Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Contrast and simplicity

click photo to enlarge
Language, thought and understanding revels in opposites. It seems that we better understand and appreciate one quality by familiarity with its opposite. Can one know true happiness without having experienced sorrow? Isn't generosity more recognizable and better appreciated if we have seen greed? Perhaps part of being human is to learn from the bad as well as the good, and to appreciate the good all the more when we know something of the bad.

In photography opposites are useful qualities on which to build images. Our photographs can emphasise darkness or light, compositions can be static or dynamic, colours can be muted or loud, and so on. I was thinking about this in connection with my image above. It shows a part of two shrubs in the garden of a couple that I know. They were deliberately planted together for the contrast between the copper and the lime green leaves. When I saw them I knew that I could use the gardeners' contrast photographically, so I selected a point where the two bushed met and took this image. Contrast and uniformity (which might have been achieved, though with less interest, by photographing one or other of the shrubs) are two more opposites that can form the basis of photographs.

Looking at the shot again I suppose it exemplifies a further quality- simplicity (whose opposite is complexity). Painters, musicians, photographers, in fact all artists, have much to say about the value of simplicity. The English fashion designer, Norman Hartnell (1901-1979) disparaged it saying, "I despise simplicity. It is the negation of all that is beautiful." The French painter, Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) was of a similar mind suggesting that "a taste for simplicity cannot endure for long." However, Leonardo da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." As I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog the German architect, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (1886-1969) famously said "Less is more", to which the American architect, Robert Venturi (1925- ) replied, "Less is a bore". So, as far as my simple shot of contrasting leaves goes - is it "more" or "bore"?

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 39mm (78mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/50
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On