Emergency *ooof*: Gnomon

Oh mo*jo*. Mojo mojo mojo. If this hasn’t brought the mojo back, then what will? Here is a picture that speaks to me, stronger and louder than any other RA picture before. This is photography. I love this.

Urban and the shed crew bw

From Urban and the Shed Crew’s Instagram. In their own words: “For our last day of filming, a picture of Urban and Chop walking the streets of Leeds “

But maybe I am getting over excited here. This is not a carefully set-up shot afaik, nothing divinely conceived, meticulously planned, deliberately shot. This is a shot celebrating the last day of a film shoot, and maybe I am so excited by it because in the previous photographic oeuvre of Mr A fine art photography is absent. Yes, it is, however beautiful and carefully crafted you have so far considered the photographs that have been taken of Mr A.

And that is because his photographic output consists of commercial photography. We have film stills – taken to promote and sell a film; fashion shots – made to sell clothing; the actor’s headshot – selling the talent and adaptability of the actor; press photographs – sold by the photographers to illustrate news with; portraits – selling the photographers’ expertise as much as the bankability of the subject.

You see – fine art has been largely absent from the photographs of Mr A even if I may have been carried away occasionally, pronouncing one or the other image as “art”. Previous photographs that I have hailed as particularly good were certainly exemplary exhibitions of the creator’s skill, displaying how adept they are at their craft, photography. Showing their subject in the best possible way, depending on the focus of the shoot – i.e. portraiture, fashion, press. And yes, there can be art in craft as well, as much as there is craft in art. But apart from the obvious aestheticism of Paula Parrish’s photoshoot for Fault magazine, I have not seen much that has been deliberately “artistic” so far. The portraits and stills were all characterised by the mission to sell either the subject, the subject’s project or the subject’s clothes.

This, however, does not sell the subjects’ beauty, nor their talent, nor fashion. It may vaguely sell a film, but would be unusual in that as it omits the protagonists’ faces. So all this sells is aesthetics and beauty for purely artistic, visual reasons. No fashion label attached, no particular event, no face as such. It is there to appeal to our innate sense of aesthetics, nothing else. That is what fine art photography does for me.

Calm your mammaries, Guylty.

In a square frame we see a street scene. A brick wall provides the backdrop for the pared-back scenario. The scene is illuminated by strong sunshine, the morning or afternoon sun. Two people are walking down an incline, on a footpath. A man and a boy. They walk from right to left, looking ahead, with their bodies at an angle to us. Their steps are in sync, as is their posture, with a straight back and left arm dangling relaxed at their side.
And that is it. There is little action in this scene, no facial features recognisable, and yet there is something fascinating about this image. The synchronicity of the two people stands out first and foremost. With their steps in sync and the posture so similar, this evokes a feeling of friendship or companionship. These two people belong together, they are familiar with each other, they accompany each other – otherwise they would not be walking down the street in unison, mirroring each other.

And yet the image screams contrast and contradiction. You will find many of those in the image: Man and boy. Old and young, adult and child. Bare environment vs human life. There are the rounded shapes of the human form vs the straight lines of inanimate shapes. The cold stone vs the warm blooded-humans. It is these contradiction that makes the scene and the scenario so photographically interesting. With the lack of action, the photographer has to find another vehicle to carry meaning. We do this by looking for contrasts – both in the shapes that we see in our viewfinder, as well as in the meaning of these shapes and their relationship to each other.

