Asakusa (Tokyo), Japan. May 2014.
There’s a writing exercise I use with my students where I give them an image–usually something clipped from a magazine–and tell them to write about what they see for a set period of time. Then I give them a blank sheet of card-stock paper with a small square cut out of it. I tell them to put the card-stock over their image and move it around until it reveals some interesting detail, then write only about that smaller part of the image for the same amount of time. Often they write completely different stories or poems, about completely different things and from completely different perspectives. And yet, when you pull back, sometimes it’s difficult to see that all those stories are happening simultaneously.
It’s not really surprising then, that this is also a pretty important idea in photography. In many ways, the art of photography is the art of cropping. We use our cameras to crop the visible world down to the frame within the lens. Once we’ve taken the photograph, we can crop hundreds of different stories from the same frozen moment by shifting our attention and narrowing or expanding our frame to suit. How does the story of hands on a smartphone change if we are also given a glimpse of the face that is using it? What if we only see part of the face that’s using it–lips slightly parted in what? exasperation, exclamation, desperation, wonder? How important is the story of that phone if we move it to the side of the frame and centre on a woman in a jean-jacket or a man piggy-backing his boy and carrying a folded stroller?
Each of these images is cropped from the same image (below). Which story is the most compelling to you?