Composition as found in the photographs of Mary Ellen Mark

Recently I came across a collection of Mary Ellen Mark’s celebrity portraits. While looking through this collection I noticed that they are all visually appealing and nicely composed. Below are ten of my favorite celebrity portraits by photographer Mary Ellen Mark and my reasoning for why their composition is stellar.

WOODY ALLEN

BY MARY ELLEN MARK

I like this photo of Woody Allen because it shows his distinct personality, while also being visually interesting. With regards to composition, what stands out to me first is the umbrella and how it perfectly frames his face and shoulders. The umbrella’s receding blackness contrasts nicely with his skin tone, shirt and sweater and puts the focus on his face. I also like the texture and focus that the white fence behind him adds to the picture. The fence also nicely creates the first third section for the rule of thirds to work in this photo.

DITA VON TEESE

BY MARY ELLEN MARK

As far as I know, Dita Von Teese is a famous burlesque performer. I like that this photo has a nice balance of black and white images. If Von Teese had been in this photo alone it would have been too much but the white-as-snow bunny adds contrast and interest. I also like the scale that is presented with the tall woman and the small rabbit. It’s something small but it adds a tiny sense of whimsy to this photo.

PAUL HAGGIS

BY MARY ELLEN MARK

This is a photograph from The New Yorker of film director Paul Haggis. I like this photo because I like the layering. It’s a very simply posed portrait but the textured clouds that provide the background to this photograph add something special. It truly looks like Haggis is laying on-top of the rolling hills, which then look like they are laying on-top of the clouds. The background is actually more interesting than the subject.

JOHNNY DEPP & TIM BURTON

BY MARY ELLEN MARK

This is a great photograph of actor Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton due to the geometric forms that are present. Both of them are sitting in the same position and their crossed hands make a semi-triangle. The bench they are sitting on also makes nice rectangle shapes when paired with their legs and feet. Finally, their heads are also slightly tilted in the same direction and this creates funny oblong shapes.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN

BY MARY ELLEN MARK

I love this photograph of Dustin Hoffman for more than just the fact that I love Dustin Hoffman’s acting. The repeating pattern of the chain link fence is fantastic, especially the way it is reflected on his face, sweatshirt and jeans. I also like how the fence is acting like a radii, physically drawing the eye to the dreamy emotion on Dustin Hoffman’s face and then fading out into the horizon. Composition wise this is a very strong photograph.

JOHNNY DEPP

BY MARY ELLEN MARK

This is another photo of Johnny Depp. I believe this is when they were taking publicity shots for the film “Sleepy Hollow.” Decisive moment plays into this photograph because she captured the exact moment when the hairdresser was fussing with Johnny Depp’s hair and the same moment when Johnny Depp had his eyes closed. Things are also placed perfectly with the hairdresser’s body shape nicely framing Johnny Depp and the photo that they are using of Depp being partially visible.

CIRCUS PERFORMERS

BY MARY ELLEN MARK

This is a great photographer by Mary Ellen Mark of circus performers in the big top. What really makes this photograph stand out are the shapes and lines that are created by the criss-crossed ropes and canvas panels. There are a lot of visible triangles, the most successful of which bring the viewer’s eye to the bowed head of the giraffe. I also like the squiggly lines that are created by the rope on the hay flooring.

CAST OF ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST

BY MARY ELLEN MARK

This photograph does a good job of representing peak action. Mary Ellen Mark managed to capture a variety of actors when they each had an animated look on their face. Plus, there are some pretty kooky expressions in this picture. This is more than just a picture of actors on the set of a film, it is actually more like a photograph of actors playing their characters. The angle of this photo is nice too because each actor is a different height and that is represented in the zig-zag pattern that their heads make by going up and down.

LIZA MINELLI

BY MARY ELLEN MARK

The contrast in this photo is beautiful. The white of Liza Minelli’s skin tone is nicely balanced against the black of her outfit, the black of her hair and the grey of the background. I also like the circles that her corset makes and the triangles that her arms create by being akimbo. The rule of thirds is also present in the background with the wall or post breaking up the first third of the picture.