I am usually a proponent of undistracting, monochrome, regular backdrops – or a blurred out background. Here we have a scene shot with a small aperture that leaves everything in focus. Subtle lines guide my attention to the scene that is documented in the  shot: The figures are pictured in front of a slightly darker brick section. Their figures are contained in that. The concrete foundations of the brick wall appear like steps, and meeting with the sloped footpath, the concrete foundations create an arrow shape that point to the boy’s feet. The regular straight, parallel lines of the brick wall are broken by the diagonals of the road, footpath and curbstone. Instead of clashing with the parallel lines of the brick wall, the brighter diagonals of the footpath add interest and balance to the image. The brighter bricks at the top section of the wall and the light concrete of the footpath balance the composition, containing the “action” and the “ac-tors” in the darker middle section. Interesting: The curbstone appears as a diagonal and yet it is almost parallel to the bottom edge of the image. My eyes and my perception are challenged by this – I have to concentrate and make sense of the scene, forcing me to spend more time with the image. It *engages* me. Aesthetically, this image works. It is well-balanced in terms of composition, with the subjects off-centre, drawing more attention to them than if they were in the perfect middle.

As for one of many possible interpretations, for me this image is about  the movement of time. There is the static environment in front of which an action unfolds. The figures are going down-hill. A possible – if sledgehammer – interpretation could be contained in that: going down, going to hell, going towards disaster. However, I don’t think that is the case. They have their heads held up too high, they are looking forward, not down or inwards – they are ready for another step, not hesitant. You could also argue that walking down-hill is easier than up-hill, therefore the journey is a good one, not one hampered by obstacles. They are being moved along by time – possibly also symbolized by the strong presence of the sun, the heavenly body that allows life to flourish (as evidenced by the two plants that are able to eek out a meagre existence in the cracks of the concrete – but they live!). This could be father and son – another typical analogy for time, or aging as a visible expression of time. And also an endearing, appealing visual, symbolizing the bonds of kinship, of trust and understanding, of care, protectiveness and love.

However coincidental this image may be – the photographer has a great eye for a simple, calm composition, and has been lucky – or clever – enough to release the shutter at the right moment much like in the previous (and in many ways similar) image of Mr A on set. I’d hazard the guess that it was taken by the same photographer – because format, composition, subject matter and framing of either display a clear style. This is quite possibly just a quick snap documenting the last day of the shoot, and the grown relationship between two people who worked together. Whether this is a scene from the actual film or the two actors slinking off the set in a break, the image has a simplicity and inherent message in it that make it worth looking at – beyond the fact that it has RA in it.  I could easily see this image as a picture postcard, symbolizing what I have written above. Or even as a fine art print on the wall, sleekly stylized in its elegant b/w reduction to the essentials. The fact that there are no faces makes these two figures foils that we can put our own interpretations on – whether they be of a journey of hope or a friendship between two unlikely companions. Universal thoughts.

Gnomon
When we walk, my step falls in with yours,
trying to catch up but still glad to be behind.
To give me time to observe.
Cos you show the way and lead me along,
Your shadow anchoring me to your side.
The easy confidence of your step gives me courage
To face what is waiting for us.
Allow me to walk with you.

When we walk, I take the lead.
Not pushing, but guiding.
I am by your side to shield and protect.
But I will let you take your own steps,
Hoping that I will be the gnomon to your dial
When the time comes.

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44 thoughts on “Emergency *ooof*: Gnomon

  1. Thank you for another fabulous *ooof* Guylty, I enjoy your writing so much. My first thought (after the “oh my I love this!” reaction) was that it is truly exhibition-worthy, and now I know why!

    PS I had to look up the meaning of gnomon. 🙂

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    • Thanks Mezz 🙂 I could not resist this image, even though it is *ooof* of the more ethereal kind. Like you I felt that this would look great mounted in a frame. And not so much because of RA in it, but for the sheer composition and feel to it.
      Re. gnomon – I don’t blame you, it’s not really used very much 😉

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  2. I love the image, and I love your thoughts on it. You express a lot of what I was thinking when I saw this. The contrasts, the lines, the open-ness to interpretation. In particular (after noticing the lines; I *always* notice lines first,) I found myself fascinated by their posture. If you’ll forgive the shameless self-promotion, something about the feeling of it (the posture) reminds me of a favorite photo I took some years ago: http://vulcanelf.deviantart.com/art/Watching-46518282

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    • Very nice image, Alyssa – and yes, your image is characterised by diagonals, too. I like the way you framed in such a way that the two diagonals of the ledge and the row of spouts meet up at the edge of the frame. It’s in those details of composition that you can tell whether someone has “the eye”. Lots of visual interest in the image, apart from the scene itself, of the boy quietly sitting by the fountain. It works really well.

