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blansky
10-09-2006, 11:27 AM
I wonder what the fellow next to the bike and the fellow seated on the left side are looking at? The others are looking at P.S.

If you look closely you may find that only the mother and perhaps the guy sitting in the doorway are looking at the camera. Even the guy sitting in the doorway may be looking slightly left.

The one standing on the left looks to be looking up and left of the camera.


Michael

Donald Miller
10-09-2006, 11:38 AM
Donald... fill me in...
You see radial balance?
I don't...
To me, the balance comes from the cluster of heavier elements near the center left of the image, vs the lone man and bike at the far right...
What brings balance being the weight of the black square framing the old lady, and that the guys near her are also nearer the center of the pic... leveraging the lone man, far right....

I'd think of Mandalas, bicycle wheels, sunflowers... etc as radially balanced...
Where the elements are arranged around a central AXIS. . ..
Can you enlighten me as to how you see it arranged here?

The radial balance that I see utilized here draws on both literal and symbolic meaning. The matriarch is positioned with her head higher than that of her sons. (She is literally the head of the family represented here). The arrangements of her sons radiate out from her position.

Her sons are beneath her and radiate out from her on a increasing orb (spiral) beginning with the son to her lower left followed by the son immediately opposite and continuing on to the other son on the left side of the doorway and finished with the son by the bicycle. The hints to this circular arrangement is through the semi circular structure above the door (albeit abbreviated in the photograph) and the circular shape of the bicycle wheels.

Donald Miller
10-09-2006, 11:54 AM
I like this picture for the composition and the feel of it but, as someone who has "posed" hundreds of groups I find this has a "you look here, and you look here" kind of feel to it. It seems a bit contrived on where the people are looking.

To some it may seem "more natural" than everyone looking at the camera but to me it still has that contrived feel, mainly because there is no real reason for the subjects to be looking where they are looking.

However I do like the compostion, clothes attitudes etc.


Michael

I think that Strand deliberately chose and utilized the eye directions as an ingredient in the overall composition. The various eye directions are what one would typically observe in a group of people of this size in a natural setting. There are normally not only one relational conversation going on in a group of five people...not for very long, that is.

The direction of the two that are gazing inward (center of the image) serve to give emphasis to the position of the mother. If one would have all gazing at the camera position it would have been highly unnatural considering the natural setting. At least that is my take on it.

blansky
10-09-2006, 01:45 PM
Or you could say that the "hole" in the doorway is to represent the missing father. The one sitting with his mother is the youngest and hasn't left home yet (perhaps emotionally). The oldest one, sitting outside the doorway, knows he has to stay and look after the mother, the one on the far left has divorced himself from the group and is getting ready to leave and the young troublemaker is the one with the bike.

Or you could say, the photographer said, I don't want you all looking at the camera so you look here, you look there etc.

Michael

catem
10-09-2006, 03:14 PM
I can't help thinking.....and the way it's being discussed...this about control. Concepts, not people.

I wish he'd got to the essence of these people, showed how they lived and breathed.

Let them speak for themselves.
After all, this is not a painting - it is a photograph, and as such there is so much more potential to pursue - the complex, indefinable and fleeting moments that contain human truth.

SuzanneR
10-09-2006, 03:30 PM
I can't help thinking.....and the way it's being discussed...this about control. Concepts, not people.

I wish he'd got to the essence of these people, showed how they lived and breathed.

Let them speak for themselves.
After all, this is not a painting - it is a photograph, and as such there is so much more potential to pursue - the complex, indefinable and fleeting moments that contain human truth.

Actually, it can be found in the feet of the guy all the way to the right with the bike. I've always loved his feet and toes in this image, and in many of Strand's photos there is often a small minor detail like that, that just somehow "makes" the photograph for me.

Granted, though, it may well be too small and insignicant to save the image from feeling contrived, as so many feel.

Will S
10-09-2006, 04:33 PM
Stargazer,

There are many, many other portraits by Strand where he gets "to the essence" as you say and I think he does so in this one as well. It is strange that the criticism of artificiality is leveled against Strand since he is probably the one photographer most adept at capturing people so that they are unaware of being photographed (other than Walker Evans). He used a 90 degree mirror for a much of his early work (including the famous blind woman I think) so that people would not know they were getting their picture taken. One of his later portraits of a woman standing in a doorway (which is a fantastic portrait as well) was described by him as a collaboration between the two of them, but I got the idea that she said something like "why don't I stand in the door here" and he said "ok".

I'm not sure how the others in this thread know that Strand posed each person individually, even down to the level of telling them where to look. I would be interested to see what was actually said about the posing and the creation of the picture, because I doubt that it was orchestrated anywhere near to that level if it was orchestrated at all. I could be wrong, but it just doesn't fit in with his other work. This picture was done in 1953 so maybe he changed significantly after moving to France, but I just don't see the kind of control over the subject that is being described. Not that it diminishes in any way the actual degree of composition and construction in the picture itself. I don't know myself, so it would be interesting to see the sources.

Thanks,

Will

catem
10-09-2006, 04:52 PM
I'm sure it's not an absolute, but do you not think that the personality, psyche, experience, prejudices etc that we all have, are not often present or subconsciously illustrated in the photographs we take.
Michael
Yes, I do believe that, but that is not the same as saying that [portraits] by great photographers are always of themselves and "not" of their subject (which was the quote). We will always bring our 'consciousness' , perspective, creativity, whatever, to the photographs we take. Having said that, and accepting that as always a part of the creative process, I believe the truly great photographers are those who are able to take portraits where the essence of the subject transcends the presence and ego of the photographer.

