Monthly Archives: April 2009

Composition rules, especially when it’s good

Fashion photographer Jake Garn posted up some food for thought on his blog yesterday. Suggesting that the #1 rule of photographic composition, the Rule of Thirds, is a “lazy sham,” he indicates that the Golden Ratio should instead be the imperative composition template because of its relationship to the very quick of the universe’s soul.


This is not exactly a groundbreaking assertion, considering that Google turns up roughly 10,000 results for “35mm golden ratio.” Alex mabini at Fotogenic, for instance, claims that the genius of Henri Cartier-Bresson is due to his adherence to the Golden Ratio, and that the rule of thirds is actually a “specific application” of the Golden Ratio:


Chris Weeks at A Photo Contributor also invokes Cartier-Bresson, and brings up the Golden Triangle as a way of justifying photos with sloping elements. He goes so far as to say that the appreciation of the Golden Ratio as an aesthetic guide might be “genetically programmed.”

One thing that all of these posts seem to have in common is that whatever guide is being used, it is not necessary to be exact – an approximation of the Golden Ratio in a photograh, for instance, will be enough to render the photo pleasing to the eye. Of course, making the assertion that the guide needs only to be approximate renders moot any argument that the Golden Ratio is preferable to the Rule of Thirds, as Jake Garn claims, since the Rule of Thirds is an approximation of the Golden Ratio. In fact, I could probably make up a rule of composition, such as the Rule of Three Blobs, and it would still be an approximation of the Golden Ratio, and I could still overlay it onto Cartier-Bresson’s photos to prove that he was a photographic genius:



Clearly, Cartier-Bresson approximates the Rule of Three Blobs about as well as he approximates the Rule of Thirds.

Nonetheless, it is not my point here to argue the merits of the Golden Ratio versus those of the Rule of Thirds, or any other rule of composition for that matter. I think that what’s missing in between the step of knowing a rule of composition and applying that rule to a photo is the ability to break the image down into basic shapes inside the viewfinder. Specifically, this means taking what’s in the viewfinder:


And simplifying it into the basic shapes that make up the scene:




Once the scene is composed of basic shapes, then those shapes can be manipulated and rearranged until they appear pleasing to the eye. Taking the “basic shapes” approach means that all of the elements in the photograph will be taken into account, in order to form an aesthetic whole; whereas the Rule of Thirds approach puts enough emphasis on lining up the “point of focus” with one of the thirds that the aesthetics of the frame as a whole becomes secondary. In the final product the basic shapes may show some analogy to the Golden Ratio or the Rule of Thirds, but that will be a result of the composition rather than a precursor.

A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling

By Mark Twain

For example, in Year 1 that useless letter “c” would be dropped to be replased either by “k” or “s”, and likewise “x” would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which “c” would be retained would be the “ch” formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform “w” spelling, so that “which” and “one” would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish “y” replasing it with “i” and Iear 4 might fiks the “g/j” anomali wonse and for all. Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez “c”, “y” and “x” — bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez — tu riplais “ch”, “sh”, and “th” rispektivli. Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

(via 3 Quarks Daily)

Republicans teabag America

Oh man, the Republicans keep getting in deeper:

For those of you in the dark, here is the definition of “teabagging” that Maddow is having a field day with.

Anal vulnerability

Getting humped by a dog:

I personally find it fascinating how demeaning and humiliating it is to get humped by a dog. A dog jumping into your lap or leaning against your leg might be endearing, but once it starts thrusting its hips, all cuteness gives way to revulsion – the dog is no longer being affectionate, it’s using you to get its rocks off. How much more humiliating it must be, then, to have a human hump you on a crowded subway train, because the threat of sexual vulnerability then is not so symbolic.

I bring this up because of an article I read by Calvin Thomas, which links men’s sexual invulnerability to the conception of men’s impenetrability. It’s not uncommon to hear men claim that men who engage in sexual relations with another man are not gay unless they are being penetrated (see for example here); this would indicate that there is something significant about the act of penetration that defines masculinity in opposition to pseudo-masculinity (male homosexuality) and femininity.

This, Thomas suggests,¬† serves as part of the reason that men shit in stalls but pee out in the open; it’s not a matter of modesty or embarrassment, but rather an admission that exposing the anus is a central focus of male vulnerability. Additionally, he suggests that perhaps, in order for men to consider themselves feminists, they should first be fucked in the ass, because being fucked in the ass is incumbent on being able to comprehend the magnitude of vulnerability that is associated with penetration.

So why am I talking about vulnerability when I started by talking about humiliation? Because sexual vulnerability is gendered (except in prison), whereas humiliation is not. Getting humped by a dog serves as a good link between sexual(ized) humiliation and sexual vulnerability, in a society where not many men can make that link. I’m not trying to trivialize sexual harassment or rape by comparing it to getting humped by a dog, nor am I claiming that men can never feel sexually vulnerable; I merely think that getting humped by a dog is symbolic of a more general feeling of sexual objectification, and I think it deserves more attention.

Potent Quotables

By privileging the institutionally strategic over the intellectually sound, and by effectively conceding that these operate on separate planes, these arguments affirm the status of women’s studies as something distinct from the rest of the university’s intellectual mission for research and teaching. In effect, by admitting its thoroughly politicized rationale, these defenses replicate the low value that hostile outsiders often accuse women’s studies of attaching to the caliber of arguments and to intellectual life as a whole; suspicions about the non or anti-intellectual dimensions of women’s studies are thus confirmed.

Wendy Brown, The Impossibility of Women’s Studies