On Frames

The following post might be achingly obvious to anyone who's walked an 'artistic' road through life. I'm a little lacking in the Fine Art History stakes. I know Van Gogh hacked an ear off and that a Picasso is a French car for people that don't like driving. And that's about it

I'm rarely completely satisfied with my own images. Most photographers I know feel the same about their own shots. Other people's frames are infinitely more enjoyable than your own.

It's a source of frustration for me, and something I've thought about a lot. The conclusion I've come to is that it's not what's in the frame that spoils my enjoyment but what's outside the frame.

Photography is about presenting a view defined by the boundaries of the frame. The decision as to what's excluded from the viewer is as important a job for the photographer as what to include. On a chemical level photography is about light, but as art it's about the selective presentation of a vision bound by a frame. It's an extraction from a wider reality. A snapshot.

The problem is that the photographer that chooses the frame knows what's outside the boundary.

In fact, everybody directly involved in the creation of that image knows what's outside that frame. The model, the creatives, the AD and the PE. They can't have the benefit of the selective filtering as they were party to the reality.

And it's not just the physical environment that stretches out past the frame's edges, but also the emotional. I cannot divorce either the mechanics of the shoot or the excitement of the initial vision from the resulting photograph.

If the shoot was a difficult one, if the atmosphere was heavy or the model was late or the makeup artist took so long that I'd had a birthday in the period between lips and eyes then this all remains with me, baggage attached to the final image

It might also remain with the model and with the other creatives involved, but will not leave any trace in the image presented to the world.

Whether there's a set or a location involved and the shoot was unbearably cold, or the Manhattan skyline present in the envisaged image has been replaced by Doncaster, or a group of irritating bystanders lingered just out of the frame, it's all committed to memory.

A studio set built precisely the right size to completely fill the frame but immediately tapering away into MDF and gaffer tape just beyond it.

It all remains attached to the image. I know what was there stretching away either side of the precisely selected rectangle. I know that the budget limitations have forced me to use Ikea flooring in place of authentic 70's walnut veneer.

For the photographer (and for the PE, depending on the selection process) there are other reminders too - the test shots, the blinks, the frames of not-quite-right attitude that exist away from the final select all of which remain in the mind alongside that public frame.  I can never divorce that from what I chose to display. You get the gist.

I've applied this largely to commercial or editorial photography, but I've shot street photography and, (very) occasionally, landscapes and the same more or less applies. The hours spent waiting for the light, the angle or the decisive moment(™) all flood back into my mind when I look at a frame but are hopefully absent the viewer's.

There's a gatefold Valentino advert that absolutely displays a lightness of touch in the Vogue Italia on the bar in front of me. It's beautiful. I wonder what the photographer who took it thinks of when he looks at it...

(originally post from July 2011)

As always, here's some pictures that bear no relation to the post...

Photography & Styling - Jay Mawson

Hair & Makeup - Gemma Louise Cooper

Model - Ksenija @ Industry