JEFF BRIDGES

BY MARY ELLEN MARK

This is a great photo of actor Jeff Bridges. I love the repeating patterns and shapes that created by the ripples of the water. The ovals of his eyes and head look nice against the dark colored ovals of the water and bubbles. He’s not directly centered either, which is nice. The form of his head actually has room at both the top and bottom of the screen to “breathe.” I also like how the light is reflected in the water.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

AMERICA AT WAR: SEPTEMBER 11, 2011 AND BEYOND

For yesterday’s 10th anniversary of September 11th, TIME Magazine put up journalistic work on their website from a variety of photographers and writers. It was there that I came across the photos of James Natchwey. He was at his apartment in New York on that morning and was able to see the events occur at the Twin Towers from his own window. According to the accompanying article, Natchwey later went out and shot 27 rolls of film of the horrific events of that morning in September 2001. His photographs of 9/11 are incredibly balanced. He manages to make mass destruction look beautiful, powerful and terrifying, all at the same time. Many people have said that the events of 9/11 didn’t seem real. That the dust clouds, overturned cars and plethora of papers falling from the sky looked like they belonged on a movie screen at the multiplex and not like they belonged on the streets of New York City.

Another element that these pictures take on is that of a war zone. The destruction to automobiles and buildings look more like photos from the events that took place in Bosnia and Iraq. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when TIME referred to Natchwey as “the greatest war photographer of our time.” Below are individual photos of 9/11 that Natchwey took and below each one is a war photo that he took at some point in his career that creates the same mood as the 9/11 picture that it is paired with.

RUBBLE AND TWISTED METAL

BY JAMES NATCHWEY

BY JAMES NATCHWEY

The top photo is of a firefighter at Ground Zero and the bottom photo is of woman walking through Kabul, Afghanistan. Both of these photos feature a single individual surveying the damage done to man-made objects. Both of these people represent the human form but don’t contain any unique characteristics because their uniform or outfit hides their identity. There is a sadness and loneliness visible in both of these photos because the human forms are juxtaposed with the creations of civilization but civilization has been entirely wiped out.

TOXICITY

BY JAMES NATCHWEY

BY JAMES NATCHWEY

The top photo is of New York residents escaping the Twin Towers and the bottom photo is of factory pollution in East Germany. The basic similarities that these two photos share is that of pollution and toxic air. This pollution distorts the air and actually makes it difficult to determine where these photos were taken. Location is obsolete. All the people featured in these two photographs look more like creatures escaping a fire than human beings due to the dirt, smoke and haze that hangs like a cloud around them. There is an erie quality to these photos as well, perhaps it’s a warning of the perils of living in an industrialized society.

FAITH

BY JAMES NATCHWEY

BY JAMES NATCHWEY

The top photo is of a cross on top of a church in New York as the Twin Towers fell. The second photo shows a starving child in Somalia. Both of these photos have a religious or faith element to me; the cross with the explosion behind it is more apparent where the photo of the young starving child in a prayer like position is more nuanced. They both represent death; the death and destruction of the Twin Towers, which meant the death of thousands of people and the death of an architectural landmark and the death of an innocent child who looks lonely beyond belief at the end of their life.

FILTERED LIGHT

BY JAMES NATCHWEY

BY JAMES NATCHWEY

The top photo shows a single person walking around an abandoned building in New York on 9/11, the bottom photo shows a factory worker in Czechoslovakia. What struck me about both of these photos was the beautiful filtered light that is present its illumination of the darkness. It adds enough levity to make these photographs interesting and not fully depressing. They both feature a lone, shadowed individual being dwarfed by the large machinery that surrounds them. These two photos were taken more than ten years apart but they set a singular mood. They made me contemplate the people featured and their thoughts in that moment. The viewer is privy to their appearance but not their feelings on what they see at that exact moment and that is what makes these two pictures alike and intriguing.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

VISUAL HERO WORSHIP, A BY-PRODUCT OF X-FACTOR?

