Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wynn Bullock (1902-1975)
Child in the Forest, 1956
Gelatin Silver Print
While walking around the gallery, looking at all the wonderful prints of amazing images, very few jumped out at me right off the bat, none of them seemed to have that little special something I was looking for, until this one. I was originally drawn to this image because of the very strong and shocking contrast of subject matter versus surrounding as well as light versus dark. The image is that of a very young girl who is maybe seven or eight years old, sound asleep, completely nude in a forest. She is surrounded and almost protected by a large field of clovers that are then enclosed by standing and fallen trees. You could not begin to explain the look of this picture without using the word contrast; this small child seems to almost glow when she is placed in this dark and lush forest. Despite its almost unsettling contrast, the image itself is quite peaceful and it has a calming feel to it. It is difficult to look at this sleeping child and not feel so calm and relaxed that you yourself could fall asleep.
The sleeping child, the focal point of this picture is not in the center but down towards the bottom and to the right. She lies among a bed of clovers surrounded by trees and other greenery. The focus of this image is so perfectly crystal clear; it is possible to see details in almost everything throughout the picture, from the child all the way to the bark on the trees. The effect of this is to show an almost eerie clarity and to put an emphasis on the background and nature along with figure in the foreground. Putting and emphasis on both simultaneously creates this visual relationship between the girl and the forest, more over, humanity and nature. How the subject exists along with the confines of the frame is an important aspect Bullock had to consider, were to put this little girl in relation to the edges of the picture.
The framing of the image is very crucial to the pattern to which your eye will travel throughout the picture. This photographer uses the repetition of texture and patterns of the vegetation in the forest as well as the repetition of strong, dark shadows. The darkest of the shadows occurs on the standing and fallen trees that circle around the focal point. The framing of the picture was most important because if a majority of the darker shadows were left out of the picture, it would seem off balance and awkward. The Bullock’s obvious decision to include a large portion of the forest in the background is all to balance out the extreme light of the sleeping child’s skin. “Distractions” such as the trees and vegetation takes enough attention away form the light areas to give the appearance of a perfectly balance picture. Where he stands in relation to his subject, and how he is able to manipulate that can change the balance and the mood of the entire photograph.
In this picture, in order to frame it in such a manner, the photographer had to stand at a good distance away from his subject, so that he could also include the forest surroundings. Standing at this distance, the Bullock created a much more natural, and untouched appearance to the entire shot. The small sleeping child looks as if she has been there for quite sometime, and you get the feeling that she could remain there untouched for so much longer. The draw back to this approach is that you lose some details that the photographer may have been able to capture had he been closer to his subject. By choosing to step back and allow much more of the background to occupy the picture, he gave it much more of an organic feel. The picture becomes much more about the subject’s relationship with her surroundings. The distance can set a picture up to portray a certain idea or mood, the angle is another aspect to the image that the photographer is able to manipulate in order to obtain the desired effect.
The angle and distance of the photographer to his subject is a very important aspect to the picture that cannot be over-looked. His choice to almost hover above the scene adds a very unreal feel to it; it presents a very plausible scene at a somewhat different angle than it may have appeared if you just came across it. Having situated himself in such a way allowed him to include all the forest surroundings and frame the picture in such a way that adds to its aesthetic appeal. Angle, distance, frame and point of view are all combined together to describe how the photographer chooses to position himself in relation to the photograph; this is his own way of manipulating and changing a scene that he sees right in front of him.
The overall composition to the picture is something that must never be overlooked when doing a critical analysis of a photograph. How the design elements of the picture help to develop the picture as a whole. One brilliant aspect to this picture that I absolutely loved was the fact that the subject of the picture, the little girl was not located in the center of the frame, nor was she in a prominent place. She was located down towards the bottom and to the right; the photographer relied on her radiant white skin to draw attention to her instead of her location. With her being so light in comparison to her forest surroundings, Bullock incorporated patterns such as the repetition of certain plant life to draw your attention away from the figure and onto to many details of the picture. There are various trees and logs that are scattered sporadically throughout the scene that also give a sense of texture and repetition, their thick and organic texture leads to a variety of dark shadows that help to balance out the light and dark in this image.
