<Dave’s Photograph Of The Week! – as shared March 2020>
This photograph is taken from a short Guardian newspaper photo essay by photographer Murdo MacLeod entitled“Powder to the People” (love that title), as Scotland enjoyed, earlier this year, some of the best snow conditions for years. The photograph is of off-piste skiers and snowboarders as they explore the Aonach Mor mountain.
Of course, you could just say, “yes – it’s a photograph of some small skiers, and your point is?” That’s the problem with the 21st century – we’re inundated with so much spectacle that it’s so tempting to swipe right.
So, how do we go about looking at this picture? Well, first things first, (as we all appear to have some time), just leave it on screen and let your eye wander over it as you slowly take it in – it will reward you without needing hours…
Next question – what separates this picture from a snapshot? I would say, composition and timing. Some of you might be saying luck. Well yes, “luck” does play a part, but as the saying goes, “fortune favours the prepared,” I bet Mr MacLeod wasn’t at that particular viewpoint by accident.
Compositionally we can see that horizontally, the picture is divided into 2/3 land and 1/3 sky – a standard rule. If they work, use them. Rules, or as I prefer, optional guidelines, are simply the lessons of what “looks good” wrapped up in a useful shorthand. The trick is knowing when to break them.
Now, I’d like to draw your attention to two things. The first is the framing. Place your hand over the left hand side of the picture to obscure the edge. If the photographer had moved the camera to the right, it’d still be a good picture but that edge with the hanging icicles gives a sense of jeopardy. Secondly, look at the two figures. The photographer could have taken the shot without them in, and it would still make for an impressive landscape, but those figures are the icing on the cake, they give us a sense of scale.
I would argue that this photograph hints back to the 18th century art of the Sublime. The Sublime was an art theory put forward by Edmund Burke in his book, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). In a nutshell it was interested in the insignificance of (wo)man in relation to Nature. In Western art, ‘”sublime” landscapes from the Romantic period tend to show towering mountain ranges, deep chasms, and natural disasters (they can be a bit 70’s disaster movie), which, if actually experienced, would be life threatening.
Like I said – there are hints of the Sublime.
I think it’s a cracking picture – I’m just working out what the odds are of snow and icicles on Galley Hill…!!
I look forward to seeing your photos on our return…,