One of my friends from long ago -- an artist -- did a series of drawings exploring the frame, that is the boundary around the work. It was a wonderful series and it pointed out how much we don't see the edges, how much the frame is like water to a fish. In photography it is a large part of what we have to work with. What's out is equally important -- sometimes more so -- than what's in. I was playing with that idea a bit as I edited images from a recent studio shoot with Alexandra Keen -- a terrific dancer who I had the pleasure of working with a couple of weeks ago. I was shooting wide in order to capture Alexandra's graceful leaps with the result being that many of the images included pieces of the studio environment. In this one, I captured Alexandra in a wonderful jump but also caught the strobe light and umbrella that were lighting the back wall to get the white background. My first instinct was to crop the light out . . . and you can see that image in square format. I think it creates a sense of intimacy with Alexandra and the physicality and exhilaration of her movement. But as I passed back through the images from the shoot later, the original, uncropped frame caught my eye. Was there something to be gained by including the context of the work? I re-worked the image and found that it appealed to me. Why? What does the "behind-the-scenes" look contribute?
In part, it satisfies our curiosity about how the image came to be. "How did you do that?" is a perennial question. But I think there's more. Expanding the frame gives context and it reminds us of the edges, that if we draw them close enough, we can make the world feel pure . . . when it really isn't. We sometimes have to leave a lot out to make the world seem so orderly. In this shot, were we to pull back even further, we'd see cords snaking to the lights, the canvas drop cloth protecting part of the floor, and the fan that's blowing Alexandra's hair. It is amazing to me that, along with my model friends, we can create such beauty in a nearly empty studio, strewn with equipment, and with no audience present but ourselves. So I think I like the wider image because it reminds us that beauty happens in a context, sometimes a messy context, but that makes what's beautiful more powerful, more amazing.
There is room for both images, I think. We need moments of purity just as we need reminders that there is a world beyond the edges of those images. Is one more true than the other? I don't think so. In Buddhism, there is the concept of the two truths . . . One of my meditation teachers put it this way, "All things are not as they seem . . . nor are they otherwise." There is a truth in everything . . . it just may not be the same truth.