PDA

View Full Version : What does "formal" mean to you?

h2oman
24-Sep-2016, 10:44
In a photographic sense, that is. A couple of friends use that term, one to describe particular photographs and one to describe his approach to photography. I feel like I have a sense of what this means to me, and the dictionary definition confirms this somewhat. I'm just curious about what "formal," as it applies to photography and photographs, means to others. What are some characteristics that might make a photograph "formal?" Examples are welcome, from your own work or others'.

Jac@stafford.net
24-Sep-2016, 11:07
Accept the term formal as a mnemonic, something that follows accepted forms, and forms consist of rules. A formal portrait would be recognized as it resembles other accepted rules of composition, lighting, environments. Much of fine-art photography is formal. Following certain principles or rules does not remove the opportunity to make unique work, it merely frames the critical scope.

Vaughn
24-Sep-2016, 11:10
I would use the term to describe how a photograph is presented, not the photograph itself. A print thumb-tacked to the wall would be a very informal presentation, and a print matted in a white window mat and a simple black frame would be a very formal presentation...with degrees of formality in between.

Reading jac's post, I have heard the use of formal and informal portraits -- but that is about the only reference I can recall concerning t he photograph itself.

Robert Opheim
24-Sep-2016, 14:01
An interesting question. I had to look up information on the web - a good definition follows:

Formal Composition
Formal compositions are commonly used in design. It contains a mathematical structure in the sense that elements within the composition are arranged according to: colour, direction, size, shape and position.
There are four ways of producing formal compositions, and they are based on mathematical concepts of symmetry. These are:
1. Translation, (the change of position)
2. Rotation, (the change of direction)
3. Reflection, (creating a mirror image of the shape)
4. Dilation, (the change of size)
Informal Composition
Unlike formal composition, informal composition does not rely on mathematical structure. It does however rely a creative eye for asymmetrical balance and freely arranged shapes and elements. An informal composition requires a centre of interest as is where the other elements will be originated from and they must be arranged around this centre point.
• Gravity (weight and balance of shapes)
• Contrast (characteristics of shapes and colour)
• Rhythm (movement and velocity)
The elements above are manipulated and coordinated around the centre of interest in order to create an informal composition.
https://abduls91.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/formal-informal-composition/

Jac@stafford.net
24-Sep-2016, 14:10
Robert Opheim

Informal Composition
Unlike formal composition, informal composition does not rely on mathematical structure. It does however rely a creative eye for asymmetrical balance and freely arranged shapes and elements. An informal composition requires a centre of interest as is where the other elements will be originated from and they must be arranged around this centre point.

Does this image occur on either side of the definition. Does it arise from the centre or no place ?

155481

Why is it compelling?

Alan Gales
24-Sep-2016, 14:41
155481

Why is it compelling?

Great composition! It's compelling because she is looking out of the frame which creates some tension.

Formal composition is usually boring but not always.

jp
24-Sep-2016, 15:25
Context is important.. In a Aaron Siskind bio I just read, formal seemed to mean the photo subject was form.
Mostly in terms of portraits it seems to be used in a sense of tradition or the antonym of experimental.

DrTang
26-Sep-2016, 08:00
formal portrait is what you get when you go to a photo studio that does wedding pix and graduation pix and looks very stiff

an informal portrait is not taken in that kind of studio and usually outdoor and usually in casual clothing

formal portraits is what you end up with if you buy boxes of old family photos - most of them in cardstock folders with the studio name on it

Drew Wiley
26-Sep-2016, 08:26
In this day and age, anything taken with the conspicuous deliberateness of a big view camera, which ends up in the "suit and tie" of a nicely printed and tastefully framed wall print, could logically be called formal. Beyond that, the client would pay you to do what you do best as a photographer, not due to some hypothetical
rules of how someone else once did it. I totally disagree that it needs to follow previous studio conventions of pose, routine lighting, and background. That just
sounds like a production line, and is apt to be a bit boring. All the career portraitists I know of stayed in business due to a signature style, which was apparent
in both their studio and outdoor portraiture shots. They didn't get there just by copying everyone else.

