Viewpoint and Framing
Much has been written about how the photographic process differs from that of easel painting; both culminate in the creation of a still image but start with entirely different frames of reference. The traditional artist starts with ‘nothing’; a blank canvas, and slowly builds her image by the addition of paint. Conversely, photographers start with ‘everything’, the whole scene, and our composition is created by careful selection of viewpoint and framing. Viewpoint is the critical determinant of juxtaposition, perspective and the relative presence of foreground, middle-ground and background elements which emphasise compression or depth. Once we have chosen our viewpoint, the framing process comprises the selection of an appropriate focal-length lens and the direction in which we point it. Framing allows the moulding of our composition and establishment of visual balance, placement of the main subject and perhaps most importantly, the exclusion of unwanted distracting peripheral elements.
I was walking along the North Promenade in Whitby, when I spotted this bench; one of several providing moments of rest and silent reflection for passers by. ‘Extracted’ compositions like this are often highly selective crops of reality; like theatre stages they occupy our complete attention without distraction from the actual detritus that exists in the immediate off-stage vicinity, hidden from view. However, unlike theatre stages, ‘extracted’ landscape photographs provoke subliminal but intentional wonderment in the imagination of the viewer. Creative intellect is stimulated to conjure-up a make-believe surrounding environment to the pictured scene. The intimation with this image, is that what exists outside of the scene is simply more of the same, and that was indeed the wider reality; but in many images the value of obsessive and meticulous framing cannot be overstated; it is a vital step that obscures destructive elements which would otherwise destroy simplicity.
Landscape photographs often also benefit from the incorporation of a visual ‘invitation’: inclusion of foreground vicinity that invites us to step into the picture, or even more blatantly, an open gate or door, or in this case, an empty seat. I captured some shots of this scene with people sitting on the bench, but this image, of the unoccupied seat was much stronger. Invitational devices offer the viewer an opportunity to individualise a photograph but a scene like this offers the opportunity to mentally ‘own’ it. The viewer can imagine anybody sitting on the bench, including themselves. Just as the viewer creates their own narrative for the surrounding environment, the content of the image itself can often be most engaging when presented incompletely.