László Molholy-Nagy (1895-1946)
Molholy-Nagy was a Hungarian photographer. He taught at Bauhaus between 1923 and 1928. Bauhaus was a radical German art school from 1919 until it’s forced closure by the Nazis in 1933.
After periods in London he opened “the New Bauhaus: American School of Design” in Chicago in 1937. He remained director of the school (in it’s various manifestations) until his death from leukaemia in 1946. The school is known today as IIT Institute of Design, Chicago (Moholy-Nagy, 2009).
He is famously quoted as saying ‘The illiterates of the future will be the people who know nothing of photography rather than those who are ignorant of the art of writing’ (Jeffrey, 2010).
Framing and cropping
Framing is the act of composing an image within the viewfinder of the camera. Cropping is a post processing function which involves reducing the size of the framed image. Some reasons to crop are:
- to remove an unwanted artefact from the edge of the image,
- to change the perspective of the image, and
- to change the shape of the image, for example from landscape to portrait or square
I tend to crop too much because of poor framing. Because I have become too competent at cropping, I have a tendency to take too little time framing images (Note to self: take more time framing images. It’s a confidence thing!).
As an exercise for myself I took two images, one at 70mm the other at 24mm. I then cropped the 24mm image to be identical to the 70mm image. The pictures are shown below. Clearly you can see that the main disadvantage of cropping is that data is lost from the RAW file and when blown up shows greater pixelation.
Walker Evans: Photographs of America
Walker Evans (1903-1975) was an American photographer and photojournalist. In 1938 he held the first solo exhibition, Photographs of America, at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. The exhibition was accompanied by the publication of a photobook entitled Photographs of America: Walker Evans (Evans and Kirstein, 1938). An interesting video was produced by MoMA on the 75th anniversary rerun of the 1938 exhibition (The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2013).
In the OCA course notes it says ‘there seems to be a clear distinction between cropping and framing in Evans’ work’. Unfortunately, it’s not clear to me. I have included below four photographs and I have attempted to explain whether I feel they are cropped or framed.
Joe’s Auto Graveyard, Pennsylvania (Evans, 1936)
This image is cropped to reduce the foreground thereby improving the perspective of the cars.
Citizen in Downtown Havana (Evans, 1932)
This image is cropped to remove the distraction of the two men standing to the left of the subject.
Louisiana Plantation House (Evans, 1935)
This image does not looked cropped.
Negro Church, South Carolina (Evans, 1936)
This image does looked cropped, perhaps to remove a distraction on the right and to centralise the church in the frame.
Victor Burgin (1941) is a British artist, photographer and academic. In Thinking Photography (Burgin, 1982) he writes a chapter entitled ‘Looking at Photographs’ and talks about the use of compositional techniques to hold a viewer’s (the subject) attention:
“The subject’s inevitable recognition of the rule of the frame may, however, be postponed by a variety of strategies which include ‘compositional’ devices for moving the eye from the framing edge. ‘Good composition’ may therefore be no more or less than a set of devices for prolonging our imaginary command of the point-of- view, our self-assertion, a device for retarding recognition of the autonomy of the frame, and the authority of the other it signifies. ‘Composition’ … is therefore a means of prolonging the imaginary force, the real power to please, of the photograph, and it may be in this that it has survived so long, within a variety of rationalisations, as a criterion of value in visual art generally.” (Burgin, 1982)
Susan Kismaric was for many years a curator at MoMA. In 1989 she produced a book called ‘California Photography: Remaking Make-Believe’ (Kismaric, 1989) which accompanied a MoMA exhibition of the same name. The exhibition featured seven photographers whose work represented the evolution of American photography from ‘straight’ to ‘synthetic’ photography.
She discusses the impact of television and movies on the American notion of reality and the impact of documentary reporting of the Vietnam war on the credibility of photography. She says “However in the late 1960s the issues seem to take on a new relevance. The awareness of the meaning of photographic representation itself became photographic subject matter. The photograph as a transparent window to the world was replaced by a mediated, self-conscious construction”.
My images: cropped view or transparent window
I have reviewed all the photographs taken on the OCA course so far and I cannot say that in the less successful shots there is a feeling of a ‘cropped view’ rather than a ‘transparent view of the world’.
Alfred Stieglitz: Equivalents
In the OCA study manual it says that “Alfred Stieglitz’s ‘Equivalents’ series doesn’t appear to be composed at all; instead they’re ‘equivalent’ in that any section of the sky would seem to do as well as any other”.
Stieglitz wrote a magazine article ‘How I came to photograph clouds’. In it he noted that it took him a long time to get the pictures right and added that they were, in an important sense, mere photographs, vehicles for natural, unmediated images (Jeffrey, 2010).
However, to me the images below do seem to have composition.
I accept that when Stieglitz shot the photographs he may not have had any immediate compositional thoughts. However, surely ‘composition’, in it’s widest sense, subsequently involves image selection? What we’re seeing is what he gives us. What didn’t he give us?
He chose these images which surely aren’t random? To me they seem mediated by selection.
Stieglitz took many sexual images. I see an image of a naked woman. Quite typical for Stieglitz.
Stieglitz took female portraits. Many of which were cold, stony-faced images. I see this reflected in both these shots.
Burgin, V. (1982). Thinking photography. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Evans, W. (1932). Citizen in Downtown Havana. [image] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/45002?artist_id=1777&locale=en&sov_referrer=artist [Accessed 14 Jan. 2018].
Evans, W. (1935). Louisiana Plantation House. [image] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/130455?artist_id=1777&locale=en&sov_referrer=artist [Accessed 14 Jan. 2018].
Evans, W. (1936). Joe’s Auto Graveyard, Pennsylvania. [image] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/48654?artist_id=1777&locale=en&sov_referrer=artist [Accessed 14 Jan. 2018].
Evans, W. (1936). Negro Church, South Carolina. [image] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/58180?artist_id=1777&locale=en&sov_referrer=artist [Accessed 14 Jan. 2018].
Evans, W. and Kirstein, L. (1938). American photographs.
Jeffrey, I. (2010). Photography A Concise History. London: Thames and Hudson, pp.111,144-145.
Kismaric, S. (1989). California Photography: Remaking Make-Believe. 1st ed. [ebook] New York: Museum of Modern Art, New York, p.10. Available at: https://www.moma.org/documents/moma_catalogue_2125_300062915.pdf [Accessed 15 Jan. 2018].
Moholy-Nagy, H. (2009). László Moholy-Nagy: A Short Biography of the Artist. http://moholy-nagy.org/biography/
Stieglitz, A. (1925). Equivalents. [image] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/86694?artist_id=5664&locale=en&sov_referrer=artist [Accessed 16 Jan. 2018].
Stieglitz, A. (1930). Equivalents. [image] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/83335?artist_id=5664&locale=en&sov_referrer=artist [Accessed 16 Jan. 2018].
The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2013). Walker Evans: American Photographs.
Available at: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1360 [Accessed 14 Jan. 2018].