Vignettes

Sebastião Salgado. Tolbachik Volcanoe. In the background, the huge base of Kamen Volcano. Kamchatka, Russia. 2006.

Sebastião Salgado. Tolbachik Volcanoe. In the background, the huge base of Kamen Volcano. Kamchatka, Russia. 2006.

When I first saw this I was immediately drawn to it. It presents two pictures in one. A collage made in camera and with one exposure. The top picture is a majestic mountain surrounded by clouds and the bottom is mountain seen from further away. The picture seems to show the detail and long shot of the same mountain, in the same shot at the same time like a cubist painting.

Similar to the shan shui Chinese painting, this image is divided by clouds. Although this kind of painting might seem like a depiction of reality, its real intention is not to show what they are painting as is, but as it feels.

I went out looking for images that had divisions such as windows, mirrors, prints, and paintings that depicted more than their subject. These divisions acted as vignettes and montaged new meaning to the image. More than reflections, shadows, inside or outside, each of these images create an intricate language.

John Singer Sargent. The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit. Paris. 1882.

John Singer Sargent. The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit. Paris. 1882.

This is a family portrait, but what does it mean to paint sisters in such an odd way? The spaces generated by geometric shapes and shadows place the different characters in this picture in multiple states of mind. While the little girl in front receives a very soft light, the girl in the red dress, who is physically right behind her, has a stronger light darkening half of her face. Then the girls in the back are behind a wall, which casts a shadow over them. This means that while the youngest is brighter, the older ones become progressively darker, until the older one is not only the darkest but is also facing away. If this were a photograph, the intention behind this particular light decision would be attributed to the location. Even though I am not entirely convinced by that, it is true that when it is a painting, this intention is underlined. Is the author saying something about aging? Are these girls falling from enlightenment as they get older?

Jan van Eyck. Madonna of Chancellor Rolin. France. 1435.

Jan van Eyck. Madonna of Chancellor Rolin. France. 1435.

This is a 26 in × 24 in oil painting. In it we see the commissioner of the painting, chancellor Nicholas Rolin, and the virgin with baby Jesus. Even though this is a rather small painting, Van Eyck decided to add as much detail possible not only to the chamber but also to the landscape and buildings outside of it. What does it mean to add a rich environment to this equation in a picture style that is so clearly iconographic and in which every detail so obviously has a meaning? At first, I thought about the outside world in the background being indifferent about the highness of chancellor Rolin and this magnificent apparition in front of him. But then it was brought o my attention that it could be an indication to a religious man’s ascetic life, highlighting his abnegation of the enticing exterior world and emphasizing his religious fortitude.

Henry Peach Robinson, Sleep, 1867.

Henry Peach Robinson, Sleep, 1867.

This photograph would not be the same without the window. In the foreground we see two girls sleeping in a theatrical position, in the back, the sea. The intricate pose and the flowers rising from her head makes me think this window is not showing the exterior, but rather, the interior of what this girls are dreaming. I know this interpretation might be a modern one that the author could not forsee with his lack of familiarity with the thought bubble, but I like to think of the relationship of these two parts of the image not only as a comic vignette, but much more as the montage of the two image together in a movie, in the way which Lev Kuleshov added A+B to gain an entirely new meaning, C.

Robert Frank. Parade, Hoboken, New Jersey.1955.

Robert Frank. Parade, Hoboken, New Jersey.1955.

More than inside and outside, the division in this image is mainly generated by tonality: a white and a black part. The white part is the conjunction of a windowshade and an American flag and it is obscuring the figures peeking out the windows. The anonymity of the characters creates a gloomy presence that charges this image with mystery. I am left with the title and the word “parade”, i keep thinking about what it means that during a parade the American flag is making people unidentifiable, as if it was depicting these two people not as individuals but as part of something greater than themselves.

Luigi Ghirri. Ile Rousse, 1976.

Luigi Ghirri. Ile Rousse, 1976.

