The Photographer’s Eye by John Szarkowski

So far I have spent most of my time learning how to take good pictures and it has been only recently I have been asking myself ‘why’ I have chosen ‘what’ to photograph. I have read The Photographers Eye by John Szarkowski  and it has helped me in some part to understand how to form the images I want in my mind.

The Photographers eye looks at the five inter-related elements that distinguish photography from the other arts.

The thing itself , is the most important part as it shows the fundamental use and acceptance of the image as a picture and not the equivalent of the reality.

The detail  which highlighted the forceful clarity in which photographs can be achieved and the idea that a photographic image can only be a fragment of reality.

The Frame discussed the central act of choosing and eliminating material  which concentrated on the picture edges, the line that separates in from out.

Time  detailed that all photographs are time exposures. Photography alludes to the past and the future only in so far that it exists in the present, the past in its surviving relics, the future through its prophecy visible in the present.

Vantage point this discussed what it is to allow photographers to choose their point of view.

One of the most resounding quotes from the book for me is’ The history of photography has been less of a journey and more of a growth’.

John Szarkowski was the director of photography at the MoMA. New York for close to 30years. He was held in high regard and shaped photographic practices and criticism for a generation.

In 1996 John Szarkowski put together an exhibition based around the book to emphasize the idea that all good photographs, regardless of where they appeared or who made them resulted in a shrewd orchestration of these five elements.

I have chosen three images to analyse in a hope that I will learn to understand my process of producing images.

Image 1-  The Thing itself. Page 38, Photographer Unknown : East Side Tenement Christmas

The image consists of two children (boy and a girl) sat by a makeshift Christmas tree in a kitchen next to a stove. The tree is made up from household items, a brush , bucket the branches are sticks with toys and things hanging off them. Do these things hold significance for the children?

The tree is tilted and the boy who is obviously younger is looking up at it longingly. The other child , a girl is looking down at her hands which seem to be holding a picture or card of some sort. You can feel the despair.

One of the branches of the tree is made from a child’s tin whistle and another branch has a toy penguin hanging from it. These where probably objects that the children played with. The children are sat in front of the stove this shot would of been composed there purely for the warmth of the stove.

The background is dark and dinghy, barren walls and roof beams. This portrays the poverty of the situation. The photographer obviously wanted to show the bleakness of the children’s plight at Christmas time. The sadness in the little girls face as she is looking at the photo/ card in her hand. The imagination goes wild , maybe they are orphans and the photo/ card is of a parent. The young boy staring at the xmas tree wishing it was a real one

The pitiful toys hanging from the makeshift tree gives a sense of nostalgia and perseverance through the worst times , even though they haven’t got anything to decorate the tree with they have used their only possessions.

As a mother this image provokes my maternal instincts. Its upsetting to see such innocence in a dire situation especially around Christmas time when it is meant to be a joyous occasion and a time for the family.

Image 2 The Frame p71. Photographer John Runk, Pine boards and Frank Stenlund.1912 

This image to me is very graphically designed . There are loads of strong lines. The horizontal lines of the wood , vertical lines of the door and wood panelling. The farmer is a vertical line with one arm raised to a horizontal position this cuts across the panel and creates a point to which the eye is drawn to . The sun must be in the top left hand side giving side lighting which create lines of contrasting  shadows across the image from the panels this also adds texture to the mans weathered face.

The stern look on the mans face shows his uncomfortable with raising his arm. His arm is obviously holding the large wooden panel in place probably for the safety of the photographer, in case the wind catches the plank and falls in line with the camera during the long exposure time.

That was probably the logical reason why the mans arm is raised but artistically it works because the point at which the mans arm breaks the vertical direction of the line catches your eye.

Image 3 Vantage Point. p130 photographer Ehud Locker. From  1Chase Manhattan Plaza

This is an image of a high view point across Manhattan, it fills the frame with buildings. The pictorial space is flattened initially but the use of a wide angle shows the buildings off out in the distance and there is a clear distinction between the emptiness of the sky to the claustrophobic feel of the crowded city blocks with the intersecting lines of the roadways.








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