The Frame, the Crop, and the Composition

I'm traveling this week, and if you were to look at my first couple of photos you might think I was unable to go outside because I took them all through windows. I could make a whole book of pictures taken through windows that might build into a sad, poignant, fearful, or cozy story, depending upon the frame I use. You might not know I was traveling at all. How the pictures were taken is important: the conditions are telling my story. A different story unfolds if the pictures are taken only in a hospital, or three feet up from the ground, or interiors of just one house. These kinds of conditions tell you who a person is and how s/he sees, even though the person is not actually in the picture. The bookmaker also chooses the frame in which to see the story: using a personal condition as the starting point is an interesting way to begin a book.

Another kind of story comes from pictures that are cropped. Maybe we see a piece of a background, or an arm of another person. We are constantly looking around at the world and deciding to remember only some of it. What makes the cropping of a picture different from our memories? It may be obvious that what you take pictures of and what you make books about tell something about you, but the groupings of pictures can tell different truths and different stories, depending upon what you allow in and what you leave out. But whose arm was that? Another story.

The crop can be intimate. We are face to face with the subject. On the airplane I did not take any pictures, but I watched a man put a shopping bag in the overhead compartment, some greenery poking out. First, I was interested in the plant; was it a potted plant or a pineapple? I metaphorically zoomed all the way in thinking about this one object. I pulled back out as I noticed a flight attendant slipping down the aisle to help. I watched her face, but she did not look like this was an unusual occurrence. What else had people tried to close into that compartment? Panning all the way out I watched the man beaming at her as she turned the bag sideways and clicked the latch. And back at my seat, someone said, "If a member of my family tried to take a plant on an airplane, I'd yell." Four levels of story from near to far: the plant itself; the flight attendant and the man; the whole scene, completed; and the view from a distance. How close will you crop? How close will your narrative go? It depends on which part of the story interests you. You get to choose.

In formal terms, we also have the composition to work with. This is the most intuitive, I think. We can play with color, shape, line, depth, foreground, background, juxtaposition, and the list continues: our choices are many. For bookmaking we can choose to use images that all have the color green; that have curved shapes; that incorporate some kind of marks; that are landscapes; that are such micro images that we can't tell what they are, and on and on.

So many ways to shape a book, so many ways to create a visual narrative. We can create a new truth depending on how and what we like to sort, the frame we look through, and what level of story interests us.

National Museum of the American Indian


Velma said…
this is so relevant to me. thank you, i think i will print it out for my sketchbook, to remind myself.
What a thoughtful post. In books as in life.
Sending you a little blog love - I've awarded you the Liebster Blog Award - congrats! Read all about it here:
Alisa said…
Laura, thank you for thinking of me. I'm sorry I can't follow up. I appreciate the thought, though.