View Full Version : A photograph like an opera

John Kasaian
10-Jul-2017, 18:21
AA famously likened a negative to a score and the print to a performance. A little while ago I was reading part of an unfinished manuscript by Philosopher Von Balthazaar on famous Opera composer Richard Wagner and it got me thinking (fair warning: earlier today I was riding a horse out of the round corral and skinnned the top of my nogging 'cause I didn't lean low enough to clear the corral's bow gate) and it occurred to me that Wagner's stylistic elements are similar to what I find makes a successful landscape photograph, something beyond being a visual record.

Predominantly, the elements I'm thinking about are Drama specifically "high" Drama.
I used to watch Classic Arts Showcase on cable late at night when giving my bride a break by doing the late night/early morning feedings when our daughter was a baby.
I hoped by doing this some Culture might be imprinted on poor child in spite of having a father like me.
What impressed me was how orchestral music could add Drama to video images. A seemingly common thing or event takes on an amazing level of importance (such as a melting icicle heralds the Spring, for example) Call it cliche, but in the moment it makes a powerful statement.

Another element is Beauty---musical, visual, and story. Not necessarily grandiose Beauty either---something very humble I find can have enchanting Beauty. Just as a melting icicle might be criticized as a cliche, so to might Beauty be criticized in certain (POMO?) quarters as a lacking---Ugly is interesting when everything else is beautiful goes the argument if I understand it correctly. But then, Ugly architecture is pretty dang ugly and the man on the street is prone to avoid looking it, much less enjoy a photograph of it, unlike more interesting photographs which, more often than not, has a element of Beauty not matter how humble.

Another element is a sense of Time. An Opera that drones on and on isn't enjoyable (to me anyway) but one that exemplifies movement, even a sense of urgency (the melodrama where Oilcan Harry has tied the lovely Nell to the railroad tracks while No.97 is bearing down the line comes to mind.)

This got me to pull down some old books off the shelf and contemplate some classic, successful photos.
And I see it.

From a shooter's view point I'm wondering how this would come together when selecting a subject and composing? Pre-vizualization maybe? Or...?

Have you ever thought about these elements in photography? Or did that bow gate this morning ring my chimes too hard?

10-Jul-2017, 18:26
Quick flow of conscience answer

Low drama, hidden beauty, acres of time.

10-Jul-2017, 21:21
Great question. I have often thought about this when listening to some modern genres, like minimalism. I don't know the answer but it's a great thought experiment. I never was much for Wagner though.

11-Jul-2017, 08:35
my photos are punk rock

11-Jul-2017, 20:39
Hi, John. I very much appreciate your comments and thoughts, as one who has for more than four decades engaged in thinking about the arts -- and sciences -- from the standpoint of creative unity, that is, both arising from true human creativity. That sentence alone is enough to start a virtual war among some, so I will not elaborate on it per se here. And I will happily state that my view arises from the Classical treatment of these subjects, not from a more modern one.
At an LF outing the last Sunday, the subject of critiquing photographs according to a restricted set of the so-called laws of visual composition came up. Like A. Adams and many artists, I eschew these, on the one hand, while not dismissing principles of composition, as opposed to those who feel such things restrict creativity. I'm not a partisan of chaos theory. Like Johannes Kepler, I find an evident coherence in the developing universe of which we are part, a coherence not of fixed interactions but one ordered by great harmonies, which we see everywhere in nature.
I would agree with Vaughn, and certainly Adams, that high drama is by no means necessary. I would add, that high drama need not be of Wagner's Romantic variety, which often creates effects for their own sake; it can be very strictly Classical, that is, Classical school of thought, not some arbitrarily defined time period or "style". In the Classical music repertoire, one finds beauty in everything from a simple song to a great symphony or concerto; even in a single work, the simple and complex may be drawn from the same idea, which is likely to be apparently simple, with rich potential implications to be discovered.
An example I used long ago in an article on Adams's work is Rock and Grass, Moraine Lake, 1932. Here we find a quiet scene in which a number of lovely harmonic ironies of scale, value, texture, and so on unite in a harmony of relationships that provoke ideas. The triangles of small, near rock and massive, distant peak; the thin grasses the "tiny" trees in the distance; and numerous other harmonic relationships which express a reflection of the spirit of Adams's creative vision and his appreciation of both nature and of art's ability to create meaningful order from chaos.
For me, such discussion about art is refreshing and invigorating, as well as an antidote to what I see as many of today's social ills. I live for it. Thanks for raising it.