Some­times it pays to get ab­stract into pat­tern and colour

NPhoto - - Nikopedia -

Cartier-Bres­son called com­po­si­tion geometry, as in “if the shut­ter was re­leased at the de­ci­sive mo­ment, you have in­stinc­tively fixed a geo­met­ric pat­tern”. He be­lieved that, for a scene in the viewfinder to have “the mak­ings of a pic­ture”, it had to have some vis­ual co­or­di­na­tion and “co­in­ci­dence of line”. His was a per­sonal view, not a gospel for ev­ery­one, but it was quite fun­da­men­tal.

Turn­ing a scene into a pic­ture does mean search­ing and find­ing some sort of struc­ture so that it hangs to­gether vis­ually, and ev­ery­one un­der­stands ba­sic geometry. Nev­er­the­less, ex­actly how you co­or­di­nate and what you choose to make co­in­cide is en­tirely up to your own likes and dis­likes. And, just to show that it’s not all about find­ing a tri­an­gle or a cir­cle, here’s a pic­ture that at­tempts to play with a num­ber of sep­a­rated small but dis­tinct shapes. What holds them to­gether and re­lates them is that they are all set against a com­mon back­ground of black.

Work­ing the an­gles

This pic­ture was a de­lib­er­ate de­ci­sion to look for an­gu­lar geometry, and it was quite dif­fer­ent from what I’d orig­i­nally set out to do – and what I went back to do­ing once I’d made this shot. The oc­ca­sion was a funeral

in the Yi eth­nic mi­nor­ity in south­west China, and be­cause of good re­la­tions be­tween them and The Bivou, a small ho­tel owned by friends of mine, my photo work­shop clients and I were in­vited to at­tend. Rites of pas­sage like this are oc­ca­sions for tra­di­tion, and my fo­cus for the day was to record – in other words, to shoot very much in a re­portage man­ner, with the sub­ject com­ing first.

Of course, that still meant mak­ing ev­ery pic­ture work in the Cartier-Bres­son sense, but for a short while I di­verted my at­ten­tion to an­other kind of im­age. The large black vel­vet-cov­ered head­dresses and vivid fab­rics with geo­met­ric pat­terns made me want to try out an al­most-ab­stract im­age with shapes emerg­ing from a black back­ground. That meant find­ing a view­point from which sev­eral black head­dresses merged into one. As much as pos­si­ble, I wanted to fill my frame with black and have wedges and frag­ments of bright colour emerg­ing from it.

As the se­quence of shots below shows, the style shifted from re­portage to graphic, with the com­po­si­tion dom­i­nat­ing in the end. That doesn’t make one style bet­ter than the other, by the way. Just dif­fer­ent.

Women from the Yi eth­nic mi­nor­ity gather at a funeral

The idea for the com­po­si­tion was to have frag­ments of bright pat­terns emerg­ing from an all-black back­ground

While the shoot started re­portage style, I started to ex­plore the graphic pos­si­bil­i­ties of black frag­ments and colour

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