was not art. Pointing a camera and clicking the shutter is not at all in the same realm as sculpture or painting. Because there was skill involved, they conceded, photography might be considered a “craft.” Then they also modified their position and went so far as to say that possibly an edited (i.e., “painted”) photograph might be considered art. But an unedited photo was definitely not a work of art.

Obviously, that person’s mind would be difficult to change. Where even to begin? The art-versus-craft debate is somewhat pointless and therefore particularly vehement. (Reminds me a bit of that saying about how campus politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low.)

But to counter the idea that photograph cannot be “art,” I think that “seeing” is an art, number one. Perception. Art is not “art” until it has meaning, so if no one sees meaning in a work of “art,” then it’s not art. To create art requires seeing and technical skill. That’s my number two, by the way: “technical skill” and the ability to employ it effectively to create the work that captures your vision.

The “seeing” works on both ends of the creative process. To create art requires seeing and technical skill. To recognize art requires seeing and vocabulary or similar conceptual frameworks. Vacabulary and other symbolic tools open your eyes and allow you to see what was previously invisible.

The first time I taught film studies I asked my students at the beginning of the term to list their favorite movies and say what made them special. Almost without exception everyone cited “acting” as the thing that made a movie great. But it wasn’t really the acting, I realized when I asked them to say more. Students cited acting only because they didn’t yet have the vocabulary or conceptual framework to “see” anything else. As they learned about camera lenses and composition, about lighting, production, and sound design, etc., over the course of the term, they also developed an ablity to recognize elements of true art in cinema when they encountered them. Including acting, but now with an ability to discern what made an actor’s performance a work of art.

Sorry to get all preachy 🙂

While not every photograph is art, photography itself is an art. Agreed? Okay! 🙂

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
This entry was posted in Art, Creativity, Photography and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Balanced, calm composition (veering slightly toward hysteria)

  1. Alien Resort says:

    The blinds have movement. (I would put writing way ahead of acting)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the first one as well. So, Ansel Adams was not a real artist???? Crazy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sally Cissna says:

    For some reason I was focused on the scene out the bottom of the window. It drew my eye. At first I didn’t like it – thought maybe it should have been cropped – too bright. But then it’s scene is subtly geometric also. I think photography is art. Some people with or without editing just have an eye for the picture. For example my nature pictures are always rushed, often taken from a speeding car so I struggle with focus, chop off the buffalo’s head, whatever. I take 30 pictures and delete 29 of them. It took me a long time to learn to focus properly even still pictures of flowers, for example. There is a whole lexicon of learning that must be in place to take an excellent photo. I like yours because you celebrate the beauty of the mundane. I love my daughter’s because she sees the beauty of every adventure and doesn’t take pics of tourist sites, but rather of the broken down and discarded. I love my nephew’s because he has the patience to lay in a field until the animal is close enough to be framed in the wilderness. Each of you is an artist in your own right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sally, that is beautifully said! Thank you for the time you gave to articulating your insights. Truly, this is a gift you’ve given me! You should consider passing on your thoughts about your daughter’s and nephew’s photos to them. They will surely appreciate your insights on their work as much as I have!


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