Recently, I was thinking about my personal heroes and what makes them unique and special in my eyes. Simply put, are these special traits visible to each person who views photos of them in action or is it the “x-factor” that I personally bring to images of these people? Can the kindness, creativity or intelligence that these people exude be seen by all individuals or are those traits that I apply to these images because I know something more about these people than meets the eye.

Below are images of some of the public personas that I’ve admired throughout my life. I’ve included my interpretations of the person featured in the photo but these interpretations are only one of a million ways to view these photos.

PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER

BY UKNOWN WHITE HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHER

When I look at this photo I see good intentions gone awry. President Carter was known for his folksy charm and his casual decision to wear a cardigan on national television is an example of this charm. This photo was taken in 1977 during his famous televised energy crisis speech. He had hoped Americans would take his advice seriously but instead he received a lot of criticism with many people claiming that his Roosevelt-esque “fireside chat” was more of a lecture than an open dialogue. President Carter tried hard to get the people of this country to see that future energy crises would come to fruition if people continued to use fuel with abandon. Unfortunately, these warnings fell on deaf ears and that’s all that is left in this hollow, lonely seeming photo; thoughts of “what could have been?”

BY JUD MCCRANIE

This photo is a good representation of the public image of Jimmy Carter that exists post-presidency. This is a man who was terribly unpopular in the last half of his time in office but who bounced back into the spotlight full of vigor. The general public now looks upon him with kindness and admiration for he has proven himself to be a great humanitarian and aid worker. He’s forty years older but he’s still keeping up with the times. Who wouldn’t want to be seen as strong and cool enough to ride a bike around town well into your eighties? I see this picture and think, “I want this man to be my grandfather or at least my mentor!” He’s an American original and it’s nice to see his laid-back, Southern personality still shining through in photos like this casual one.

PRINCESS DIANA

BY TIM ROOKE

To me, this is a beautiful picture of Princess Diana. She had an immense inner light that shown through when she was speaking to children, especially in this photo from Angola that shows her talking to a young girl who lost her leg due to a land mine explosion. The fact that she was royalty never played into her interactions with people that were less fortunate than herself. In my opinion, even in photos you can tell that she put people at ease and had genuine sympathy for their plights. She was physically and conventionally beautiful but I believe that her most attractive quality was her ability to relate to and comfort people as seen in this photo.

BY BRENDAN BEIRNE

As a child I idolized Princess Diana but as I grew older I realized that she had another side to her personality that would occasionally peek-out in photographs. It’s not a negative side necessarily but it’s one that can be seen as shy, sad and lonely. For a good portion of the 1980s and 1990s she was the most photographed woman in the world. For a long time she did a good job of hiding this more subdued side of her personality but as her personal troubles expanded, so did the number of times that photographers were able to capture it. This photo by Brendan Beirne is a great example of that. It appears like she doesn’t know she is being photographed (perhaps she believed she was hidden behind the wood pillar) and whatever she is looking at and whatever she is thinking at this exact moment appears to be making her sad, troubled or upset. She had the rare ability to appear like the world’s loneliest person even when she was in a room full of people.

GARY HALL JR.

BY SHAUN BOTTERILL

Growing up I was a competitive swimmer. During this time my favorite swimmer was Gary Hall Jr. I admired him because he was really fast but also because he found a unique way to bring drama and excitement to the world of swimming. This particular photo from the 2000 Summer Olympics never fails to make me laugh because he is so committed to his character! He received a lot of flack (and monetary fines!) for his theatrics but he definitely brought a lot of attention to his sport. The “x-factor” that I bring to this photo is one of humor and enjoyment. The “x-factors” that I think a lot of swimmers who swam against Gary Hall Jr. would bring to this photo is that of annoyance and anger. As a spectator I felt like he was fun to watch but I know a lot of swimmers felt like he was arrogant and that his dramatic entrances took away from their races.

