Sarah Dunn has released a stunner. That needs an emergency *ooof*, no doubt.
I guess I knew something like that was going to come up this week, or why else did I not get round to writing an *ooof* yesterday?
[Edit: IMAGE REMOVED – follow link to see image on artist’s page: Sarah Dunn Photography]
We are familiar with this set-up already. The neutral background, the shallow depth of field, the harsh light from the left. A___ is sitting at an angle to the camera, his head leaning slightly forward, looking down towards the front (our bottom left). The light illuminates more of his face than in the previously known image. The light is unchanged, but the tilt and slight turn of the head to the subject’s right makes all the difference – more light reaches Richard’s left side of the face. We also get more definition of the facial contours, and the sculptural proportions of the nose appear much stronger than in the b/w image. The added variations of skin colour and the play of the light and shade on the face allow for a more textured effect in the colour image – we see lines by the eyes, the angular forehead, even the smallest dents in the skin.
What had the vague air of a film noir still in the b/w image from the same series, has an altogether different feel when edited as a colour image. Of course, with colour in an image, there is simply more “life” in it. The image feels less aestheticised and more “real”, simply by virtue of showing the subject in a way that we would see him with our own eyes – in colour, not in b/w.
There is a slight feeling of the 1960s formal portrait to this picture. The pose! The clothes. And most definitely the blueish hue of the image. While it compliments the blue eyes of the sitter perfectly – a nice touch, all hues of blue in the image go very well with each other, none of them are competing for dominance, and even the grey (?) background plays ball and takes on a duck egg shade of blue – the eyes stand out due to the isolation of the blue colour in the surrounding skin tone/dark hair. This is an effect that is achieved in post-production. What appears like a colour cast is actually a desaturation effect. By taking the colour values out of the image, muting them, the viewer is distracted from the attention-seeking colours, and instead focuses on the details of the image. Muting the colours in this image is also a fitting strategy, considering the retro feel of the pose and composition: The desaturated, faded-over-time look of old portraits of totalitarian rulers, benignly smiling at the proletariat from classroom and institution walls, springs to mind. You can experiment with the effect yourself – even simple photo editing programs such as Picasa or Windows Live Photo Gallery allow simple adjusting of the saturation via a slider. Photographers adjust the tonal values of their images via Adobe Camera Raw/Photoshop, for instance, and pick and choose the areas of an image that they want to desaturate. The desaturated, muted look seems to be a current trend in photography. Personally I am not that fond of it – I like colours to be colours and if they pop, then they convey life and joy. That’s not to say that I dislike total desaturation – b/w namely. It is extremely aesthetic, but I enjoy the distinct contrast between monochrome and polychrome. And with desaturation, there is always the danger of making an image appear bland – like a soup without salt.
By rights, a desaturated image should appear less three-dimensional than one where all variations of the contained colours represent the depth of the subject or object. However, the large aperture with which Dunn is shooting this portrait allows us a sense of scale and depth. (That’s where she differs from the portraits of dictators who are shown in f-stop 22 detail, for the downtrodden plebs to know every pore and pock mark of despotic power. *phew*) And it directs our gaze to the focal point of the image, the sitter’s left eye. As it is always fun, I have made you a little gif with the grid of thirds. As usual, the outcome is surprising, yet amusing.
The two vertical third lines go straight along the bridge of the nose and the ear, while the two horizontal third lines go along eyebrows and chin. So the top right intersection is right on Mr A’s ear. Add the half way lines into the equation and you get an intersection on the tip of Mr A’s nose.
I sincerely hope that that has not cosmetically changed in the mean time. All composition critique would have to be rewritten! And right on the tie knot. Another just beside RA’s left eyebrow. What does this prove? Nothing, actually – it just amuses me. Composition – as decided on in post-production – is deliberate, of course, but I doubt very much that Dunn would have needed the help of a grid of thirds to crop her image. This kind of composing in post-production comes intuitively. It does not even need a photographer/visual artist to compose an image in a pleasing way – we are all more or less conditioned to prefer a composition like that. It is around us wherever we look – in advertising, passport images, landscapes, fashion, even our own snaps.
In the first reactions to the image I have noticed that even the hardest critics of Dunn’s photography
you know who you are *ggg* have mellowed over time and praised this new image upon first contact. To some degree that surprises me, because the b/w image *should* really have touched us more, just by virtue of the sitter connecting with the viewers by looking at the camera. Here, he has averted his gaze, deliberately ignores us, and evades (acknowledgment of) connection. Instead of interaction, we only have a one-way link here, through the viewer’s gaze. But maybe that is exactly what is touching us, and RA has always been particularly effective when gazing off-camera. But there it is, the killer: the non-smile smile – the mouth appears curled but really isn’t, and particularly his left eye looks as if smiling. Could be just the curve and shape of the eye, and the evidence of laughter lines, emphasised by the light. This mysterious look, however, remains as effective as it was when Mona Lisa patented it. The slight incline of the head with the gaze turned down off-camera gives the impression that Armitage is in thought. Not dreamy, but concentrated, fixing his gaze on an unseen object while his mind is wandering. Important thoughts, by the look of it: His lips are resolutely closed, an indication that he has no intention to speak but to keep thinking.
What could he be contemplating? The geometric shape of the floor tiles? The contents of his lunch box? The next steps on his way to world domination?