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      • Thank you! The boy, btw, is my own spawn, several years ago. The reason I got my camera out in the first place was because it was so odd to see him sitting still like that, and then the photo just presented itself. I thought perhaps it was my ego making me see similarities between the two photos, but the more I look, the more I see them. Of course, mine would be improved by the addition of a certain tall Englishman. 😉

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        • I don’t really think your picture would be improved by the addition of you-know-who :-D. It would disturb the composition. (But yeah, I get it – you didn’t mean it literally :-))

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    • Oh, what a nice way of putting it, Serv – a gift. I had not seen it like that – I was just selfishly drawing my own pleasure from it. Thanks for reblogging it! ❤

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      • I don’t know that I’ve read you this aesthetically excited before — the breathlessness of your discussion made it a lot of fun!

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        • That’s because there wasn’t anything in the photographic output so far that had an “art” feeling to it. Everything so far has always been commercial portraiture. That can still be aesthetic, but usually doesn’t make me want to enlarge it, mat it and put it in a big black frame on my sitting room wall *ggg* This one, even though it is most likely a smartphone shot, really had some nice art going on – I couldn’t but approve 🙂

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    • It does, doesn’t it. That is a characteristic of art, imo. If it elicits emotion and thought, then there is more to it than just the superficial beauty of aesthetic. I’d love to know who was responsible for this image. He/she has a great eye. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were part of the camera team.

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  3. Thanks Guylty. My fave pic from the set, perhaps. This photo moves me (well, having read the book is quite compulsory, I’d say). As you say, I don’t know if it was a chance or not, but Chop&Urban are perfectly caught and you feel they are real. A man and a kid going along their road… their life… they survived. The meaning of the book (and of life itself). Great shot. And great *ooof* . Grazie 🙂

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    • I find it hard to decide between this one and the one of Chop against the rubble when it comes to my favourites from the UATSC set.
      When looking at this, I tried very hard to forget what I knew about the filming and the book (which I have read, too). Because I think this image works very well even without prior knowledge of the hermeneutics (hence my interpretation of “father and son” rather than “adult friend and boy”). But as you say, it captures the book in one image. Amazing how that is possible…

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      • Yes, those 2 are my fave pics too. I think they both capture the book “soul” with apparent simplicity. Both images are striking and I agree with you that could be the same photographer that shot them. In both images we don’t see (or almost) the faces. This adds a kind of mystery, and doesn’t distract our focus on the expressions of the human beings. They are only figures, representative of an adult and a kid and so you can perceive them with more freedom. Like they were only silhouettes. And both pics use with great mastery the background to let the human figures stand out. Wonderful. Art, as you said. I’d like to know the name of the photographer(s).
        Sorry for my poor English, it’s hard to explain these things…

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  4. Thank you for your beautiful poem and thoughtful commentary on this photo. I was drawn to it as well, The patterns of the bricks caught my eye more than the figures.There is so much texture and randomness there. The spacing, the shades of grey, even the sizes of the bricks are varied. Some appear so weathered as to appear made out of sponges or some other soft material. And if the figures in the foreground weren’t there, the bricks wouldn’t be noticed. They play off each other so well.

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    • It’s all about the balance, especially in pared-back photography such as b/w. Texture is an important part of that (which I completely left out – thanks for mentioning it now). It is the universality of the scene that makes the image so appealing and so successful. This could be anyone, anywhere, anytime. 100 years ago or now.
      Glad you liked my poem. It was late 😀

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  5. I love this pic too! I noticed the plants and had the same thoughts about the struggle to survive in that time and place. I think the fact that this shot doesn’t look contrived in any way makes it special and moving.Your expert eye and the way you read a picture just enhances them for me.And the poem is very fitting. Thank you Gulty.

