THE NATURE OF PHOTOGRAPHS – Stephen Shore
This book “primer” explores ways of understanding and looking at photographs; it was recommended by my tutor and certainly has given me new ways of looking at images, which I shall use when planning, shooting and editing my photographs. I have created a summary of the book that I can refer to when working and viewing images.
The depictive level
This is how a photographer imposes order on a scene. Within this there are four ways that a photographer does this: Flatness, frame, time and focus; these form the basis of a photographs visual grammar.
Flatness: Photographs transform from 3 D to 2 D on the picture plane on which the lens image is presented, containing an illusion of deep space. Photographs have monocular vision (one vantage point) not the binocular vision and depth of our vision. When this 3D space is projected monocularly onto a plane it creates new relationships, and any change in the vantage point changes these relationships.
Some photos are opaque and the picture plane stops the viewer. Some are transparent and draw the view through the surface into the image.
A photograph has edges which the world does not, they separate what is in the picture from what is not. These edges create relationships between lines and shapes and the frame which are visual and contextual. For some pictures the frame acts passively, suggesting a world continuing beyond its edges. For some pictures the frame is active, the structure begins within the frame and works inward.
This is affected by the duration of the exposure and the staticness of the final image. The fluid world is transformed when it is projected onto a static piece of film” (Shore 2007, p 72). The duration of exposure is a “discrete parcel of time” (Szarkowski, 2007).There can be still time, or extrusive time is the movement occurring in front of the camera or in the camera, when it accumulates on the film it causes a blur.
A camera has a single frame of focus which is usually parallel with the picture plane which ” helps to distil a photograph’s subject from its content” (Shore, 2007, p 82). The focus and depth of field direct our attention in an image.
The mental level
The mental level may have a relationship with the depictive level but does not mirror it as “it elaborates, refines, and embellishes our perceptions of the depictive level” (Shore, 2007, p 97) forming the mental image for the viewer. An image may have shallow depictive space and deep mental space or vice versa. Deep space can be enhanced by devices such as receding lines or layering.
To sum up Shore describes how when photographing his perceptions feed his mental model and vice versa in an ongoing way. Photographers have usually unconscious mental models conditioned by their experience of the world, these are so times fixed and sometimes fluid and are used to control the mental level of the photograph. Vantage point, frame, focus and time conform to a photographer’s mental organization, “The visual gestalt – of the picture” (Shore, 2007, p 110).
Shore, S (2007), The nature of photographs. 2nd edition. London. Phaidon
Szarkowski, J (2007). The Photographer’s Eye. New York. The museum of modern art.