I have the feeling I may have been a little unfair to Strand here, particularly in view of Will's post (and yes, I do like the feet, Suzanne, and the whole pose of the man on the right).

If I hadn't read in this thread that the picture had been so heavily orchestrated, then I may have had a very different reaction to it. If I ignore this information, I do appreciate it more - especially the 'integrity' and power of the matriarch, the different characters of the brothers visible in their features and body language. (I think the least convincing for me is the man seated to the left, looking to the right).

Thanks for the comments to my comments, I'll look again tomorrow & try to look with fresh eyes, to see what I think then.:)
Cate

cowanw
10-09-2006, 04:58 PM
The radial balance that I see utilized here draws on both literal and symbolic meaning. The matriarch is positioned with her head higher than that of her sons. (She is literally the head of the family represented here). The arrangements of her sons radiate out from her position.

Her sons are beneath her and radiate out from her on a increasing orb (spiral) beginning with the son to her lower left followed by the son immediately opposite and continuing on to the other son on the left side of the doorway and finished with the son by the bicycle. The hints to this circular arrangement is through the semi circular structure above the door (albeit abbreviated in the photograph) and the circular shape of the bicycle wheels.

Are people aware of the web site http://photoinf.com/Golden_Mean/photo-adjuster.html wherein you can apply any photo and run through the possible (classic) compositional rules visually. I dont think it is God's written word but it does help to look at a picture compositionally sometimes
Bill

blansky
10-09-2006, 06:05 PM
I don't know how many here have done many photographs of groups. Not just "candid" shots but set up shots, as this one is.

He obviously didn't just happen upon this scene, and it almost sounds as if some people here are "disappointed" that he controlled the elements here.

When I look at commercials and movies I always like to disregard the main subject and look at the "atmosphere". The people that wander through the scene, or are in the background, and observe what they do. As someone who worked in the movie/commercials biz to a very minor degree, I learned to appreciate the quality of a director by how well he choreographed the "atmosphere" people. A TV show like the West Wing that has dozens of shots of people wandering around in the background in every episode, is an amazing accomplishment.

When I look at a picture like this Strand picture, I always imagine the blank slate he started with. How he arranged the elements, where he put people and why, how he used the pecking order, and finally what he was trying to say. As I mentioned I've posed hundreds of groups from familes to wedding parties, to a couple of hundred employees, and to more intimate emotional arrangements where people interacted with each other and not the camera.

The question is who should I put where and why. Once that is done, where should they be looking and why. Every one of these things come into play in a group type shot, whether it's this type or any type. Remember before he started he had 5 people standing around staring at him, and he had to take charge, and put it all together. And at the same time justify his decisions.

I do find it interesting that people don't really like it being over analyzed, when in fact the photographer had to do just that when he took it. And he may well have taken it with them looking in different ways in other shots and like this one better.


Michael

BWKate
10-10-2006, 02:26 AM
This is one of my favourite Strand photographs. It became even more special when my mentor and friend let me hold his vintage print of this image and I got to really look at it for a long time. He wrote to Strand back in the 70s and developed a bit of a correspondence with him. He asked to buy a print and Strand sold him an 8X10 of The Family at Luzzero for $500.
My friend said the negative was a 5X7. There is even some written notes on the back of the print by Strand.

catem
10-10-2006, 03:58 AM
Michael,
It's true, I don't do group shots, where you have to orchestrate people. Though I've seen a lot, and even been in them, and on the whole it seems to me they are the kind of shots where often a record of everybody present is of prime importance. In small groups you can get sometimes get a relaxed and intimate atmosphere in large groups it gets harder, and is not usually the prime purpose.

Sometimes the orchestration can be taken to extreme, though, in large groups, and is an obvious part of the photo (does anyone know that photo of all the chefs, sitting as if for 'The Last Supper' - I forget the photographer just now, but it is a truly masterful combination of 'set-up' and within it, spontaneity. I don't know how many shots it took to get it).

And surely, anyway, the intent of this photograph is not the same as for example, a wedding, or even a family social event.

But, all that aside, this photograph has definitely grown on me, though I still have an area of reservation about it. As it was unfamiliar to me, I obviously haven't 'lived with' it for a slong as many people here. Certainly the strength and cohesion of the family does come across through the powerful presences of it's members (which may have tended to carry the day anyway, whatever the poses) though by that I don't wish to demean the imput of Strand because I've always admired what I've seen of his work very much. I think if I hadn't been given the information that it had been heavily orchestrated then I may not have interpreted some of the body-language as posed and a bit 'wooden', but rather as a bit 'self-conscious' which is not the same and can say something about the character of the person.
Cate

Jim Chinn
10-10-2006, 10:29 AM
I am pretty confident that he arranged everything, even directing the subjects where to look. Strand had been invloved in making films since working with Charles Sheeler on his movie Manhatta in 1921. He produced, directed and was cameraman on several films either for his own film company (Frontier Films) or working for the FSA.

Shooting a film requires a meticulous attention to detail to get the shot right.
I think those years of experience are evident in this photogaph.

I always get a feeling of push and pull in the image. A family pulled or kept together my the mother but at the same time straining to be seperate.

I think Don's comments fit with the idea of Strand not just as a photographer but also as an experienced director and film maker.