The Curve

Frank Zappa accompanies this post. A little rock, a little provocative.

I stumbled upon this photo while reading the great little book, Read This if You want to Take Great Photographs, by Henry Carroll. 128 pages of introductory photography material ranging from camera settings to soft light, passing by composition.

The Curve. I didn’t see it at first, and it’s not one of those elements that you frequently encounter when reading the million resources out there on “top tips” or “key composition” items. 

Certainly “the rule of thirds”, “leading lines”, “sub-framing” and the rest are all fundamental to making good photographs. But what I encountered in this booklet was something else, something different.

The photo below, taken by Marc Asnin, shows a Jewish gathering, and being titled The Rebbe, I had to do some research on what, or who, it captured. I mean, it’s only right to document it seeing that Marc Asnin is considered to be a documentary photographer and photojournalist.

The Rebbe, who’s real name was Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was a an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, and is considered one of the most influential leaders of the 20th Century. His vision was that of bringing Judaism to the world-wide Jewish community in the post World War II atrocities and do so through schools, community and youth centers. He also created Shluchim, a global network of people reaching out to promulgate Judaism.

Back to The Curve. The photograph. It has deep contrast, in tune with the event. It shows the stature of the main subject, clearly The Rebbe. It shows compassion, with the hands of the man on the far left leaning on the gentleman’s shoulder in front.

I also particularly like the repetition in color, the black, the white and the brown. And unlike many of the more modern photographs, I like that the entire image is in focus. I like larger f-stops because it forces to think of the composition, and in this case all elements are needed. The man in the foreground on the bottom left, The Rebbe, and the aggregation of younger looking fellows in the back.

That in itself could be a leading line, cutting diagonally from the bottom-left to the top-right.

But what Henry Carroll highlights in his book is The Curve.

The swirling arrow overlaying the picture highlights that movement that is so subtle, yet it makes the picture stick out.

Composition rules are without a doubt needed, but there’s always that “it just works” element that sometimes you can’t really see with conventional tools. It’s like flipping a image 90 degrees and although it is completely wrong, the angles, lights, geometry of it just work better.

That’s what I see, or came to see in this picture. It was truly eye-opening. I didn’t see the suave curve that animates the scene. I probably would have stayed put at drawing strong diagonal lines all over it.

But what power. A curve. The Curve.

So then I continued hunting for Marc Asnin’s photography. His website has some amazing documentary work, but it wasn’t until I saw a few images on his work ‘Uncle Charlie’, that I truly appreciated his persona.

The brief summary on Marc Asnin is that he is a successful New York photographer with many publications on leading newspapers worldwide and many more permanent gallery exhibitions.

The collection of work, Uncle Charlie, documents his favorite uncle’s life, and he photographed him for over thirty years. Talk about a long term project…

Below are some of the photos I think stand out the most.

‘Uncle Charlie’, a schizophrenic, with a gun in his hand, smoking a cigarette, looking out. It seems like a surreal image, a man, in a dugout, ready to take on the world. All the while calmly smoking a cigarette. Socks on, shoes half off.

I mentioned provocative earlier on. How do you make this picture become a documentary picture rather than a porno one? How do you get the courage to photograph your uncle doing this? I’m sure we could discuss exposure compensation, unimportant blown out highlights in the background. But does that matter? I feel this photo in itself calls for an entirely different post. Maybe it will.

Lastly, from this great article on Asnin’s ‘Uncle Charlie’ work, I saw a photograph that uses layers, space and contrast to create such a dreadful and powerful image. The shadow line that almost exactly fits Charlie’s profile makes the difference. All the while his girlfriend Blanca gets high on crack cocaine in the background.

To close out though, to bring religion back in the picture, pun intended, below is another photograph by Marc Asnin. This time though it was used in this article which spoke about the effects of the Jewish tradition of circumcision.

Curves, religion, circumcision, blowjob. Provocative? Photography.

 

Until Next Time,

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Gio