Simplify Balony

May 30, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

All effort of human endeavor seem to aim towards discovering  the basic underlying simple truths that we can comprehend and thereby save us from the ugly complexity of reality that we often can't understand.  In the natural world, this is best accomplished in the realm of physics, where a simple equation such as E=MC2 can explain a whole lot.  Theories that explain natural complexity in a way that bring simple order to the complexity of the natural world are said to be "elegant."  Saying a theory is elegant is to give it the highest of accolades.  

The drive towards simplicity extends into the world of art and literature as well.  A haiku can beautifully express a thought or feeling in very few words, but does that in some way denigrate an epic novel?  In the world of photography, only the "Rule of thirds," seems to hold more formulaic weight than the directive that you must simplify an image.  It seems that the most common explanation for a photograph to win in a photo contest is that it simply represents something.  (memo for future blog subject: Why I Don't Enter Photo Contests)

Like the "Rule of thirds," I propose the directive to simplify should also be taken with a grain of salt.  As with any art form, the purpose of a nature photograph is to represent some part of reality in a way that has emotional interest or appeal.  Although this can be done with a simple, less complex image, letting a little information represent a greater reality, a more complex image can do the same, and with more authority.  I would argue that the more complex image is more in line with the natural world as it exists.  Although a more complex image requires more study, it is also much harder to make successfully.  The more componants included in a photographic image, the greater the likelihood of dilution of the message of the image.  The complex, cluttered composition may require some strong lines or forms to hold it together and keep the viewer engaged.  Like the natural landscape it represents, the complex nature photograph should lead the eye towards the discovery of its varied elements. 

Even though the risk of losing the message is so much greater in a complex image, the goal of trying to bring order out the chaos is a challenging and rewarding goal.  So, although simple images can be made and appreciated more easily, the reality of nature is complexity.  Deal with it, photographers!


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