jnanian
26-Sep-2016, 08:33
formal "back in the day" got its roots
from painting as did most everything with photography.
formal portraits, architecture &c photography followed rules
of composition &c which were formal conventions.
formal these days really has no meaning because there
aren't any rules to follow anymore. its like
going off the main road where there are speedlimits
and stop sighs "PED X-ING" signs and turning into a grocery store
parking lot where anything goes. sure there are some people
who follow conventions, they use a view camera, and they like things to
look "just right" whether they are photographing peeling paint or bills on a billboard, staples on
a telephone pole, portraits or a landscape, and then there are people who don't ..

YMMV

Randy Moe
26-Sep-2016, 09:16
This is formal to me. http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?133654-Big-SG-Prints-amp-more-at-2016-Chicago-Art-Expo&p=1353542&viewfull=1#post1353542

Kirk Gittings
26-Sep-2016, 10:27
Context is important.. In a Aaron Siskind bio I just read, formal seemed to mean the photo subject was form.

This is how I learned it in critiques at UNM back in the heydays. There were "formal" aspects of an image (composition, framing, printing etc.-how the image looked) and subjective aspects of an image-i.e. what it all meant or suggested.

Drew Wiley
26-Sep-2016, 11:04
Just to confuse things even further, there's "Formalism" as an expression which came to the fore in the 70's, which applied relatively sophisticated or even
ambiguous compositonal strategies borrowed from "modern" painting (over fifty years in advance), but didn't resemble anything that Pictorialists or typical portrait studios had in mind. Ironically, some of these strategies began way back when Degas and Cezanne were inspired by the oddities of what cameras rendered rather than the unaided eye, such as Degas just chopping subjects partially off at the edge of the composition.

Eric Biggerstaff
26-Sep-2016, 12:52
Formal = Structured

Drew Wiley
26-Sep-2016, 13:01
Formal = Elegant. Structural just means unfinished, at least in construction, if you happen to be a Constructivist.

Robert Opheim
26-Sep-2016, 13:08
Just to throw in another possible aspect of composition do - the definitions of: "static" versus "dynamic" somewhat relate to "formal" versus "informal"

Drew Wiley
26-Sep-2016, 13:30
All these terms are plastic. A classical statue can be dynamic. The way I figure it, if it deserves museum board mounting and a fine frame or expensive portfolio binding, it's formal. If it doesn't, it's trash. Now that's dynamism - tossing it into the trashcan!

Alan Gales
26-Sep-2016, 15:02
All these terms are plastic. A classical statue can be dynamic. The way I figure it, if it deserves museum board mounting and a fine frame or expensive portfolio binding, it's formal. If it doesn't, it's trash. Now that's dynamism - tossing it into the trashcan!

You could frame Andy Warhol's panties and hang them in a museum but I don't think anyone would consider them formal. ;)

http://pagesix.com/2016/09/25/andy-warhols-panties-could-fetch-six-figures/

Drew Wiley
26-Sep-2016, 15:59
That's what I'm afraid of, Alan! I'm downright sick of anything Warhol, and frankly wish "Modern Art" venues would simply move on past these utterly predicatable commodities. That whole Pop Art era itself became a Byzantine regime some time back. Did you see the recent prank where someone simply laid a pair of reading
glasses on the floor in a museum and then sat back watching people making "art-speak" about it, like an actual installation, and taking pictures and cell phone videos one after another?

Randy Moe
26-Sep-2016, 16:08
But urinal art is so useful, especially to this old man. I could use it often!

Look where the first urinal is, SF!

Formal Art is it...

https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.291

Drew Wiley
26-Sep-2016, 16:20
Edward Weston made a spectacular contact print of an old toilet. But there was actual craft involved. But SF and urinals. There is sure a squabble over them on the streets arond Golden Gate Park. Homeowners are complaining that public pee booths spoil the ambiance of the neighborhood, while other homeowners are insisting complaining that if they aren't there, people pee on their trees anyway. I grew up in the woods in a house with single bathroom, and my sister routinely had lots of other teenage gals over, often overnite. Not inconvenient if you do live in the woods with lots of trees. Otherwise....

