Minimalist Composition

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by PeterToronto, Apr 16, 2010.

  1. PeterToronto

    PeterToronto TPF Noob!

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    Last year U2 released their 12th studio album, "No Line On The Horizon". On the album jacket was a minimalist image captured at Lake Constance in Switzerland by Japanese photographer and artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. The bewitching black & white image Boden Sea was chosen for the cover from just over two hundred images in his "Seascapes" series. Bono's first face to face meeting with Sugimoto and Boden Sea actually produced the foundation for the album's title track. Interestingly, Sugimoto recently said of his “Seascapes” collection that a view of a vessel-less ocean is one of the only things left in the world that we can experience in the same way that our primitive ancestors would have experienced it thousands of years ago. Boden Sea has really made me take a look at photographic composition. A major goal ever since has been to cultivate one thing: simplicity.

    Dominant objects in a photograph’s composition automatically attract the viewer's attention. However, too much visual information in a photograph, whether it's portraits or landscapes, often pollutes the primary focus of the image. A strong photograph does not have the viewer looking at multiple things that compete for one's attention. A strong photograph strips away the distractions and directs us to look at a single subject or idea. Sometimes less really is more.

    A strong photograph in many ways is like a gourmet soup. It must first be reduced or boiled down. Once much of the liquid is boiled away, or, in the case of a photograph, once most of the things that lead your eye away from the subject are removed, it is reduced to its essence. It is only then that the flavor becomes stronger and more complex. The photographer, as "editor", must eliminate information to better tell his/her story in a pleasing way.

    Simplicity in an image focuses attention on the absolute essentials, and with the discipline of reminding ourselves of the original purpose of our photograph, we can effectively clear the many obstructions, distractions, and surrounding clutter. Andre Comte-Sponville, a French philosopher, said: "Intelligence is the art of making complex things simpler, not the other way around", and we, as photographers, and as human beings for that matter, would do well to follow this advice.

    peter anthony PHOTOGRAPHY - Home

    Peace
    Peter
     
  2. fokker

    fokker No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    In my opinion U2 should have stopped making albums about 19 years ago.
     
  3. Marmeduke

    Marmeduke TPF Noob!

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    Great post Peter - I really like this approach to photography. The first images that ever caught my attention and excited me about photography were those sort of purified, pared back landscape shots. Thanks for introducing me to Hirosho Sugimoto! I've just checked out some of his work and it's completely awesome. Oh dear, I'm going to have to get another photography book now!

    As I've discovered more and more types of landscape photography I've begun to feel that this kind of 'reductionist' characteristic is present to varying extents in all good shots. Even where there is a fair amount of detail, the component parts are not put together with a literal mindedness. Rocks, plants, trees, mountains, water etc become 'textures' and 'surfaces', which are arranged in a balanced way, framed by the rectangle of the viewfinder, perhaps seen in a geometric pattern or something.

    You're definitely right to say that it takes 'discipline' to create a shot that's stripped of fussy distractions - God knows I've worked at it but it's harder than it looks! This kind of landscape photography is a classic example of where a piece of art looks like it was simple to create - because it's simple to look at, but is actually an incredibly distilled product.

    I love Japanes paintings and Sugimoto has obviously been influenced by that tradition. His shots are just so Japanese, it's that incredible clarity and simplicity - you can see it on a plate of sushi! Love to know whether you have any other suggested photographers who show a similar approach.

    Totally agree about the simple/complicated quote thingy. It's the same with language, music ...etc. Some prose can be so refined that it's kind of literal and metaphorical at the same time which I think compares interestingly with photography.

    Have you seen any of Charlie Waite's work - it's less simple and pared back than Sugimoto's but has a very disciplined calm about it. Check it out.

    Photography Art Cafe
     
  4. JohnMF

    JohnMF TPF Noob!

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    Haha... true.

    Corporate Rock

    I especially can't stand Bono. He's deeply irritating on so many levels.
     
  5. c.cloudwalker

    c.cloudwalker TPF Noob!

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    Most interesting post.