At first glance this picture seems like a diptych. Two images, maybe even of the same space a while later. The spotting on the divider line is the first hint: upon closer inspection, we become fully aware of the texture and notice it is actually a wooden stick with beautiful shadows on it. This realization suddenly grounds this image and makes you think of the particular moment when it was taken and how it was done. This picture is not about depth but about the collapsing of a 3D space into 2D space. To create this, the placement of the camera is not the only consideration; other technical parameters like a high f-stop were also necessary. I think about time, about 1976 and how familiar with the photographic image were people by then so that this effect could even cross a photographer’s mind.

Zoe Strauss. Mummer Toasting from RV. Philadelphia, PA. 2008.

Zoe Strauss. Mummer Toasting from RV. Philadelphia, PA. 2008.

This is a single shot that feels like a paper collage. While the man toasts with us, we are trying to understand how this intricate image is working. Much like Ghirri, Strauss is creating an image in which this window is not showing us the inside or the outside, but instead creating a physical place that exists only for this particular photograph. What does the juxtaposition of three smiling children in the Grand Canyon with a middle-aged man drinking in an urban environment mean? I wonder again about 2008, about photography being inserted on everyday objects like this RV, about our familiarity with collage and comic strips. I wonder about when was the most recent moment in time that could have allowed this complex building of an image.

Erb Bunnag. Princess Dara Rasami. Thailand. Circa 1900.

Erb Bunnag. Princess Dara Rasami. Thailand. Circa 1900.

Mirrors help us see different angles of the same body simultaneously. Although using mirrors this way is not something new, what is interesting in Bunnan’s composition is how the girl seems to be situated in a very studio like environment, but the mirrors reveal an outdoor scene, implying that Princes Dara Rasami is in two places at once. I can’t help but to compare this to René Magritte and Pablo Picasso’s approach to the mirror, despite this image being created before theirs. Even though I love the surprise, I keep thinking about the real intention behind Bunnang and how it feels so much more naïve and unaware.

Helmut Newton. Self-portrait with wife and model. 1981.

Helmut Newton. Self-portrait with wife and model. 1981.

This mirror is not only helping us to see various angles of the same body. Instead it is juxtaposing two ideas: the world of Helmut Newton and that of Alice Springs, his wife. While he is preoccupied by a beautiful and perfect woman, Alice is left at the edge of the frame, trapped in a little space and looking back at him, bored, maybe annoyed. Coming out of her head, the outside world and the word “exit”.

Jan Vermeer. The Love Letter. 1666.

Jan Vermeer. The Love Letter. 1666.

Vermeer decides to give us the point of view of an spy intruding on a very personal moment. When a character is being depicted at her own place every detail that is part of it helps us to get to know him, or in this case, her. Why is it important that she was in the middle of playing a mandolin and that right in front of us there are music sheets? This letter is interupting daily life. The maid has put her housework aside and the woman is still holding her instrument. Her expression and how she is holding the letter creates an expectation for its contents. In the same way that Alice Springs’s desires where expressed by the window, our imagination about what the letter contains is fuled by the paintings of the boat and of the trees, similar in their presence of turbulent wind.

Sarah Pickering. Semi-Detached. 2004.

Sarah Pickering. Semi-Detached. 2004.

Before knowing the subject of this photograph, the picture is already giving important hints to its contents. The symmetry in this house generates an expectation and then a surprise when it is not fulfilled. Not only does the right side lack a door, but what we find behind it makes us question the whole inegrity and purpose of the building itself. It is in fact a picture of a town built for the sole purpose of military practice. With this image Pickering is pointing at the simulacra, at the reenactment, and at the constructing of things for a purpose other than what they were designed for. She insinuates all that just by photographing grass where a house interior should be.

Martha Naranjo Sandoval. Alone in Aline’s. 2014.

Martha Naranjo Sandoval. Alone in Aline’s. 2014.

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