Monday, February 25, 2013

Subject/Subject Matter

I have repeated this story often but I would like to tell it one more time. It comes from Photographically Speaking by duChemin. It is as clear an explanation as I have ever found of my philosophy that the photograph is not the subject (matter).

I have often mentioned that the word subject has two meanings in a photograph. It is most often used to refer to the subject matter, the flower, the child, the horse, the mountains, but it also applies to the story of the photograph.  The fable of  the tortoise and the hare is used by duChemin to differentiate between the two usages.

As duChemin explains, in the fable the tortoise and the hare are subject matter, the characters, the actors. The moral of the fable the is the subject, the meaning of the story or what is being conveyed by the story. The same thing applies to photographs; the object photographed is the subject matter, the story/message/moral of the photograph is the subject.

DuChemin calls the elements, the tortoise and the hare, the words—I prefer to refer to them as the nouns with the actions of the tortoise and the hare as the verbs of the visual language of the photograph. The way the photograph is put together, the composition is the sentence structure. Generally I group it all under 'technique', which includes not only the composition but all the techniques used in the production of the photograph; from point of view, to tone, to color and composition as the sentence structure. Only a slight difference.

As duChemin states, whether or not we have intent at the time of taking a photograph, it is going to be read as intent by the viewer. The viewer, or as duChemin prefers, reader of the photograph is working under the assumption that the photographer has included all the essential elements and excluded all non-essential elements. Whether or not in fact that is true, it is assumed. Generally, the success or failure of the photograph is contingent upon that being true.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gary, If this is what you've been trying to explain, I learned this concept a little different way through a photography course that I took. Same thing though. I learned through example and through examining photographs. Found it much easier to understand with that method. This is also something I plan to cover (briefly)in one of my workshops in my group. Working on the curriculum now as a matter of fact. ScottA