All Four Corners

Artwork by Norman Rockwell

Composition is a big deal to me.  When I was in college, I had an eye opening class with who is now my favorite teacher of all time, Phil Perkis.  He looks a little like Albert Einstein, and could’ve been as far as I was concerned, in terms of all I learned from him.  He left me with one main “lesson”, which might sound really obvious, but it blew my mind at the time.  He taught us to look in all four corners of our frame before we pressed down on the shutter.  Everything in your photograph should have a purpose, a reason for being there…even down to the edges and corners.  When I was in his class I was shooting 6×6 square with a Hasselblad.  I learned to pay very close attention to my frame then, but I really really use this rule in my 4×5 shooting.  This is probably the case because you spend a little longer setting up a large format shot….looking through the loupe, making sure all the different focal planes are in focus (if you want them to be), and making sure everything fits beautifully on that ground glass.  

I recently revisited the work of one of my favorite painters, Norman Rockwell….yes, Norman Rockwell.  I realized that there is a Norman Rockwell website…again, a surprise, and there is a page of Norman quotes.  There were two I found to be extremely true and visionary:
  • Every single object shown in a picture should contribute directly to the central theme.”
  • “If a picture wasn’t going very well, I’d put a puppy in it.”

OK so I am a sucker for dogs…we all know that, but he is right on the first one for sure.  

In similar but different news, Robert Wright has an excellent recent post that involves his interpretation of William Eggleston’s work and shooting methods.  I have mentioned my love for Eggleston before, and I’m sure most photographers working today would say that he has been an influence on them in some part.  He is pretty major for me.  Him and Irving Penn are probably the two main reasons I became a photographer.  I looooove how Robert Wright explains how he sees Eggleston’s work.  I agree with him whole heartedly, and haven’t really heard it worded so eloquently before.  I don’t know you Robert, but kudos.  This line is pretty epic.:  ”His “war with the obvious” was not about showing us the beauty of the ordinary, which is how I believe many people take it, his war was with “obvious” subjects.”  I like that the writing revolves around The Democratic Forest, which was the first Eggelston book I ever purchased.  It changed my life because it was obviously not a conventional project with a beginning, middle, and end.  It was a collection of photographs taken from one person’s perspective, and that is what held the work together.  It doesn’t need anything else, and I don’t believe that a group of pictures has to have a singular idea behind it to make it a legitimate “project”.  I don’t even really like that word – project.  It doesn’t lend itself to shooting freely.  It makes me feel like less of a photographer because I don’t set out to explore one specific thing.  I am exploring my eye, my life, and my love of taking pictures.  

To bring it all back home, one of the things I always loved about Eggleston was the detail in the composition.  The longer you look at a photo, the better it gets.  There is important information in there, but it’s not always about the first thing you see.  I know Eggelston worship is pretty overdone and tired, but there is a reason it has been played again and again.  

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