The White Fence
We were asked to look carefully at this image in class. It was taken by one of the pioneers of photography. It is unlike many of the images created by photographers at the time. It is quite stark and full of contrasts:
An article on the V&A website has the following to say about the image:
Strand was breaking new ground in both subject matter and presentation. He chose the fence in order to show that an ordinary object (one which would not at that time have been considered an artistic subject) was invested with a striking aesthetic appeal ... The power of the image suggests that Strand was declaring a new visual language for photography.
The Formal Elements
Which areas appear clearest or sharpest in the photograph? Which do not?
Which areas of the photograph are brightest? Are there any shadows? Does the photograph allow you to guess the time of day? Is the light natural or artificial? Harsh or soft? Reflected or direct?
Are there objects in the photograph that act as lines? Are they straight, curvy, thin, thick? Do the lines create direction in the photograph? Do they outline? Do the lines show movement or energy?
Are there any objects, shapes or lines which repeat and create a pattern?
Do you see geometric (straight edged) or organic (curvy) shapes? Which are they?
Is there depth to the photograph or does it seem shallow? What creates this appearance? Are there important negative (empty) spaces in addition to positive (solid) spaces? Is there depth created by spatial illusions i.e. perspective?
If you could touch the surface of the photograph how would it feel? How do the objects in the picture look like they would feel?
Is there a range of tones from dark to light? Where is the darkest value? Where is the lightest?
Remember, you could do this on paper and scan the results, like this example opposite. This can be a great way to add interest and variety to your web pages.
We worked in small groups taking it in turns to look at eight images. We were asked to annotate these images with comments about the formal elements we could see in each one. We were not given the photographers' names or the dates of the pictures.
We were then asked to develop our thoughts about the image we ended up with, using our own observations and those of the others in class. My group ended up with the photograph of the open window. I discovered from looking on the course blog that this was by Minor White and is entitled 'Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, New York, July 1958.
The majority of this image is in focus. The exception is the patch of ground seen through the open window. The objects - wall, skirting board, curtain and window frame are all quite close to the camera. A central vertical section of the photo appears lightest. The light source is the open window (it appears to be a bright, sunny day outside) filtered by the curtain which drapes from the top of the image. The light in the photo appears to be all natural.
There are contrasting lines in the image. The window frame is straight as is the top of the just visible skirting board and the edge of a wall on the right. On the other hand the curtain ripples and this wavy edge creates an even more curvilinear pattern of light and shadow below. This appears almost liquid, like the patterns you can sometimes see in light reflected on water. Most of the straight lines in the picture run almost parallel or perpendicular to the edges. The exception is the hemmed edge of the curtain which runs diagonally across the upper centre of the image and the shadow beyond the window frame which echoes the curtain line above.
The space in the photograph is quite compressed. The only depth is the letter box shaped patch of space of the outside world. All of the surfaces in the image are smooth and this helps to give it an atmosphere of quite contemplation reflected in the title. This is also supported by the softness of the tones.
There are subtle gradations of a range of greys but no harsh contrasts of black and white. Although we recognise the subject matter, the photographer seems more interested in the formal elements and abstract qualities of the image.