Today’s offering

I was out and about today. I had to go into Vancouver which is an hour plus drive. It wasn’t raining and our snow is just about gone which is a good thing for the driving part of it, but it was overcast and there wasn’t much in the way of landscape to photograph. It was far too gloomy a day.

On the way back, I stopped in at a big box warehouse grocery store to pick up some stuff and found my photo for the day; well, three actually.

I have this thing for grocery carts. I really like the pattern the metal mesh of it makes and I love it when they have cast shadows repeating the mesh on the ground. I also like the restrained colour of chrome and its shadows, topped off with some zingy red on the handles and the child seat baskets.

Today, I had to make do with a reflection that repeated. There was only a very tardy appearance of the sun. It was close to 5 p.m.
Folks, the sun is rotating back to the Northern Hemisphere. The day are getting longer and that, for me, is a joyful thing. At 5 p.m., I still had enough light to take this photo.


I tried cropping the picture to see if I could improve on the composition. First I cropped off the left hand side, taking off all the yellow of the post. When I did that, the photo composition became flat and uninteresting. The yellow was acting as the agent that drew one’s eye around the picture. I undid the crop editing and went back to the original picture.

I thought about cropping closer on the top and bottom, but then I’d lose some of the reflection or some of the warming red colour. I came to the conclusion that I’d done fairly well at the composition aspect of this photo. I still could see some possibilities though.

If you go back to my discussion on realism versus abstraction, then you may appreciate that I was quite happy with this next photo. It’s just the reflection on the wet tarmac minus the shopping carts.


Someone was getting out of the car as I did this and came over to me quite puzzled.

“What are you photographing?” she said.

“You can’t see it from there. ” I replied. “You have to see it from here. I like to look for beauty in everything and I’ve found it here in a reflection of the shopping carts, but if you aren’t this far back, you don’t see the reflection at all.”

“Angle is important in these photos. You can change the composition and the strength of reflections just by moving left or right or back or forwards a bit and every compositional relationship changes.”

“Wow! That’s interesting!” she said. Her husband came over and looked too and they both went away with a quirky smile on their faces. I hope I made them happy instead of just making them think I was crazy.

I wasn’t quite finished. The second row of carts actually still were catching a late day bit of sun.


This photo conforms more on a geometric method of composition. The planes of the two dimensional picture are cut up by flat areas of colour – the large white area at the bottom right balances off the darker and textured areas. There’s lots of texture/pattern movement going on at ground level which is free and random in contrast to the more rigid, repetitive and organized patterns created by the piling up of the shopping carts.

There are three yellow points in the picture that serve to establish spatial relationships that carry one’s eye comfortably around the image. The dark greys do it as well.

I learned various methods of composition quite early in my visual arts training. I’ve often asked myself a chicken and egg kind of question as to whether I pick out images from the landscape (or still life, or other imagery) or crop people portraits because they conform to a compositional method that I’ve learned and ingrained in my mind so well that it now comes naturally. Or do I notice them because they are inherently pleasing and then I compose them (or crop them) so that they conform to my compositional beliefs.

In the early days of the Impressionists (with whom we are all now so familiar) every artist was trained in a rigid formula for composition. As the Impressionists and then the Fauves who followed them broke away from the norms of acceptable subject matter, they also broke away and invented new ways of composing pictures. And yet, when I look at so many of the Impressionist paintings, there is still this strong compositional ideal underlying their work. They could not totally throw away learned patterns from their early classical training that had been ingrained and imbedded in their subconscious.

It’s what brought the artists like Emile Borduas, Jean-Paul Riopelle and fourteen other artists to formulate Le Global Refus (the Total Refusal) . They wanted to toss out any and all rules about painting and art and start all over. It was an anarchic approach to art. No rules!

In fact, they created their own new rules. But some of their early training crept back into their work as they progressed in their artistic careers. If you are interested, look them up in Wikipedia. You will see that their work was radically different.

We sometimes like to think that we are creating something totally new, but it’s hard to do. Even the radically different approaches to art and the avant garde work of any generation, builds upon work that occurred in the previous generation or some anterior generation. We don’t live in a vacuum and our ideas are influenced by our times and our surroundings. We feel uncomfortable with new ideas and take time to absorb them.

However, look how mainstream and loved the Impressionist work is today. We aren’t shocked by it at all! But some of the newer work that is being done we think is awful, stupid, and the “why would someone bother doing that kind of work” kind of artwork. It takes us time to understand a new way of seeing.

I’ve drifted off course here. To bring us back to composition, let me finish by saying that if we know the language of visual communication and can discuss it, then not only can we choose to use or not use the conventions that have preceded us. We also can build on them and create new conventions. If we understand the visual conventions in use, we can critique ourselves; we can explain our work to others; we can benefit from a far greater understanding of other artists’ work. That is, it enriches us. We see better in our everyday lives and can enjoy our visual surroundings. We know why things are beautiful.

Oh here I go again. I’ve gotten pedantic on you.

Please go and enjoy where ever you are and find things of beauty in the world around you.

2 Responses to “Today’s offering”

  1. forestrat Says:

    I’m not surprised that these anarchic artists found it difficult to create works that truely have no rules. As you pointed out, it is difficult if not impossible for humans to break free of the influences of their environment and their past. It is even debated whether true randomness is even possible in our universe.

    There is a discussion about stuff like that here:

    I find it interesting that human social type concepts like “free will” can have as a starting point the investigation into whether it is possible to generate random numbers from subatomic particles through quantum physics.

    Don’t worry the the text is not as dry as it sounds on the surface and there is even a fun little quiz that you can take.


  2. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks MDW,
    It’s fascinating that true randomness can be generated by lava lamps! They’ve never tested my filing system. That might be another good way of going about things!
    I had never thought that there might be an organization that troubled itself uniquely with randomness, either. It’s a wonderful world out there with a lot of things to do that keep us out of mischief.

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