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Centre of frame

June 13th 2014 00:33
In real life, when you look at something, you place it in the centre of your "frame".

In a picture, when the main subject of interest is off-centre, this immediately opens up various possible meanings, effects, if the field of view is interpreted as being a conscious gaze.

For instance: a photo of a person. If they're off-centre, then maybe you're telling the audience, "I, the photographer, am looking at not just that person, but also the environment, or the image as a whole."

Or: "I am also looking at the space around the person." So, in film, it's significant -- it has a different effect -- whether you're filming someone with space in front of them (they're more open), or space behind them (they're more closed off).


Images that hurt

April 30th 2014 03:17
This is a strange idea to suggest or to try to articulate, but I think a good image, whether photo or video, has to hurt at least a little bit.

I don't know how to describe this hurt. It might be a matter of forcing you to look at the world in a different way. It might be that something is so beautiful that for some reason it hurts, or the coincidence between content and form is so perfect that it hurts. It might be that something is so human that it hurts, or so close to home, or so fleeting. It might be a matter of the reality of the events reaching out to you from the image. Or it might be on a more conceptual level, like disturbing some sort of belief or suggesting some idea that unnerves you.

In any case, this "hurt" seems to be a matter of puncturing complacency and comfort, shaking you out of an everyday stream of thinking, and hopefully making you a little more alive -- whether you like or dislike the actual image.


Photo vs video

April 24th 2014 11:31
More compositions work for photo than for video.

Consider something as simple as a level horizon. If you had a video full of Dutch tilts, it would look amateur. If you had a photo album full of tilts, it might look arty.

Unlevel horizons add to naturalness in photos, to the relaxedness of an image, to the sense of this photo being an accident, a moment you just happened or were lucky enough to catch, and to the feeling of being there.


Video doesn’t often give you time to think.

Say there’s a bright area in a video. Well, your eye is going to be drawn to it, distracted by it, and then suddenly it’s cut to the next shot.

With photos, you’ve got time to look around, so that overexposed area isn’t as much of a death kiss -- you’ve got time to study the rest of the image.


Static shots are more interesting in photos than in film/video.

Consider: a basic shot of a house.

In a photo, you start to think about what information that shot gives you and the type of people who live there.

But with the conventions of video, a plain shot of a house feels more like just an establishing shot (especially if it’s just a second or two long), and you’re already looking forward to the next shot, expecting more information to be spoonfed to you.

Not only that, but the mind is processing in a different way -- you’re thinking about story, character, soundtrack -- you’re preoccupied with questions of plot and character. You’re not there, so much, to focus on decoding the meanings of and information in an image, or to see how an image sits with you, how it feels.


A still image of motion -- of a person, say. One thing we’ve forgotten consciously about photos, but never unconsciously, is that they're fundamentally unnatural. Time is frozen. In our everyday experience of the world, we don’t see things like that.

So, there is that initial fascination. And then there’s the fascination of trying to reconstruct the moment, expand the slice -- why are they smiling, laughing? When time is frozen, what do you see?

In video: you have much more information, so don’t need to work as hard; and your mind isn’t working in the same way anyway.

Even something as simple as a photograph of hand holding flowers as a person walks -- in the photo, you don’t even have information about how they’re walking or how fast, and you’re more inclined to reflect on the act of walking in itself. (The video equivalent is slow motion.)


Contemplation of beauty. A beautiful face -- well, photography can even feel a little dirty. You can take time to study, reflect. You're given this bit of porn, this opportunity to stare your heart out.

Video, in contrast, is either wham-bam -- “Here’s a face for three seconds; isn’t it beautiful?” -- or, if it spends time on an image, it’s intrusive or indulgent or presumptuous, because it tells you for how long you should be looking.


Balance and meaning of elements. Shapes matter much more in photos, and stray elements in the background matter. This is even more true, of course, for paintings -- where you know that someone has sat there and thought about every little thing.

Consider a shot of shoes on a chair. In photos: potentially the geometry is interesting, and might start to take on a psychological character, like a still life.

Or: the groom has a groomsman on one side of him and nothing on the other. Well, that space can start to be meaningful in photography, can feel intentional, given time to contemplate it.

In video, everything is less precious. If a shot is short, you can get away with rubbish in the background. You're less likely to contemplate geometry unless a camera move emphasises it. And "negative space" can be simply bad composition.

By the same token, video can be more Hollywood plot, more Michael Bay, less subtle. If you’ve only got a few seconds, then the viewer has to get it within that time; the point of the shot has to be clearer.

On the other hand, video has the added complexity of shapes made by movement.


Photos read God’s mind. For just that moment, the light was shining on this person in that way with that expression on her face. Or: for just a moment the arrangement of geometry of this room pointed towards that person.

A bride looking through a car window with a bright reflection making some of her face indistinct. Frozen in time like that, it seems to mean something, to announce something -- about what she's thinking, about what the photographer feels looking at her, etc. It's poetry -- apparent meaning in the universe, that things happened to be just so; the human world coincided with the world of light and material forms. Or: the world arranged itself so that it coincided with the mind of the photographer.

In video... well, one can do similar things, but the effect is less easily achieved. The audience doesn’t have time to digest the perfection of the moment; and the moment is less perfect when it's extended over seconds, minutes.


The way photos freeze a moment -- it's like a jewel stolen from time.

Photos of the human world – preservation of something fleeting, something we’ve managed to save.

Video doesn't feel the same. Either it’s too polished, so that it’s not a real record, or else the screen is a barrier, or else it's dirty and too real and too ordinary.



March 18th 2014 17:57
Some sketchy thoughts…

What is offence? An answer might start with the idea that if I take offence, I'm angry and perhaps want to hurt you. This wouldn't mean that “taking offence” is identical with “getting angry”, but clearly the two are related

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The two elves

March 18th 2014 17:23
The youngest spoke first.

“Saint Nicholas,” he said, keen to please, “let me tell you of the things I’ve seen. I return to you from a far-off land. You have not been there for many years. You would find it much changed. The whole country is a forest of buildings, and for so long have the buildings blocked out the sky that many no longer believe in it. They instead regard talk of sun and stars as charming fictions, and few care to see for themselves

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Loch Ness and skiing

March 17th 2014 00:09
I was watching a Fox Sports program on extreme skiing recently.

At a particular point, a character noted that an unski’d slope is a very rare thing these days

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Dan O'Day and the Art of the Accidental

September 2nd 2013 20:19
A quick thought...

There are many image conventions -- the rule of thirds; having foreground, middle-ground, background in a picture; directing perspective lines towards subjects of interest; having the brighter in the background and the darker in the foreground; framing subjects with other objects, and so forth

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I'm often a little ticked when people hold up "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" as the answer to all our moral problems. I'm ticked because it just seems to me glib and simplistic.

For one problem, consider something like the US and UK government spying on their citizens, where the government justification involves an appeal to utilitarianism and the greatest good. Well, how does the golden rule resolve the conflict of values -- security on the one hand vs privacy and freedom from domination on the other

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Three quick thoughts.

Firstly, is outsourcing labour obviously a bad thing for Australian happiness

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God in a photograph

May 8th 2013 00:04
I'm not a religious person, but I used to approach art with veneration. So, the equivalent of a church for me was a movie theatre or an art gallery.

But I don't know now that there's anything spiritual, ultimately, about art. I reason: the spiritual is timeless and universal, but art is about the "human, all-too-human" -- about pressing buttons to elicit emotions, about culturally specific patterns. And rather than being grand and mysterious, art's effects often seem explicable in terms of psychology, biology, evolutionary theory, etc

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