Tuesday, October 17, 2006

On the beach

click photo to enlarge
Teacher: You haven't even started your painting - that paper's completely white.
School boy: I've finished it sir - it's a polar bear in a snow storm.
from "1001 Jokes for Kids"

In 1918 the Russian artist, Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935), working in the style he termed Suprematism, painted a piece called "White on White". The painting was square, had a white background showing the texture of the paint, and superimposed on this was a slightly smaller edged square painted a different tint of white, that was rotated through about 30 degrees. This was a development of his painting "Black Square" of 1915 which was - you've guessed it - a black square. Malevich, like earlier artists such as Turner, and later ones like Mondrian emphasised feeling over the registration of a visual phenomenon. They taught us to see the value in canvas space and the significance of "a little" surrounded by "nothing". Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's (1895-1946) paintings, photographs and photograms frequently depend on this quality, and many subsequent artists and photographers have mined the theme to the extent that it has become if not a cliche, then a standard composition upon which to essay a variation.

The photograph above is one of my attempts at this approach. It includes sand, sea, gulls and people. That description makes it sound like a crowded scene, and compared with some "minimalist" photographs it is. Here I used a zoom lens at 44mm (35 mm equivalent) and took the shot looking down on the beach from a pier. I placed the people at the top left, and balanced them with the gulls and darker sea at the bottom right. Despite the small size of the figures, the fact that they are people, and that they are separated from the rest of the details, and are the darkest component of the image, means that they are able to give sufficient "balance" to the overall picture. Black and white with the contrast turned up a bit seemed to suit the shot better than the colour of the original, though given that it is almost contre jour there was very little colour to start with!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen