GO FOR GEOMETRY
Sometimes it pays to get abstract into pattern and colour
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