STEVEN SPIELBERG

BY LOUIS GOLDMAN

I love the films of Steven Spielberg and I love the personality of Steven Spielberg even more. His childlike goofiness, immense passion and creativity and all-around zaniness always come through in photos taken of him. When I look at this photo I see Steven Spielberg on the edge of greatness. He was shooting “Jaws,” which despite its notoriously difficult production and financial woes, turned out to be one of the most profitable films of all-time and essentially created the “summer blockbuster” as we now know it. The Spielberg that’s seen here doesn’t seem capable of such success though, he looks like an average joe who is goofing around with some of his co-workers. That’s the beauty in what we bring to this photo now though, we know him as a talented and creative filmmaker with a string of hits a mile long but on this day he was just another young guy trying to make his friends laugh.

Overall, I can’t erase my “x-factor” or the previous knowledge that I brought to these photos. If you know something about someone, even a celebrity, it’s difficult to separate simple photos of them from things you’ve heard and read. It’s even more difficult to look at emotional, interesting, funny photos of them and not read further into them based on these prior notions. It’s not something as humans that we can necessarily control but just thinking about the ideas you have attached to certain people is an important part of the process.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What’s in a logo?

I recently came across this article on Yahoo! and it made me start thinking about world famous logos and what a single visual image can tell us about a company and its products. Below are some of my favorites:

PARAMOUNT PICTURES

CREATED BY W.W. HODKINSON

The word paramount literally means “having supreme power or authority” and what looks more powerful than the apex of an incredibly majestic mountain. This logo is timeless and the stars give it an added cachet. The version shown here is the company’s most recent edition and I believe it works because it looks modern and computer generated but also keeps enough of the original artwork to pay homage to the company’s immense history.

UNITED WAY

CREATED BY SAUL BASS

This logo for the non-profit organization United Way manages to spread feelings of hope, unity and goodwill using only the combination of a handful of graphic images. In my opinion the blue hand represents the charity that is being doled out to the community, the red stick figure represents the individuals in the community who are benefiting from this charity and the ray of light symbolizes the positivity that these recipients will then spread throughout their own communities. A simple, yet beautiful and effective logo.

1968 MEXICO CITY SUMMER OLYMPICS

CREATED BY LANCE WYMAN

I previously mentioned that I am a huge fan of the Olympics and this logo for the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City is one of my all-time favorites. I love how the designer chose to use the pattern of circles that appear in these objects (the Olympic rings, the year 68 and the word Mexico) to bring together a collective theme. This logo’s overall effect is quite striking and memorable. It fits in with the Gestalt laws of proximity and similarity and is very much a product of its time; the psychedelic, radical and over-the-top 1960s.

UNILEVER

CREATED BY MILES NEWLYN

The American-European company Unilever represents a variety of products including Dove beauty supplies, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Lipton tea products. This logo, which they introduced in 2005 to coincide with their 75th anniversary, is a neat mix of plants, vegetables and animals that visually shows everything they do and create. I like how everything is shown using the same font and color, it makes each one of the elements seem equally important and a part of a larger whole.

THE NORTH FACE

CREATED BY DAVID ALCORN

This logo for The North Face represents the company’s vision and products perfectly. The type is bold and strong, something that you want to associate with a company that sells mountaineering and outdoor gear, and the mountain logo is supposedly the flat rock side of Yosemite’s Half Dome. I also appreciate that the logo is simple. The North Face isn’t a high fashion company and this logo is attractive and straight forward but I can tell that it wasn’t over thought. I believe this is the right angle for a company that projects safety and the outdoors.

THE ROLLING STONES

CREATED BY JOHN PASCHE

The Rolling Stones are one of the world’s most famous rock bands and this unique logo is a symbol of their success. This logo is so iconic and popular that it represents the band without using a single word. It’s irreverent, “cheeky” as the British would say and is a good physical representation of lead singer Mick Jagger’s large and lippy mouth. The colors are great too, red, black and white are a classic combination.