Randy Moe
26-Sep-2016, 16:35
I prefer the woods.

I have long wanted to get 100 people to pee in their pants outside City Hall, to protest the lack of facilities.

My inspiration is Tony Tasset. Cibachrome print. 84X48" No nudity, just damp pants. http://www.artnet.com/magazine/index/honigman/honigman12-22-9.asp

Alan Gales
26-Sep-2016, 17:52
But urinal art is so useful, especially to this old man. I could use it often!

Look where the first urinal is, SF!

Formal Art is it...

https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.291

Here you go, Randy!

http://c2.thejournal.ie/media/2012/10/kisses2-390x285.jpg

Alan Gales
26-Sep-2016, 17:53
That's what I'm afraid of, Alan! I'm downright sick of anything Warhol, and frankly wish "Modern Art" venues would simply move on past these utterly predicatable commodities. That whole Pop Art era itself became a Byzantine regime some time back. Did you see the recent prank where someone simply laid a pair of reading
glasses on the floor in a museum and then sat back watching people making "art-speak" about it, like an actual installation, and taking pictures and cell phone videos one after another?

I'm not a big Warhol fan either. Some modern art I like and some I don't. That is funny about the glasses!

Alan Gales
26-Sep-2016, 17:54
Speaking of urinals. Are you guys watching the debates tonight?

Randy Moe
26-Sep-2016, 18:30
Speaking of urinals. Are you guys watching the debates tonight?

Just turned it off.

Alan Gales
26-Sep-2016, 20:01
Just turned it off.

I watched it. You didn't miss anything.

Mark Sawyer
26-Sep-2016, 21:54
Speaking of urinals. Are you guys watching the debates tonight?

To my great disappointment, it wasn't worth pee'ing on. But as an homage to Marcel DuChamp, it seems many of the comebacks were "ready-mades".....

Drew Wiley
27-Sep-2016, 09:12
Well, it's amazing just how often not only plumbing fixtures get recycled, but the same gags. Lots of Pop Art pranks in the 60's and 70's had been done numerous
times before by Dada, including Duchamp. When my aunt was still alive and a noted art historian as well as painter, she recited just how many times she had seen blank canvases installed in Museums over the years, including the famous (or infamous), "White Cow in a Snowstorm" in the 1920's. Then I mentioned that someone recently had the nerve to thumbtack a still stinking roadkilled house cat to a museum canvas, and she merely remarked how even that had been done over and over again, clear back to Dada. I do admire how Picasso made a bull head out of just the seat and handlbars of an old bicycle. But when it comes to
used plumbing, guess I should just buy the architectural salvage lot down the street and put up a museum sign, and be done with it.

Randy Moe
27-Sep-2016, 09:20
Well, it's amazing just how often not only plumbing fixtures get recycled, but the same gags. Lots of Pop Art pranks in the 60's and 70's had been done numerous
times before by Dada, including Duchamp. When my aunt was still alive and a noted art historian as well as painter, she recited just how many times she had seen blank canvases installed in Museums over the years, including the famous (or infamous), "White Cow in a Snowstorm" in the 1920's. Then I mentioned that someone recently had the nerve to thumbtack a still stinking roadkilled house cat to a museum canvas, and she merely remarked how even that had been done over and over again, clear back to Dada. I do admire how Picasso made a bull head out of just the seat and handlbars of an old bicycle. But when it comes to
used plumbing, guess I should just buy the architectural salvage lot down the street and put up a museum sign, and be done with it.

Now we know what you don't like.

What do you like?

Kirk Gittings
27-Sep-2016, 09:24
Now we know what you don't like.

What do you like?

pontificating?

Drew Wiley
27-Sep-2016, 09:34
Plumbing that works.

Alan Gales
27-Sep-2016, 09:41
Plumbing that works.

Well Drew, you can always try Viagra.

Kirk Gittings
27-Sep-2016, 09:49
Well Drew, you can always try Viagra.

