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Framing: Considering Images

To jump back into my blog after quite a long break, I would like to talk about framing. Framing, is often times what makes or breaks an image. It is the first and perhaps most important tool a photographer has, even surpassing the camera in importance. An artist will have to frame a composition, no matter what make or model camera they are using; in fact he or she may not even be using a camera at all to create photographs.

This art educational topic, is particularly important because of the way imagery is used in society today. We as people visually consume politically charged images from our environment constantly. In understanding the ethics and processes by which image makers are constructing photographs, we can also better dissect and think critically about the pictures we see every day.

Famous street photographer and professor of photography Joel Meyerowitz very eloquently explains the necessity of framing in an interview with Phaidon Press. A clip is embedded below:

What he says, is something anyone who has taken pictures knows subconsciously and utilizes, even if they are not a professional photographer. That is perhaps the joy, and often times also the dark nature, of photography: you have the power to choose what is captured, what is made, what is framed.

People "capture" visually with photographs everyday. We capture little moments and big moments; coffees and cakes at Starbucks or weddings and wars. What's more, is that we capture compulsively now, with cameras in our pockets, on our phones, on our computers, on our tablets, around our necks, hidden on walls and outside buildings, from outer space. Cameras are everywhere.

The choice to take a picture is in itself a decisive act which produces a product, an artwork, and everything that happens from that moment on is a subjective use of the subject which has been visually captured. Culturally, we talk a lot about photoshop and edited images, however the moment you snap a photograph you have already made an edit. You have cropped out a tiny slice of time and chose to show that subject without the rest of its context.

Below I have posted several pictures from my archive. These were submitted for an assignment in a photojournalism class many years ago. For me, this was a simple but poignant lesson. I had gone on a trip and submitted images that I had made of animals. I had not edited the photographs in photoshop, as was part of our photojournalism ethic rules for the class, and yet they were not considered "good" by my instructor. It was because I wasn't working to the best of my ability to portray an accurate picture of my settings. Worse yet, because of what I chose to frame in my composition, my images were likely to be misconstrued.

As it turns out, to convey a full story in one photograph is difficult, and to display an accurate and truthful story in one photograph is impossible. Photographs may be used as evidence in our world, but they certainly do not depict the whole story. Below are some other images from my trip photographing animals, and these photographs are much more telling of just where I was photographing these animals.

It is presumptuous to think one is capturing everything in a photograph, and is likewise presumptuous if one thinks he or she is also not taking away anything. How can I think that in one two-thousandth of a second I have defined a subject? However, is it not also just as bad if I would feel that I did not take away anything? For even one photograph of a person can vindicate them or damn them. Photography is full of such dualities. These can be difficult and conflicting ideas to grapple with, but they are important. We must always think critically about the photographs we make, what they mean, and who is affected by their existence.

The importance of this issue grows exceptionally when we stop talking about photographs in a safe learning environment and start talking about political and media images on the world stage, such as the photographs which have been surfacing from places of unrest. One such example is the photograph of Alan Kurdi. Images such as this affect us deeply and culturally, sometimes on a global scale.

I've never known a photograph to stop a war, but there are photographers out there who feel just that way about their work; that it is their duty to report what is going happening in our world so that we can put a stop to the barbaric acts of violence which occur.

I implore you, the next time you see a picture which shocks you on the news, on your Facebook feed, or in an article, stop and think carefully about it. Emphasize of course, but also think of what else could have been happening that the photographer did not or could not show? What is the message? Who will this affect. Who is the target audience? Who is the photographer? Who will gain what from the image? It is the responsibility of a photographer to make good photographs, but it is also our responsibilities as readers of imagery to think about what we see.

And lastly, if you're studying photography, be careful with your framing. It's only the beginning!

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