Window

It feels like forever since the last time my friend Elise Hibbard (elise*marie) last posted to Flickr. She returns in blazing form.

First seeing this image, I was struck with two impressions. One was that it just worked: moody and evocative. The other that it looked to be breaking every rule there is. How could these two feelings coexist?

Quite clearly, this is photo-montage. A translucent window floating in the middle of a countryside scene does not happen otherwise (short of a little fantastic writing). It is not a realm of photography I generally feel attracted to… except for Elise’s work that captures a sense of considered balance; artwork that has been carefully planned to be self-explanatory.

So why does this one stand out? There are so many things about it that should make it fail. Centring is generally agreed not to be optimal composition. The height of the window is a exact third (well, very nearly) of the entire frame rather than being based on golden ratios. There is even a harsh streak across the sky that looks almost like a crayon mark (yes, I know it’s a contrail).

I believe the answer lies in the incongruity of the scene. It is, fundamentally, magical. A portal into an alternate reality: so unnatural that it needs to break rules. That explains why it works floating dead centre.

As for the ratios, while the height is based on thirds, the width of the frame is very close (not quite exact, but close enough to work) to filling the space between the horizontal golden ratios. Hence the balance is horizontal rather than vertical, which acts as a counter to the stepping up through the rest of the image implied by the textured surfaces, all of which have such detail as to be fascinating.

One detail I find quite amazing about the whole image is that despite it being sepia, and thereby a single colour, the brightness of the window frame against the glass makes that element feel just slightly monochrome against the colour of the background. Not bad at all for a single-colour image. That harshness of contrast is matched throughout the rest of the image, but in a way that still provides a great depth of texture and detail.

So far, every element mentioned here has been about symmetry. But there is really nothing symmetrical about this shot. There is a contrast of worlds between the bottom and top halves (is the window representative of passing between them, rather than to some alternate dimension?) The gradient of motion across the sky, with trees bordering one side and the contrail anchoring the window from the outside, throw any sense of equality between the two sides. So while the whole is centred and balanced, it still manages to include dimensional dynamics.

This is also a wonderful twist on the concept of image framing; the twist, of course, is that it is framed from the inside rather than the outside. Inversion.

A beautiful example of when breaking the rules is really the right way to go.

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  1. A marvellous original or two landscapes; one dominated by that contrail that was just asking for it to be suspending ‘something’. Well the something, ‘a window’ just grabs the attention and holds the eye through all the wonderful rolling layers of texture, the sunlight and rocks on the beach and ever upward to the strongly striated sky. One word ‘dramatic’.

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