Looking at this picture you can’t help but feel as if you were there, standing in this forest, looking at this little girl. The spatial dept of the picture is very realistically depicted, the forest seems to travel back forever keeping a great deal of detail as it recedes back towards the horizon. This gives the image a greater three-dimensional feel; it makes it seem more like a window, than an image. Without the detail and almost eerie clarity, the image would feel much more flat and it would no longer have a realistic feel to it. The detail of the image and the depth that is portrayed is directly dependent on the way the light plays off the different surfaces and how the photographer is able to capture it.
In this image, Bullock is able to use natural lighting to its fullest extent, waiting for the image to be just right as the sun casts it’s rays upon his subject and her surroundings. His use of natural lighting was very affective; you are able to see the variations in the light as it shines through the trees in sporadic patterns. These places where the sun is shining directly on a surface helps to balance out the extreme light tone of the child’s skin. There is also an emphasis on the rich texture of the forest floor as well as the surrounding vegetation that is caused by these direct patches of natural light. This is a black and white photograph; it has very strong and wide range of tones that helps to emphasis all the delicate details. The tones are not at all muddy; the variety of tones causes this image to look more beautiful and clear. There is very clear and strong contrast between the darkest dark and the lightest light. The lighting of an image helps to emphasize the difference in patterns and textures, giving the picture a deeper and richer feel to it.
The field of clovers that surrounds the little girl and then continues throughout a majority of the image is a reoccurring texture that helps to unify and balance this image. It helps to draw your attention from the subject to the other details in the picture. These clovers stand out especially well, they are shot with such clarity that I imagine if there was a four leaf in the lot, you could find it. This clarity makes it so very easy to identify exactly what you are looking at and recognize its abundance in the picture. The texture of the clovers as well as other plant life takes up a majority of the picture and gives it variation while at the same time providing a sense of unity among these organic objects. The subject as well as the texture can also aide the picture in other ways, it can suggest a mood or even help to convey a desired effect such as imply a time period or the lack there of.
To try to date this image would be wrong, and irrelevant, this image is not about a time period or even about a particular moment, but rather about an eternal time, a moment that lasts forever. There is no clothing or technology to hint at a certain time, you must instead focus your attention on the other aspects of the picture. I think that Bullock purposely set the image up that way so that it might not be judged by a time period. He may want to take the focus off aspects such as time and place and put the emphasis on a message that he would like to convey.
It is not always clear what an artists would like his or her public to think or how they should react, a majority of the time it is the job of the viewer to speculate and image what information could lie right beyond this image and what is left unseen. This image has an initially starting appearance; this stark motionless form lying in a forest may first convey a creepy or eerie feeling. My first thought upon seeing this image was to wonder if this child was really alive, it seemed completely possible that she was not with the living anymore. However, with a closer inspection I decided that she was in fact not dead, but peacefully asleep in a cushy, comfy bed of clovers that lay on the forest floor. As I thought about it further and stood looking much longer I could no longer see what I originally thought was so creepy, this was not scary at all, it was beautiful. This young child seems to have shed her clothes to maybe catch the warm of the sun as it passed through the trees, she now lays sound asleep with nothing but the quiet forest wrapping around her. To me this image suggests her relationship to nature, or maybe in the grander scheme of things, man’s relationship with nature. While we may do horrible things to nature, it is always there for us, giving us a bed to sleep in a food to eat. Without nature there would be no man.
To be able to take the time, and forget about everything else and to simply focus on one piece of art that I find beautiful and interesting has been a welcome break from the everyday hustle and bustle, to take a breath and just look at art. This particular image jumped out at me from clear across the room, even before I had looked at all the others, I knew this would be the picture that I would write about. The rich tonal range and eerie presence seemed to make up the perfect image for me. It never ceases to amaze me, the lasting impression a single piece of art can have on a person. The power and the beauty that comes along with this art form is what has grabbed my attention.

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1 comment:

Mitch Elder said...

This is arguably the finest photograph ever taken - if there is such a thing. It really must be appreciated up close and personal. Digital copies just don't do it justice. The clarity and craftsmanship is exquisite. When I first saw this in person I thought, "If this is the standard, I'm screwed."

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