    I agree with most of it but I strongly disagree with "Andre Comte-Sponville, a French philosopher, said: "Intelligence is the art of making complex things simpler, not the other way around", and we, as photographers, would do well to follow this advice." Not because I don't like simplicity or minimalism, I do very much, but because some days I want utter chaos, some days I want to spend a long, long time looking at a work of art and try to figure out every thing that is in there.

    There is a long tradition of minimalism in Japanese art but I am neither Japanese nor do I aspire to be. And, to fit the yin and yang philosophy (which applies anywhere in the world), they also have extremely chaotic art. The basis of yin/yang is that 1/ for any one thing, there is an opposite and 2/ those opposites are the first rule of life. Without chaotic art, how would you define minimalism?

    The other problem I have with this statement is that I feel like you are saying we should all do art the same and, I'm sorry, but that is the best way to make the arts utterly boring.

    That applies to life also, btw and imho. I like to travel because I'm going to see something different. If I saw the same darn thing everywhere I went (and it is unfortunately becoming more and more so) I would not enjoy traveling.

    Lastly, I believe philosophers are actually the worst at making things simpler. :lol:
     
  6. Marmeduke

    Marmeduke TPF Noob!

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    Interesting post c.cloudwater - and I think you make a really goof point.

    You say: "I believe philosophers are actually the worst at making things simpler"
    Absolutely, and I’m sure we’ve all had the roaring headaches to prove it! :confused:

    But I think philosophical simplicity and artistic simplicity are completely different things.

    Philosophers strive to sum something up in as succinct a formula as possible - to draw a conclusion from the essential facts and close the case.

    Artistic simplicity is more often about boiling down an unanswerable question to an elegant little expression that packs a massive punch.

    Photography sometimes gets accused of being too certain, "I hate cameras. They are so much more sure than I am about everything." - John Steinbeck (More cool quotes here by the way: Famous Photography Quotes). Photos claim to represent things exactly as they are with scientific accuracy.

    But I reckon that because photography is so fundamentally simple - you press a button and capture a brief, single moment - it can be the perfect medium for compact expressions that raise questions well beyond the boundaries of the immediate subject matter.

    Also, I think ‘minimalist’ or ‘settled’ art often causes us to react by looking at the chaotic uncertainties beneath the surface (the good old still life of a skull!). Meanwhile we instinctively react to frenetic, sprawling artwork by searching for as much order as possible.

    This is an interesting comment, “some days I want utter chaos, some days I want to spend a long, long time looking at a work of art and try to figure out every thing that is in there.” I know exactly what you mean and I’m just the same! But I think it’s a slightly self-contradictory approach.

    Anyway, the most important point is that, as c.cloudwalker says, art should be there for all moods and all days rather than boxing us in to rigid conventions - leave the dull philosophers to that! :D

    Photography Art Cafe
     
  7. c.cloudwalker

    c.cloudwalker TPF Noob!

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    Don't get me wrong, I love philosophy. Although I tend to see it more as a game, an exercise for mental and communication abilities, it has a lot to teach us but when it takes a philosopher 400 pages to NOT sum up a problem and I can do the same in one or two paragraph, I don't see how they make complex things simpler.

    As you say yourself, "Philosophers strive to sum something up in as succinct a formula as possible - to draw a conclusion from the essential facts and close the case." Yes they strive but do they ever succeed? If they do, why are they still arguing/debating the same subjects as 300 years ago?


    Self contradictory? Maybe. But that defines me quite well. My wife always complains that I cannot answer a question with a simple yes or no, that I always answer with a yes and no. To be honest, I believe that when we believe we have the answer we stop learning and when we stop learning we have a problem.

    That is partly what I like about philosophy. It may not ever answer the question "what is the meaning of life?" but while reading about it, or doing the "philosophizing" about it ourselves, we are learning a lot of things.

    And all that relates to the arts in general in the sense that, to me, there is not a single genre/style of art that is not valid. There are some that I don't get, some that I don't much like, but I never totally write off anything. Someday, because of new experiences in my life, I may very well change my mind.
     

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