When one creates something, it’s not the elements which one puts in to it, it’s what one leaves out that’s important.
Well … I really only make that statement to get you thinking … because, of course one has to consider what gets ‘put in’ otherwise all you’d have left is what you’d left out!
But there is also a significant element of truth in the statement. Consider this for a moment. Imagine you are wandering along a quiet and deserted back street in a hopelessly run down and depressed area, the sky is grey and featureless and the cold wind is cutting through the thin coat you chose in preference to the heavy one which hangs next to it. There are dirty tin cans and broken bottles scattered all over the place, overfull black bin liners have spilled their contents into the shabby doorways and somebody’s discarded three piece suite, which sits partly on the pavement and partly in the road, is saturated from the previous night’s heavy rain …
… then there, parked on the other side of the road is a strikingly elegant 1962 Alvis TD21 Series 2 convertible, showing off it’s gleaming maroon coach work, dramatically contrasting with it’s bleak surroundings. You cross the road towards the car, drawn towards it as it beckons you to take a closer look. As you approach you hear the ‘clicking’ of the hot metal components cooling down, indicating that the owner has not long since parked it. Having arrived at the car, you start to take in the details not visible from across the street. You notice the care that the owner has taken to clean under the wheel arches and buff up the tyres. You look inside and admire the walnut dashboard and the beautiful instruments contained therein. You are aware of the leather that looks nicely ‘lived in’ but not cracked. This car is used, but loved also … you think.
Curiously though, you have become less aware of the cold wind. The broken bottles have receded to somewhere else in a corner of your mind marked ‘not particularly bothered’ and the three piece suite has suddenly become invisible. What’s happened is that a ‘focal point’ has appeared in your world. The Alvis has become the focus of your attention and this has created a different equilibrium in your appreciation of your surroundings.
This happens all the time … in the real world. However, this does not happen in pictures … unless the artist or the photographer makes it happen, that is.
When one looks at a picture on a wall, the focal point is the picture and the room is the environment. One can walk into an untidy room and as one’s eye falls onto a captivating picture on the opposite wall, the untidiness of the room is suddenly forgotten. The picture is now the focus of your attention … ‘all’ of the picture. This is important.
Imagine the picture on the wall is a photograph of that strikingly beautiful Alvis surrounded by broken bottles, discarded tin cans and a soggy sofa. The impression you are left with will be entirely different to that which you experienced when you saw it on that cold grey day. The main reason is the fundamental difference between the way human beings see pictures and the way they see the real world. Out in the real world, when we are concentrating on something … a bird in a tree or someone approaching who we know … all the peripheral stuff around us gets rejected. When one ceases to concentrate on the bird, it all comes back again. In a picture, however, this does not happen in anything like the same way. The picture ‘is’ the point of concentration … ‘all’ of the picture. When one subsequently starts to examine the picture in detail, one then becomes aware of the main focal point within it, but by the time one gets to that stage one has already been visually polluted by all the broken bottles and sofas … and it’s all far too late by then. The damage is done. It’s a bad picture and that’s that.
Now, if a water colourist or a painter in oils was making a picture of the Alvis he would only paint what he felt it was necessary to include. He would leave out the ‘Big Mac’ sign on the front of the building behind the car. He may even leave out the entire building and put a tree there instead, or even a different building. A photographer has a harder job on his hands in this respect. The photographer is faced with two choices. He can either put the car exactly where he wants it, or make the picture in just the same way as his friend, the water colourist, does.
Now here’s a thought on the broken bottle scenario. An image may indeed benefit from some subject contrast. The Alvis could well be enhanced by the odd bashed tin can! It is most important to get the makeup of the subject contrast right, but what is far more important is how this detail is blended into the primary image. Get this wrong and you’re back to not knowing where to look in the picture again. The difference between the good artist and the bad one is how he deals with this balance. At what point does this additional subject matter become a distraction?
One thing’s for sure though, you won’t have a picture of the Alvis which you will want to stop and look at every time you walk past it, by just pointing a camera at the car and pressing the shutter release button.
The question is, do you want a picture or just a snapshot … ?
… you choose