*ooof*: Fair and Square

Omg I can’t! This hi-res image is a killer! *ooof* indeed.

The image discussed in today’s *ooof* dropped yesterday as part of the WSJ’s article “‘Stay Close’ Actor Richard Armitage Was Named for a Monarch, Later Praised by a Royal”. Before I get into an analysis of the image, I just wanted to quickly circle back to our discussion of the piece in the comments of yesterday’s post where many of us expressed their surprise at the intimate insights provided by Richard in this article. I had already guessed yesterday that the piece might be part of a regularly occurring series in the paper. This morning I noticed that the surtitle “House Call” was indeed a link to previous pieces which appeared in this series, all written by Marc Myers. Among previous subjects are SATC actor Kristin Davis, Outlander author Diana Gabaldon and actor Caitriona Balfe and many other recognisable names. “House Call” is a weekly series, and all pieces feature pictures from the family album of the respective subject. So it is no surprise that family pictures adorn the article, and that the focus of the piece is family and the past. It may be more of a surprise that Richard agreed to be part of this, seeing is usually so “clam” about anything regarding his private life. I don’t think this is a turning point in his approach to how much he wants to disclose of his private life. He recently reiterated his usual stance, and he has proven how disciplined he is when it comes to adhering to it… I am seeing this very intimate piece as a very clever “offering” by him. In order to keep the hungry masses happy, he is feeding us a few carefully curated tidbits. It sates and satisfies. Well, at least for a bit 😉. But now moving on to the latest *ooof*-worthy consideration.

The suggestion to write an *ooof* on this image came from LoLo. However, I also want to shout-out Young – if she hadn’t shared the hi-res version of this image by Kaitlyn Mikayla, I mightn’t have agreed so readily to an *ooof*. It’s not that I didn’t like the image. Quite the contrary; I immediately warmed to the image because I found it so relatable. (And more about that later.) But it was only when I opened the hi-res image and zoomed in that I was properly slain enchanted. Ad res.

Richard Armitage photographed for the WSJ    Photo: Kaitlyn Mikayla

What we have here is a classic (almost) half-length portrait, taken on location by NYC-based photographer Kaitlyn Mikayla. Our subject is placed beside a glass-panelled window (or door), with his back to a marble-tiled wall. In a relaxed pose with his body straight to the camera, the subject has turned his head slightly to his left, gazing into the distance and giving us a very appealing two-thirds profile. Appealing, because a two-thirds (or three-quarter) profile is always a 2-for-1: Not only do we get (almost) all of the face, but we also get a glimpse of the profile. – The lines of the window are strong in this composition, but the impact is lessened by the presence of the sitter. He takes up two thirds of the frame, and the soft curves of the human body act as a contrast to the harsh geometry of the architecture. To some degree, the lines of the window and the grout in the background act like signposts to the sitter, leading our eye from the horizontal window rail straight onto the sitter’s left shoulder. In an interesting coincidence, the line of the subject’s mouth is an almost exact continuation of the horizontal grout line between the tiles behind his head. It all makes for a very pleasing composition.

Speaking of the composition: The photographer has very cleverly decided to crop the image to a square format. The decision to do so may have been intuitive, but it is a successful strategy. There is nothing more aesthetically pleasing to the human mind than symmetry. Because of its inherent sense of balance, it is incredibly calming, and in this case it works perfectly with the still and relaxed pose of the sitter: The image does not convey any tension as such but the reflective look on the subject’s face with the hint of a smile is perfectly “mirrored” in the format of the photo. Interestingly, though, at first glance the image does not even look square. Do you notice how the strong vertical lines of the window and the (half-) length of the subject seem to elongate the image and make it look longer than it is wide? Take a ruler to the photo and measure it yourself – it is square. And the subject sits stands perfectly in the middle: The image has been framed in such a way that the vertical middle runs exactly through the sitter’s right eye and along the vertical side of his tie. (See image right. You can click on it to enlarge.) The horizontal half-way line has been placed with exact precision on the widest point of the sitter’s shoulders, exactly on the suit’s seams where the sleeves meets the shoulder. Spot on! As an imaginary centre point of the image, we sort of get the tie knot – which is a neat metaphor, the place where everything comes together, so to speak. Take a look at the four quarters created by the two intersecting half-way lines: Each quarter contains  equal mirroring amounts of “Richard” – I call that fair and square 😂.

