View Full Version : Subtle photographs

Pages : 1 2 [3]

05-31-2007, 11:37 PM
Try looking at your image on this site: http://photoinf.com/Golden_Mean/photo-adjuster.html. I think you will find your attached image follows the Golden Mean a lot closer than you realize...

That is so cool! Thanks for the link.


06-01-2007, 12:35 AM
Note 1 ... "Logic"? Is there any place for "logic" in art? Isn't "aesthtic" really an antonym of "logical"?


I don't think aesthetic and logical are antonyms, but rather in different but parallel universes.

They both relate to attempts to measure things of value, but their strengths are very different.

IMHO, if you try to make an argument that one is more important than the other, you will inevitably fail.

They can, and do, however complement each other very well at times.

In a past life, I spent meaningful amounts of time with some very accomplished mathematicians. At first blush, they appeared to be immersed in a world where logic was the only valuable commodity. The interesting thing, however, was that they tended to measure the success of a proof or a theory by how elegant it was - clearly a measure that was as much related to issues of aesthetics as anything else.

The irony - the most impressive proofs were the most subtle, with logic that was most pleasing in its aesthetic.

Maybe the best description for a subtle photograph, or subtle mathematical proof for that matter, is it tends to sneak up at you, and eventually smile with wild eyed wonder.


sun of sand
06-01-2007, 10:52 AM
Eliot Porter subtle?
That's the work that comes to my mind.

I get tired of sunsets and cityscapes and tide pools and
I like to see the beauty in everything.

I think most subtle photographs are very complex in composition ..they have to be, I guess
They work the way abstracts work
balance of negative positive space/color/weight
Only when that relationship is mastered does a subtle photograph appear "easy"
Many would call a masterful photo/painting of this kind
"snapshot" or "child's play"

No main subject?
I start thinking about introverts and extroverts

A good photo can smack you in the face
A good photo can run away from you

There are plenty of both that never make it anywhere.
The ones that never make it are the ones I see as being nothing
Not the subtle

Subtle is more everything than nothing

Think of a Jackson Pollock
How would you describe it?
I'd be willing to bet that if you don't see greatness in his works
your "subtle" photography isn't any masterpiece
yet rather

06-01-2007, 11:58 AM
I don't think aesthetic and logical are antonyms, but rather in different but parallel universes.

Well - there's the 'academically' accepted use of universal 'english' - and then, interestingly a 'shadow' or street language that many people seem to use - that, interestingly, based on an economy of meaning DIFFERENT from that of the 'neutral' or academic language. A language of the emotions, if you will, so commonly employed by politicians (see also george lakoff). Tell me you haven't noticed this...? (the way that, for example you can use the word 'exploit' and many people will take it as a so-called 'negative' act? So- anyway - I think for some - the concepts these two words denote, are maybe somewhat polar.

The irony - the most impressive proofs were the most subtle, with logic that was most pleasing in its aesthetic.

Maybe the best description for a subtle photograph, or subtle mathematical proof for that matter, is it tends to sneak up at you, and eventually smile with wild eyed wonder.

Okay - NOW we're on to something... I was following this thread a bit - but found most of the talk too vague to really respond to. But this, I guess I can sink my teeth into. That's actually a pretty great analogy, Matt! I've always thought of images, at the VERY least, to be 'embedded information' whose 'subject' needs to be found by interpolation of a sort. I think, maybe, it's got to do with using language efficiently at more than one level at the same time, whether that language be visual, mathematical, poetry, what-have-you. And I suspect that the ability to embed and decode at those sorts of levels probably has something to do with the 90-odd percent of the brain that we purportedly never use.

06-05-2007, 01:02 AM
Richard, I like yor first example very much. The other 2 not so much. Hard to explain why.

Here is a recent example that i think would qualify as subtle yet is very powerful:

Katharine Thayer
06-07-2007, 07:22 AM
Personally, I prefer photographs that are subtle-- whether it is in terms of the subject, contrast, composition or pallet. For me, there is something about the photographs that don't beat you over the head that lend themselves to be appreciated more over time.

Me too.

I've been having trouble following this thread because the definition of "subtlety" seems to keep jumping around between subtlety of subject, subtlety of contrast, subtlety of composition, sublety of color saturation, etc. I like subtlety in everything, but in analyzing why I prefer Richard's first picture, the tire tracks, over the other two, I realized that subtle contrast is what I like most, along with subtle color, if the work is in color.

My favorite bodies of work tend to be rather subtle in contrast and occupy narrow tonal ranges : Joyce Tennyson's and Lilo Raymond's high-key images, Bll Jacobsen's low-key portraits. I thought I disliked Ansel Adams' work until someone introduced me to his earlier, subtler work, which is very nice. I consider subtlety more sophisticated and interesting than "punch" or "pow" which after all are cartoon notations for being socked in the face.


06-07-2007, 06:51 PM
Subtle photo?

06-10-2007, 03:07 PM
I would not call that subtle.

