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Thread: “Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.”

  1. #1

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    “Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.”

    ~Edward & Brett Weston.


    Discuss.

  2. #2
    Benjamin's Avatar
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    Re: “Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.”

    Fascinating. I actually don't mind the old-style editing and story telling, nor the general hagiographic tone - only the new-age music got on my nerves, as I had forgotten how much of an annoying fad it was at the time to put that stuff in these types of one-hour docs.

    What it had to say about Adams or Weston is mildly interesting today, but what I found really enjoyable was to hear about all these photographers - Henry Gilpin, Huntington Witherill, Robert Byers, Edna Bullock or Morley Baer that were totally unknown to me and whose works, a lot of it quite wonderful, aren't in the public eye as much as that of Adams and Weston.

    The idea of a place, southern California, being an inspiration for a whole group of artists - not at all explored in the short doc as much as it title implies - is quite fascinating. Top of my head, I can't think of any other such example elsewhere in the world, at least as far as photography is concerned (I'm not counting cities like Paris or New York), but I'm certainly wrong...

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    Re: “Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.”

    Quote Originally Posted by Bernice Loui View Post
    Discuss.
    O.K.

    One of the first sentences in the video says that "Robert Louis Stevenson used [Point Lobos] as a setting for his adventure novel Treasure Island".

    That sounded so implausible that I checked.

    In 2015, the Monterey County Weekly quoted an expert on both Point Lobos and Stevenson to the effect that the odds that Stevenson even set foot on Point Lobos, let alone set Treasure Island there, "are low".

    Of course, we're talking about California. The people who made this film probably think that because a Hollywood version of Treasure Island was shot in the area, the story took place there. They probably think that Treasure Island is a work of history, too.

    I figure that the opening credits, the insipid music and the opening of the narration are a pretty good indication of what's to come, and stopped watching.

    One thing's for sure, Dead Chest Island is in the British Virgin Islands. I've been there, it does indeed look like a Dead Man's Chest, and Stevenson specifically said that Dead Chest Island inspired the phrase

  4. #4
    Benjamin's Avatar
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    Re: “Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.”

    Quote Originally Posted by r.e. View Post
    O.K.

    One of the first sentences in the video says that "Robert Louis Stevenson used [Point Lobos] as a setting for his adventure novel Treasure Island".

    That sounded so implausible that I checked.

    In 2015, the Monterey County Weekly quoted an expert on both Point Lobos and Stevenson to the effect that the odds that Stevenson even set foot on Point Lobos, let alone set Treasure Island there, "are low".

    Of course, we're talking about California. The people who made this film probably think that because a Hollywood version of Treasure Island was shot in the area, the story took place there. They probably think that Treasure Island is a work of history, too.

    I figure that the opening credits, the insipid music and the opening of the narration are a pretty good indication of what's to come, and stopped watching.

    One thing's for sure, Dead Chest Island is in the British Virgin Islands. I've been there, it does indeed look like a Dead Man's Chest, and Stevenson specifically said that Dead Chest Island inspired the phrase
    Robert Louis Stevenson was in Monterey in 1879, staying with friends and spending a lot of time walking along the coast. Chances are he did go to Point Lobos.

    Doesn't mean he wrote Treasure Island there - many coastal towns that he visited elsewhere seem to make that claim -, but it doesn't mean he wasn't inspired by the California coast, at least partially, when writing the book.

    This is a light, one-hour doc, it does show its age, and there are much better films, especially on Weston, that have appeared since ("Eloquent Nude", the Charis Wilson doc, comes to mind). As I said, it still an interesting watch for the glimpse it offers on the lesser-kown photographers. Edna Bullock, for me, was a discovery.

  5. #5
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: “Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.”

    That's not southern California, Benjamin, but mid-coast. No palm trees or warm beaches, but characteristically mostly cliffs and tide pools, and a lot of fog. Big difference both scenically and sociologically. It's just a moderate distance south of San Francisco. Before my dad passed away, we put him in assisted living right there, just minutes from the shore. There was an old Japanese gal in there the same age as him (95) who had actually grown up at Pt Lobos as the daughter of an abalone diver, which was a major activity there prior to all the things mentioned in that video. Before that, it held a small whaling operation.

    The "West Coast School" of photography centered around the central coast from Big Sur to somewhat north of San Francisco, emphasized acute composition combined with fine printmaking, and is still very much alive. I'd have to include myself as part of the extenuation of it. And that specific esthetic heritage is still locally appreciated by many.

  6. #6
    Benjamin's Avatar
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    Re: “Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.”

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Wiley View Post
    That's not southern California, Benjamin, but mid-coast.
    Thanks for correcting me Drew. Don't know why I wrote that, since I've been deep in Weston's life and work these days. Slip of the tongue, I mean pen, I mean keyboard, I guess.

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    Re: “Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.”

    I enjoyed the comment about color taking the place of composition. A good way of putting it.

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    Vaughn's Avatar
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    Re: “Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.”

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Wiley View Post
    That's not southern California, Benjamin, but mid-coast. ...
    When one is heading south, for some, Southern California starts somewhere just north of Santa Rosa. For example, Hopland is a nice little northern CA town, especially Old Hopland. Southern California can be further divided into whatever one wants to...

    I experienced Carmel traffic back in the late 80s/early 90's assisting at Friends of Photography workshops. No thank you.

    Watkins made a similar statement about composition when asked by a judge why he took the photo in question from that spot. Something along the lines of, "It was the best view." Might be a bit of a stretch, but I have always enjoyed it. I'll have to find the quote again.
    "Landscapes exist in the material world yet soar in the realms of the spirit..." Tsung Ping, 5th Century China

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    Re: “Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.”

    Quote Originally Posted by Benjamin View Post
    Robert Louis Stevenson was in Monterey in 1879, staying with friends and spending a lot of time walking along the coast. Chances are he did go to Point Lobos.
    It is well known that Stevenson spent time in the area. A local expert, who is among other things the President of the Monterey RL Stevenson Society, says that the odds that he was ever at Point Lobos "are low".

    Stevenson kept a detailed journal in California, and apparently there isn't a single mention of Point Lobos. There are a couple of dozen claims about where the book is based, and there isn't much evidence for any of them. Except that Dead Men's Chest is definitely based on the British Virgin Islands island.

    If you want to believe otherwise, go for it.

    I'm just horsing around. Watched a couple of minutes of that film and decided, don't think so

  10. #10

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    Re: “Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.”

    Visually I find the super clean whites and deep blacks of John Sexton images or the color work of Morley Bauer and his contemporaries far more compelling than the early fraternity of the F64 collective - Adams being the exception to some extent.

    Many Westin compositions are distinctive but not aesthetically appealing. I wouldn’t hang most of them on my walls.

    For me Composition is wrought in priority by choice of lens focal length, angle, intensity and color of light, degree of magnification (I.e. closeup vs not), choice of vertical vs horizontal, and last by subject/object. In many ways similar to Brett W., Ralph Gibson’s choice of 50-90mm lenses (35mm format), choice of bright sunny frontal or side lighting, and vertical orientation dictates his initial quest for subject matter. He like Brett juxtaposes disparate forms to provide a visual cacophony (not seeing much visual harmony in most pics but rather tension).

    A distinctive Compositional signature is what many photo devotees are seeking it seems to me.

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