Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Blueprint For Image Making (Image Making Series - Part Six)

In any art form there are enduring discussions that are never really resolved. For instance, whether stream of consciousness is really a legitimate writing style, or, the viewpoint that turning a photograph into a digital painting is neither art nor photography, or, the question of whether abstract expressionism is art at all?

There are many that believe that a photograph should be just that, an image with little to no digital work done to it. Then there are the absolute purest that believe anything digital cannot be fine art photography  which should use a film camera and silver gelatin prints or some such. Then there is the hierarchy of art itself, where even if photography may be accepted as art, (such as an Ansel Adams print) it nonetheless is a lower art form compared to painting or sculpture.

The codification of art forms is best left to art historians and those that feel compelled, for whatever reason, to define boundaries around image making be it their own or other's.

Is this image by Jerry Uelsman art or simply Photoshop magic, and should be relegated to Tom Foolery? I don't think it useful for image makers to be concerned with those types of judgments, if in establishing those conceptual boundaries, it then limits their personal visual vocabulary.

I would like to state the following as a common ground to all image making in order to avoid spurious or otherwise nonconstructive stances and evaluations about image making.

All images are created with a medium, have associated tools, are framed or have a setting, and are created with a purpose in mind. Going one step further, all images are created following as set of principles, and those principles are composed of elements. The major differentiating factor of all images is there purpose, and certain principles are followed to fulfill that purpose.

For example, there is distinction between graphic design and photography, and that can plainly be seen in the differing content of their principles (listed in prior posts). Ansel Adams belonged to Group f/64 who had their own manifesto. He followed principles outlined in the zone system which is a technical and aesthetic set of guides for establishing proper graphic values in an image. And of course art movements in general have manifestos and principles, making images created by members of the group look similar.

Given the above, the blueprint of image making is:
  • Purpose - Why is the image being created: self expression, advertising, fashion, decor, scientific, journalism, fine art, avant garde, etc.
  • Principles - A set of statements, guidelines, techniques, and values which aim to emphasize, take advantage of, or change a way of seeing. These are the macro compositional determinants which differentiate one style from another.
  • Elements - The methods of manipulating a medium in a particular manner in order to adhere to the chosen principles. These are the micro compositional  constituents used in a deliberate manner when creating a certain style.
As an example, from a photography point of view if the purpose is to create fine art photography then you must adhere to expected norms/principles. Using an inkjet printer may already set you off the mark. Longevity of the print is a considerable factor in acceptance as a fine art print in many circles. Inkjet prints (as of yet) do not last as long as silver-based prints. If your purpose is to break with that tradition, then you have to know what you are up against and how to address biases which are built into any set of principles.

To further the example, if you are using a digital camera, then you must address your image's lack of film grain which is a classical element of style in fine art film photography. On a close up appreciation of an image film grain plays a critical rule. Your purpose may be to move beyond film, creating or emphasizing a micro compositional replacement for film grain. A new level of texture and detail that was impossible in the pre-digital world. In this case your purpose is clear. To follow and/or challenge principles/norms typical to fine art photography, and do that by addressing and challenging how digital images are judged on a detailed 'grain' level.

The best approach in image making is to first determine the images purpose.

Given its purpose, then adhere to (or set out to break) the set of principles which most closely address that purpose. The principles then will help determine how to use the media in creating the elements in composing the image.

An image's purpose, principles, and elements are not necessarily locked together however, and can be (and probably should be) rearranged to suit your image's particular purpose. Imagine surrealistic paintings like Dail's, but using pointillism elements like George Seurat an Expressionist painter. In Dali's Portrait of a Dead Brother to the right, this results in a fairly atypical Dali painting. The flat pattern of dots is in sharp contrast to Dali's surrealist style of fairly realistic painting, albeit sur-real.

Surprising results can be had if creating a layout for a magazine (the purpose), but using principles from the surrealism or fauvism art movements. Instead of creating a visual hierarchy based on a more typical approach following basic graphic design principles, a more playful and conceptual image may be created.

It is not typical, and not often recommended, to use principles from an art movement when creating an ad. Their ultimate purposes are very different. The images to the left are both for New York Giant Pizza business. The top image is designed using basic graphic arts principles. The bottom image is very surrealistic, and its meaning for advertising is unsure, but might pull the viewer in and hold their attention. However they still might miss that it is an ad, and miss your purpose in having it in a magazine.

It is much more clear how the classic design elements line, form, shape, etc are used to deliver a message in the top ad. It is far less clear how a surrealistic style serves the purpose of an ad in the bottom image.

A layout technique often taught in design school is named after the painter Piet Mondrian. The top image to the right  is a typical Mondrian painting, the image at the bottom right is a Kevin Cline ad using the same checkerboard organizational approach. This is an example where the principles of the De Stijl art movement can be used for another purpose successfully.

This series of post is focused on the principles of the PPA and classic principles taught in books and schools. However, there are as many sets of principles as there are art movements and graphic art styles which in turn dictate their own particular use of the elements of design. Becoming aware of them, and appreciating how they may be used for your image making will ultimately make you a more accomplished image maker.

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