However, as much as we like symmetry, a perfectly symmetrical composition can also be perceived as boring. And so the photographer creates interest by juxtaposing the equal-amount quarters with a composition that is based on a different ratio. Let’s talk about thirds! You’ll be surprised, or not, at how exact a science composition can be. Taking the vertical thirds first, I noticed that the vertical line on the right sits *exactly* on top of the almost imperceptible (shadow?) line to our left of the window. When you add in the horizontal thirds, you’ll see how the upper of the two not only sits precisely on top of the grout line in the background, but also goes exactly across RA’s mouth. Fun! I also find it interesting to see how the middle third of the whole picture, i.e. the space between the two vertical yellow lines, fits the “important” parts of the sitter – his head, neck, the collar and tie. This undoubtedly added to the elongation effect I pointed out earlier on. There are a lot of “thirds” in this shot – in terms of composition as described, but also if you look back at what I said above – a two-thirds profile, as well as giving the sitter roughly two thirds of all the space in the frame. Neat!

Before I come to the more subjective part of my analysis, a last word on technicalities. The lighting. The softness of the portrait is emphasised by the soft lighting of the image. The photographer has placed her subject by the window and appears to only use ambient light, i.e. instead of shooting with flash or setting up elaborate lighting equipment, she is making use of the light that is available to her in the environment. In this case, light comes through the window, illuminating RA from his left. Initially I thought that this set-up was born from the situation – assuming that she was photographing on location in an environment that was a little too dark, hence moving the sitter closer to the window to illuminate him with the daylight that shines through. Maybe that was the case. Or maybe not. Because only when I looked closely at the hi-res image, I wondered whether it was the other way ‘round: Could RA be standing *outside* a door through which the interior lighting illuminates his face? I am inclined to think the latter. When I zoomed in, I noticed how dirty the panes are, with thick grime settled on the window rails. Whatever the case, it’s a sign of a photographer working with what is available to her in a location, and creating a pleasing portrait with good-enough lighting and a suitably plain backdrop that will not distract from the sitter. It is well chosen in this case, as the softness of the light corresponds with the softness of the gaze. Likewise, the intersecting window rails mirror the attire of the sitter (with the tie intersecting with the plaid shirt), and the soft beige of the marble background complements the sitter’s skin tone as well as his shirt. Of course, the caveat is always that these are *my* surmises, based on what *I* see in the image. It could all be complete poppycock. 🗑

And that is fine. You can take from an image what *you* see. And boy do you see much. That is the beauty of the hi-res. With that many pixels you can see all the details. And I mean *all* the details. You can count the individual beard hairs if you so wish. And check how the scar from Orcrist on the bridge of RA’s nose enhances his handsome face rather than distract from it. It’s still visible – and I am grateful that RA has not decided to surgically remove it. And despite the hints of grey vaguely visible on his temples, he overall looks less than his five decades. I wouldn’t exactly place him at below-forty, but he certainly looks younger than his years. There may be a tiny bit of photo shop magic in it (hard to tell, but I suspect so), but so be it. He is, after-all, playing a forty-year-old photographer in the show he is currently promoting. So, fair and square.