THE GIRL SCOUTS

CREATED BY SAUL BASS

This is the second of Saul Bass’ logos that I’ve used in this journal entry. It’s actually not surprising considering that Bass created some of the most popular and timeless logos in history (Kleenex, AT&T and Quaker Oats) as well as designed title sequences for films like “Spartacus,” “Psycho” and “North by Northwest.”

This logo is especially pleasing to the eye and does a good job of representing the ideals of an organization like The Girl Scouts. To begin with, the earthy tones are nice and bring images to the mind of forests and the outdoors. Secondly, it shows a variety of girls, of various looks and nationalities, next to one another, which to me represents equality and that everyone is welcome in their organization. Finally, the font and the look of the graphics is a little old fashioned, not in an antiquated way but in a way that says that the Girl Scouts have been around for 100 years and will still be around in 100 years more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

THINGS TO LOOK FOR:

One of my favorite topics is the Olympics and I love looking at Olympic photographs. My father recently introduced me to the work of an Australian Olympic photographer by the name of Adam Pretty. A lot of his photographs pertain to this week’s lecture and the seven things that you should look for in a photo from the book “Reading Photographs” by Jon Bayer.

DECISIVE MOMENT

BY ADAM PRETTY

I think that this a great example of the “decisive moment.” It says so much without using a single word. It actually reminds me of the famous ABC Sports slogan, “the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.” I think that this picture is unique because usually sports photographs show the emotions connected with success or the emotions connected with failure. This photograph manages to show success and failure in the same frame. This one-second moment was captured excellently by the photographer. If he had waited a few seconds longer he would have missed the exact moment that the fencing match concluded and the winner (the representation of “success” in this photo) might have run out of frame.

SYMBOLISM

BY ADAM PRETTY

This is a once in a career photograph as far as symbolism is concerned. It’s amazing that the photographer managed to capture both a beautiful, peaceful and calm moment of the diver underwater and  also capture the exact moment that the bubbles floated up in the shape of a Christian cross. Anyone who has ever spent any time underwater knows that it feels and looks like a different world, where time shows down and it is also where some people feel more connected to their own breath. All things that some people connect to religious experiences. This photograph does a good job of capturing the more spiritual side of sports.

VIEW OF HUMANITY

BY ADAM PRETTY

I like the ambiguity of this photograph. At first glance I automatically assumed that this swimmer was crying over a difficult loss but then I realized that he also could be having a positive emotional reaction to a surprise win. Either of these is a possibility but it doesn’t matter in the long run, this photo is about humanity and emotion and the photographer manages to display this athlete’s intimate moment in a way that resonates with the viewer. It’s raw but it works well.

LIGHT

BY ADAM PRETTY

In my opinion, this photo of triathletes is a great representation of light. This photograph is taken from below, looking directly up at the sun, which takes on a blurry and warm feeling here. The light is partially distorted by the water that is being kicked up by the triathletes and it adds just enough distortion to make this photograph look like an oil painting. I also love that the lighting allows the athletes to remain anonymous and take on the form of black figures without any of their identifying features visible. They almost look like the black colored figures of athletic participants that showed up on artwork in Ancient Greece, especially the paintings on pottery of the Ancient Olympics.

ORGANIZATION OF THE PICTURE

BY ADAM PRETTY

This photo reminds me of our class discussion on “organization of the picture” because of its representations of space and repeating shapes. This particular photo shows a group of swimmers at the exact moment that the starting horn goes off and they dive in to begin a race. It’s shot from below (most likely with a camera on the bottom of the pool looking up at the ceiling) and I like that each swimmer is in roughly the same body position but is in a slightly different place than the swimmer to their left and/or right. The ceiling panels and lights that are visible add a nice contrast to the dark figures of the swimmers and they also add a beautiful element of repeating shapes that mostly consists of triangles.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment