Just as line can serve as a device to suggest depth it can also be used to ‘flatten’ or reduce apparant depth.
In the above image it’s not immediately clear what is depicted. There are no familiar objects which could offer clues about scale and the lines appear flat, largely parallel and mute in the matter of depth.
The form emerging from the right edge might give a clue about depth but its outline is confused by an overlay of smaller lines. The strong vertical line in the centre disrupts what might otherwise suggest a diminishing perspective.
Here the lines are seen as striations in the fabric itself and they too tend to disrupt any coherent sense of size and distance. All of these images were taken with a 110mm (35mm equiv) lens from the parapet bridge of a sizeable dam at a height of around 120 metres. Some flattening is produced by the focal length but mostly by the shear size of the structure, the perpendicular viewpoint and the way the strong lines work together to mislead the eye.
In the supporting text for this exercise the course manual refers to the terms ‘cropping’ and ‘framing’. I understand framing to be the decision made by the photographer at the time of exposure regarding what to include from the scene in front of him, where to place the edges of the camera frame as seen in the viewfinder. On the other hand, cropping is a decision made when printing or editing an image, considering the required aspect ratio (which may not be the same as the original) and the inclinations of the photographer, or picture editor in the case of editorial content.
During the 1970’s there existed a fairly widespread imperative that the print (for that was largely the aim of photography in those far off times) should be made from the entire exposed image. In pursuit of this, the apertures of the negative carriers used in the enlarging and printing process were often filed away to reveal the unexposed edges of the film, which then appeared as a border to the print. The feeling was that this conferred an authenticity to the photograph, showing that the intentions of the photographer were uncompromised from the instant of exposure to the finished print.
Cameras whose viewfinders showed the whole of the exposed area were considered superior to those which ‘cropped’ the edge of the frame. Again, the feeling was that the photographer should have his intentions carried out by the instrument without being misled as to the true field of view.
Walker Evans had no such conviction. With the undeniable luxury of a large format 8”x10” negative, he would select areas of interest by cropping extensively, sometimes drastically:
…Evans varied the scale of prints through croppings and enlargements—unlike many photographers of his generation, Evans did not prize the unadulterated contact print. House in New Orleans (1935), for example, which was the first image in the exhibition, is a roughly 5 1/2 x 3 1/2″ print of a detail of a house that Evans photographed with an 8 x 10″ view camera. He chose to cut the print down to focus on the wrought iron ornamentation, and it’s possible that he made the print while experimenting with the postcard format for a project at MoMA in 1936–38
Anon 2016. MoMA | Two Views of Walker Evans’s American Photographs. [online] Available at: <https://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2013/08/01/two-views-of-walker-evanss-american-photographs/> [Accessed 15 Dec. 2016].
In reviewing my own images as suggested in this section, my feeling is that the less successful shots do indeed suffer from loose framing, although this is by no means the only reason for their inadequacy. It’s clear to see, since they are all published here without cropping. So it is possible, even likely, that either a more considered approach when framing, or some Evans-style post-production may enhance the results considerably.