:) hilarious

Drew Wiley
27-Sep-2016, 10:07
OK. Here's a silly artsy stunt I did get a kick out of. A friend went over to Asia Minor to a big Roman amphitheater ruin (forgot the exact location), which was
excavated and restored down to the understory level, in other words, the latrines. About fifty urinal stations in marble are preserved in a semi-circle. So he set
up a digital camera at the center with a tracking gear and remote control, then came back at sunset and did a panoramic multiple exposure of his own silhouette standing at every single pee station.

John Kasaian
27-Sep-2016, 12:32
If I wear a bow tie in the dark room, would that make my photos formal?

Jac@stafford.net
27-Sep-2016, 13:24
If I wear a bow tie in the dark room, would that make my photos formal?

Damn! I wish I had not outgrown my full dress military uniform!
.

Drew Wiley
28-Sep-2016, 09:57
Maybe formal photography just refers to someone who takes shots of the local high school prom.

Randy Moe
28-Sep-2016, 10:15
Maybe formal photography just refers to someone who takes shots of the local high school prom.

That's Senior Moments! :)

Sarcasm twice in 3 minutes.

Alan Gales
28-Sep-2016, 10:21
I've always thought of formal portraits as posed portraits like yearbook portraits, wedding portraits, corporate portraits and such. Formal photography to me was formal composition where everything was static and sometimes symmetrical. A straight on shot of the Taj Mahal would be formal. That's why I said it can be boring. I don't know exactly where the line would be drawn between formal and informal.

Of course I could be wrong. I do like John Kasaian's explanation in post #36.

Drew Wiley
28-Sep-2016, 10:55
I think what John K. has in mind in terms of a formal photo is first polishing the brass on the cowbell before taking a portrait of the cow.

Alan Gales
28-Sep-2016, 10:57
I think what John K. has in mind in terms of a formal photo is first polishing the brass on the cowbell before taking a portrait of the cow.

;)

Maris Rusis
28-Sep-2016, 15:04
Since no one has mentioned it so far I will.
There is a vast art discipline called Formal Analysis in which a picture is evaluated as a set of forms, tones, masses, lines, proportions, balances and imbalances. Identification of subject matter is irrelevant. I've known some people in academia who draw salary to expound the principles of formal analysis. I've known students who've paid fees to be taught how to do it and what conclusions to draw. I've known curators who've used formal analysis to find good things to say about pictures they dislike. Perhaps a picture can appeal to the eye just on the basis of how it is laid out rather than what it's of.

dodphotography
28-Sep-2016, 17:44
I think of the term "shadow detail" where people can't get past an aspect or portion of the image that falls to pure black. I like to shoot very high contrast images, I also print this way. I see this as being as part of the brain that is just unable to let go of a logical and analytical way of making and looking at pictures.

Drew Wiley
29-Sep-2016, 08:34
Brett Weston shattered that barrier long ago, with shattered windows themselves being among his many subjects. He used black as a graphic form his entire life.

Drew Wiley
29-Sep-2016, 09:14
... postcript to that (now that I've finished clearing my brain of last minute additions to my fence materials list for today). If you take the images of EW and examine his use of black in representative CONTACT prints (versus his son Brett), lots of those shadows would bellyflop in an enlargement. Small areas of "pure" black which accent the print and give it life when small can become terribly disappointing when that same things becomes visibly larger devoid of texture, unless there is a distinct strategic reason for black as black. I've certainly made a few prints ala BW. And I know how to do it consistently. But I don't routinely do that because I think that style appropriately belongs to the particular circle which mastered it early, like Merg R. who chimes in frequently. I once di a color version
of a BW subject as a deliberate homage to him - and of all coincidences he stumbled into that very gallery and left a kind note and bought a couple images. Two of those color prints are apparently still hanging down there in the Pebble Beach complex somewhere, so it's nice that somebody still appreciates them. I don't feel guilty of the color tweak because it used bold black pushing and pulling against specific hues which themselves advance and recede according to a different set of physiological and psychological rules. All of these visual strategies are mere tools to be intelligently used in appropriate cases, or according to personal
style. No sense making a religion out of any of them.