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  6. Very good point about the picture not being contrived, Meryl! It looks like a real scene, as it could happen anywhere in the world. It has a universality to it that elevates it from mere documentation of an action.
    I don’t write poetry very often (any more) even though I love verse dearly. The fact that the image drew that kind of reaction from me – and I don’t necessarily mean the content of the poem but the fact that some kind of stylized language forced itself out of me – says a lot. The photographer did a good job, whether it was intended or not 😀

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  7. I didn’t know you were a poet as well, Guylty. That’s really beautiful. Great ooof! too but I just love the way your poem interprets the photo so perfectly. 🙂

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    • Oh no, not a poet. But appreciative of language. And in the photo I saw companionship, and trust, and some sort of bond, that expressed itself in some sentences 🙂

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    • I saw what looked like a manip that had everything in b/w except the clothes of the two figures. Personally I am not a great fan of this kind of selective colouring. I think this image works really well in b/w.
      And thanks 🙂 *blushes* We aim to please 😉

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  8. Loved your poem. All the images posted by the UATSC team have been really good, especially this one and the one with Chop near the rubble.

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    • Well, some of them were fan encounter-ish (which is attractive in another way), but aesthetically this one and the other Chop image really stood out, agreed!

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  9. I read with a lot of attention your comments and particularly the poem which is very nice. For me this picture represents the present of all the human beings. We pass through our lives leaving our past that we know behind us and we are obliged to go on against the future even if we are afraid to do it because we cannot remain at the same place for ever and we must walk again and again even if we become older at every step, even if we are afraid to do it. May be this is what the adult is thinking, that he will never be a kid anymore and the kid is thinking that one of this day he will become like this man at his side and he is not sure if he wants this. I have not read the book so this is my feelings and I apologize but these are my own words. It would be easier in French but I am still happy to partecipate.

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    • I think you have expressed that very well, Katia. I understood what you mean. Yes, that walk ahead is a symbol for the unstoppable and inevitable passing of time – with the regrets and hopes that come with it. The beauty of art: we can see what we need to see in it.

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  10. *sigh* What a beautiful *ooof* and poem,Guylty!
    ( my first impression was: it looks like a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s movie. “The Kid” comes to my mind )

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  11. They leave the scene….silent… Walking out of the film…. From now on they share a history…
    This pic gives off a somehow palpable unagitated quietness….
    Thanks guylty for this really great “ooof” about a particularly great photograph.

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  12. When I took a first look on that picture my initial thought was that´s a real piece of art, though I still can´t define what “art” is. But you explained it all so well in every little piece of detail. And the pic speaks to me, I can imagine father and son walking down a street (not to hell), but maybe the boy had shot a football into a window and the father thinks about an apologize to whomsoever, his right hand scratching his chin. Son seems to be faithfully relaxed that his father could deal with the situation (okay, okay, my own interpretation, so many left for your own ones).
    Great *ooof*, guylty, and more than that, something to think about.
    And may I suggest this could be a great pic for a “Chop”-shrine? I guess it´s already on your mind 🙂

    P.S.: I´m glad to be not the only one who had to look up “gnomon”

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    • It’s quite fun to think up wider scenarios in which this image could sit. Like father and son having to somewhere to apologize for breaking a window. 🙂
      It’s a great picture, and I like it very much, but I am not sure whether it would suit the drooling purpose of a shrine? It’s beauty would undoubtedly diminished if I butchered it into a tin box 😉 OTOH, I would have no qualms sticking the colour image of Chop alone into a shrine 😀

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  13. Pingback: *ooof*: More Meat Than a Chop | Guylty Pleasure

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