It’s All in the Context
I was asked by bag from Experiments With Plants, “Are those ponds amongst the greenery in the second from last photo ?”
Well, I thought this an important enough question to elaborate. To explore the root of the question, not the simplified inquiry, to see how it relates to the photographs supporting a story or premise.
The question was posed on Green Apples in the post, More than the Falls in Ontario. When a photographer or me as an amateur, takes a photograph, a conscious decision is made about context. When editing the image a mindful cropping is to occur so as to relay and support the purpose of the shot.
It is especially important in story telling with images. In fact any design has the element of context and story, sometimes in opposition of, other times in concert with and other times in deference to. Context gives a sense of time, place or even social norms in photography.
In architecture it matters in the utmost and literal way, so as an architect, I am very aware of my surroundings and what and how I want to convey a message or place in a design. It is referred to as contextualism in the field. It is a location or a place that includes various natural features that characterize and create the context of the place. But visual cues in the environment which surround an observer can be complicated at times, yet remains an essential ingredient of the realistic imagery. I digress, but suffice it to say, context is important to so many disciplines of design.
I have to admit, in photography, I often take it for granted a bit by just framing a nice image, but really I am aware. I am just not as interested in placing it in situ, especially if it is a solitary image. But to support the text of a story, photographic context becomes of consequence.
It is like my previous post Some Like it Hot, where I showed a number of macro shots of individual flowers. By isolating the blooms, one can not get a sense of the whole garden. Do I have one flower of one kind in the garden or many? Am I skewing your perception of what my garden holds in prominence? But show the beds in which the flowers reside, and context is created. Questions are answered.
I am guessing a good photographer and story-teller documents location, time, conditions and the such. Maybe giving just a hint of the vernacular in the image itself, rather than a blatant or grand gesture. This is important in architecture too, where you gesture and nod to the context but not copy that which is around. It is not necessary to replicate the sense of place literally.
When you think about it, how many IP photos do you see that literally shred the model of proportionality with grandstanding sensationalism, removing or skewing the story from time and place, make an insignificant story into news of great proportion and national interest? All with the use of a crafty headline and barn-burning photo. Intentional yes, misleading, absolutely. Forcing the viewer to form a mental picture to put a spin on reality. Just saying…
So this got me thinking about the question. So here is my answer to bag, who wanted to know if the ponds were located in amongst the grasses I had shown in an image similar to the angle in this shot of the American Falls, above. I have to admit, it is deceiving and was done purposefully to make the shot less touristy. But in association with all the images of the ponds, I can see the confusion it created. I can see the mental picture formed skewing the reality of where I was standing to shoot the photo.
But first we will locate my position for the first image. It is quite a distance away. This is the Rainbow Bridge connecting the two countries. Above, I am on the Canadian half of the bridge focusing in on the first postcard like image shown at the beginning of this post.
And not that it matters much, but I made a conscious decision on the image above. Since my post is about decision making and all, I framed the stone wall arch to follow the arch of the bridge. I should have taken a few shots to get it just right though. A little to the left please.
The third image with the grasses in the foreground of the Falls has the location similar to the one shown on Green Apples. This is the location as follows.
In fact it is not a meadow at all, but a quick drop off of 180 feet of rocky gorge. The pretty grasses would not necessarily be here if it were not for budget cuts, either. I talked with a Parks employee and he told me they now cut the weeds back about every three to five years. Spraying herbicides is no longer an option in Canada, but they do spray a horticultural vinegar solution. He explained that this is only a temporary solution and the weeds quickly regrow. I actually like the weeds and they add a lot to my photo, but they are actually the focus of the image and what is causing the confusion.
Let’s keep turning…
Now for the pond in question…
this really throws a wrench in capturing context.
the sounds, bright light and feel of the mist draw your attention away. So if an image is purposefully framed like the one below or cropped like the one above, figuring out how it relates to its surroundings is not always so easy. Above, it looks like the Falls is right in front of you and you can reach out and touch it. But in reality, it is quite a distance away. A whole county away as a matter of fact. Take that in context.