06-10-2007, 09:23 PM
Note 1 ... "Logic"? Is there any place for "logic" in art? Isn't "aesthtic" really an antonym of "logical"?

Certainly not in music composition, in which there are "logical" structures based on defined rhythm, harmony, temperment, etc. This goes for all kinds of music, including various popular kinds as well as kinds from elsewhere in the world. Aesthetic choices are based on an understanding of these structures. It may be very intuitive to composers (which I'm not), but if you listen closely, a lot of phrases in classical music deal in tension and resolution.

Ed Sukach
06-13-2007, 09:38 AM
Mea culpa ... or whatever.

I have a tendency to revert back to the original (~ two millenia ago) definition of "aesthetics" ... or "esthetics" ... or however one chooses to spell it: "Not subject to reason, but only there by the process of perception" ... and I welcome correction here. Later philosophers have changed that to something like "The science of ART, and a REASONABLE framework for determining what is, and what is NOT "art" - something I find diametrically opposite.

I will submit that we need another word, one the expresses the same thought as the original: "It WORKS, and I don't know WHY ... and from what I've been able to gather, no one else knows WHY, either."

I have been a student of "composition", for a long time now ... since when the earth cooled... and as far as I can tell, it is an "after the fact" analysis. In trying to determine common characteristics of art that is considered to be "great", there are certain weak correlations: the idea that points of interest will fall at the intersections of a grid based on "thirds"; that the same may apply to the "golden section"; that there is a "balance" between heavy and light; that the foregrounds - generally - are lighter than backgrounds. Renoir 's famous `warm and cold limbed' "X" ... the list is far more extensive.

I doubt ... make that DOUBT that any of the great art works were created to satisfy the "commonalites" ... they were found to "fit" after - many times long after - the intial studies of "composition".

It certainly is POSSIBLE to create a work that will accurately FIT the "commonalities" ... RULES ... of composition, and the result will be completely lifeless. One only has to consider the illustrations in the composition books, of cubes, pyramids, cones, and spheres placed in the "proper places" to see the lifelessness.

If we eliminate all the artwork that dies not conform, we will have eliminated much of the really GREAT art that now exists.

Music? I do not profess any level of knowledge about music, other than I have heard that there are mathematical "commonalities" that seem to be present in many of the great works. I would GUESS there are truly great works that do NOT follow the "rules" as well.

What about it, gang? A word - polished, esoteric, suitable for "artspeak" ... that expresses, "It WORKS".

Ed Sukach
06-13-2007, 09:40 AM
Mea culpa ... or whatever....

Remainder deleted.

Katharine Thayer
06-13-2007, 10:15 PM
What about it, gang? A word - polished, esoteric, suitable for "artspeak" ... that expresses, "It WORKS".

Ed, I think I understand the distinction you're trying to articulate, but looking for a word may be futile, because if I understand what you're trying to say, the crucial distinction may be between verbal and nonverbal communication, or between what we used to call "right-brain" vs "left-brain" mental operations. That hemispheric distinction was oversimplified in terms of how the brain works, but the distinction between the types of operations still holds: there are linear-sequential operations, of which language is the most important, and there are holistic, intuitive, nonverbal, operations where things are grasped suddenly as a whole without the mediation of language. I don't remember whether this is the thread where someone talked about the elegance of a mathematical solution; the thread is too long to go back and try to find it. At any rate, most higher-order mathematical thinking is of this second kind. Mathematical thinkers often speak of "seeing" the solution as a geometric symbol or some other visual image, and then taking weeks to write down the equations that the image requires.

The response that you and I give to a particular work of art is of this second kind, I think, more visual-emotional-nonverbal than logical-sequential-verbal. And I agree with you that the response can't necessarily be determined by how well the work matches a set of conventions that have become so ingrained we're not even aware of them.

I also think that those ingrained rules can be a barrier rather than an aid to making great photographs. Several years ago on another forum, Michael Smith said something that really made me think about this. I wouldn't want to try to quote him, because I don't remember it exactly, but something to the effect that you have to go beyond your first idea of how to compose a scene, you have to keep looking at it until you see a new way to compose it.

I've always had a natural sense of composition, people say, but what he said helped me realize that my "natural" sense of composition follows the rules of that same conventional, cliched kind of composition, and that in order to make more interesting pictures, I need to go beyond conventional ways of thinking about composition.

But back to the original question: "What do you guys think about subtle photographs?" I prefer subtle photographs, as I wrote earlier in the thread, and though the thread has rather left the original question behind, I've just now got my scanner back from the shop and want to share a photo that I love, that is subtle indeed.

It's a copyright violation, because I don't have permission to copy it, and what's more I don't even remember the photographer's name, and it's not written on the print, so I can't even give proper due to the photographer. It would be nice if she happened to be here and saw it and spoke up. I do remember that it was a woman, and that her bio said she taught photography at Portland Community College. I bought this platinum print at a gallery in Portland several years ago; I liked it so much that I paid several hundred dollars for it, even though it's just 4x5." I never tire of looking at it.