dodphotography
29-Sep-2016, 15:07
... postcript to that (now that I've finished clearing my brain of last minute additions to my fence materials list for today). If you take the images of EW and examine his use of black in representative CONTACT prints (versus his son Brett), lots of those shadows would bellyflop in an enlargement. Small areas of "pure" black which accent the print and give it life when small can become terribly disappointing when that same things becomes visibly larger devoid of texture, unless there is a distinct strategic reason for black as black. I've certainly made a few prints ala BW. And I know how to do it consistently. But I don't routinely do that because I think that style appropriately belongs to the particular circle which mastered it early, like Merg R. who chimes in frequently. I once di a color version
of a BW subject as a deliberate homage to him - and of all coincidences he stumbled into that very gallery and left a kind note and bought a couple images. Two of those color prints are apparently still hanging down there in the Pebble Beach complex somewhere, so it's nice that somebody still appreciates them. I don't feel guilty of the color tweak because it used bold black pushing and pulling against specific hues which themselves advance and recede according to a different set of physiological and psychological rules. All of these visual strategies are mere tools to be intelligently used in appropriate cases, or according to personal
style. No sense making a religion out of any of them.

I should have noted I don't subscribe to that "shadow detail" stance.

It's often expressed to and around me when looking at emerging artist work, not conical artists.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

h2oman
29-Sep-2016, 15:33
I'm glad you guys are finally back to being at least close to on topic! :cool:

Drew Wiley
29-Sep-2016, 16:28
All that matters is how the final print looks. There's a big difference between handling black structurally and intelligently, versus struggling with something you think you're supposed to do because you heard or read it someplace. That applies to every aspect of this thread. Follow the rules, break the rules, ignore the rules.
All the same. The proof is always in the pudding.

John Kasaian
30-Sep-2016, 15:40
I think what John K. has in mind in terms of a formal photo is first polishing the brass on the cowbell before taking a portrait of the cow.

Moooooooooooooooooooooooove on. There's nothing to see here.:rolleyes:

Drew Wiley
30-Sep-2016, 16:27
Nice to have an expert chime in finally. Sooooooo .... (rhymes with mooooo), John, since you own a Stetson cowbody hat you should be able to answer this, what
Zone do you place a black Angus on versus a pale Brahma?

John Kasaian
30-Sep-2016, 22:18
Nice to have an expert chime in finally. Sooooooo .... (rhymes with mooooo), John, since you own a Stetson cowbody hat you should be able to answer this, what
Zone do you place a black Angus on versus a pale Brahma?

LOL! If they're bulls, I want them to be in a different zone (pasture) than me.

Ted R
1-Oct-2016, 09:36
There is an analogy with how people chose their clothes, there is formal style and there is casual style and there is a lot in between. I think it is a helpful analogy because both clothes and pictures are about appearances, sometimes they can be revealing and sometimes deceitful.

Alan Gales
1-Oct-2016, 11:10
There is an analogy with how people chose their clothes, there is formal style and there is casual style and there is a lot in between. I think it is a helpful analogy because both clothes and pictures are about appearances, sometimes they can be revealing and sometimes deceitful.

Also what you wear that looks good in your country if you wore it in another part of the world they would laugh at you! ;)

plaubel
2-Oct-2016, 02:51
Concerning my photography, I never have had much in mind words like "formal", and I don't know if it is formal from time to time, or everytime - but after reading this thread, this word seems to lurk beyond every corner, so I may think a bit about "formal"...

The Back cover of Shinzo Maeda's fantastic book "Grass and Trees" describes things like complete landscapes or solitaire plants, blowing and fading, structures and flowing movements as content and formal parts of Maedas landscapes.

So to me, separating content and "formal" seems to be tricky, it looks like they are working hand in hand.

If Maeda's pictures are qoted as formal, I can't find them boring, au contraire !

While thinking now about "formal" - it may be the opposite of "artistic" ?
But I find Maeda's work artistic, too...

Ritchie