For me, this image is “relatable” – in more than one sense. First of all, in the sense that I am drawn to the technical set-up of the image. Wait. No. I suppose, first of all I am drawn to the subject 😂. But in all seriousness, I like the image because for me the way it was made just exemplifies good, solid photography. Not fancy, no unnecessary gimmicks, but well-executed and cleverly staged within a given environment. It’s the sort of photography I would aspire to myself… Secondly, somehow, I find the sitter in the image quite relatable, too. Yes, he is a very attractive man and *definitely* out of my reach 😁, but despite posing for a photograph, it is not glitzy and glamorous but simply “sound”. His gaze is not unfriendly, and his pose is relaxed, so he does not impose over the viewer. And the plaid shirt – even though it is probably a designer number – gives the whole look a casual feel. This could be your next-door neighbour…

…you know, the hot single guy you meet every morning as he heads out the door to go to work and you are just back from taking your dog for the morning walk. You have never talked to him, but he always gives you a nod and a shy smile when he holds the door open for you as he exits and you return home. It has been a few weeks since he has last seen you, though, because you travelled home to stay with your parents for a little while. So when he sees you today, he stops in his tracks with a look of surprise on his face and instead of holding the door as he always does, he lets it go and slams it. For a moment you both stand there, staring at each other, shaken to the core by the violent bang of the door that rattled the glass panes dangerously. The silence is broken when your pup gives an impatient “woof” and tugs at its lead. You murmur imperceptibly “dayum, I wish I was that door”… With a blush and a silent “I can’t believe I said that out loud!”, you hurriedly open the door again and pass through. As the door clicks shut behind you, you can see him still standing in stunned silence. With the hint of a smile working its way up from his mouth to his eyes…


31 thoughts on “*ooof*: Fair and Square

    • it also appeared slightly higher than wide to me, only after you pointed it out, it now “is” square and I can’t unsee it as square again – strange what our brain does with visuals!
      anyway, yes what a beautiful picture. I love it! and I think it really “speaks” to the viewer – thats probably what is giving off the relatable vibe…

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Sonja, that was an amazing analysis!!! and the last part… Maybe you should start writting short stories by using his photos. And, ok, it is not a turning point as his attitude/way/method didn’t change. I hope he will find what he seeks in his personal life and feel free to share with us (let’s say.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, thank you Professor Guylty! I’m speechless. Hmm, our subject 😊 … make it look longer than it is wide (good instruction 😉)… here is nothing more aesthetically pleasing to the human mind than symmetry (oh that’s why Mr Graza likes symmetry so much)…. scar from Orcrist on the bridge of RA’s nose (what?! i didn’t know anything about it) … I must read it again very carefully.😘

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh yes, he got the scar when he inadvertently bashed himself with Orcrist while filming BOTFA, I think. Lots of blood even though his face was covered in fake skin. He has mentioned it a few times.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Comparing this photograph with the Cosmopolitan interview one would hardly believe they are the same person. In the Cosmopolitan interview he is scrubbed and closely shaven in this photograph he looks fresh from the makeup artists chair, I would prefer something in-between the two extremes lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hehe… I hadn’t even planned to launch into a fan fic drabble, but then it just happened. Unfortunately in the slightly weird “reader insert” format, but well, it kind of fit the bill…
      As for the continuation… 🤔


  5. What a fascinating analysis, Guylty (welcome back Oof!). I would never have noticed the structure of the photograph if you hadn’t pointed it out. There is something slightly artificial about his face but, zooming in on the high-res, you can see make-up and the light softening his left cheek, which perhaps is giving that impression. But what a sucker-punch this new image is. I love it. The inscrutable expression in his beautiful eyes, the little frown, the scar, which seems more prominent, the beard-less definition on his chin! And I just want to curl my arms around that soft tartan-shirted form …


    • It’s quite hard to discern whether there is much make-up or photo shop, precisely because of the light. But yeah, I think there is a bit of touching up going on. (It’s more or less automated at this stage…)
      It’s overall a very nice image, soft and warm, very pleasant to look at.


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  7. Thanks for the great analysis Guylty. My brain also worked on it a bit, but in a different way.
    This photograph somehow is strange for me. First I didn’t know why. The light is pleasant, the face as well. I might not agree to combine the tie and the shirt, but that was not what disturbed me. Only after a while I realized that it is the shirt, not for the colors, not really for the pattern, but the way it is covered by tie and jacket.
    Our brains assume it is a plaid shirt, which is most likely true. But from the parts we see it could nearly also be a strange stripe pattern. And I cannot keep my brain from trying to figure it out like a visual illusion.


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