In case you wondered where the follow-up to the Notes on Composition post is. It will come, eventually. I am still thinking about it – and maybe too much so. It is a strange thing with creativity. Every time you think you are in the driver seat, creativity or your creative muse will kick you in the ankle and remind you that you follow her, not vice versa.

Coming back from a wonderful trip to the Indian Ocean I am still filled to the rim with new impressions and wonder about the manifold forms in nature. So I started to make a few pictures about the shells my wife and I collected at the beach (ah, ok I confess mainly my wife collected – I was more in a kind of dumb stasis trying to believe what I saw).

Looking at the shells at the top of the post I notice the similarity to ancient greek columns. But isn’t the original, so simple and perfect in its imperfections more elegant than the Parthenon?DietmarTallroth-0004.jpg

And what human designer would come up with forms like this? But these not only “work”, they are proven designs developed over a long time and serve not only their initial inhabitants, but also a host of hermit crabs.

But talking about shells: no photographer can approach photographing shells without having the magnificent photos of Edward Weston on his mind and the above pictures are again a prime example how our influences have a tendency to sneak into ones work…

But yes, we can also have a word about composition now. Let’s first take another shell picture:


As you might note, the number of shells in each picture is a Fibonacci number (2,3,5). And the shell of a nautilus mollusc is famous for its correspondence with the Fibonacci sequence of numbers (and consequently the golden cut); and Edward Weston photographed nautilus shells… What did the artist try to tell us here? Actually, nothing. I was playing with the rule of odds, which says that the number of objects in a still life should never be even. Now from the three pictures above only number two and three follow the rule. Still, in my opinion the first picture with the two shells is by far the best of the three photographs. And it doesn’t bother me at all that the number is even. I actually don’t think there should be a third shell there. Part of the strength of the photo is how the two forms communicate with each other and a third shell talking would be just a distraction.

The main reason, though, why I think the first picture is better than the others has nothing to do with the numbers of objects, but with perspective and lightning. Only the first picture really does justice to the plasticity of the forms, while a straight-down perspective makes the shells just (more) flat. That these pictures follow the rule of odds doesn’t help at all in that.

Is there a learning here? For me there is. The rule of odds, the Fibonacci numbers, the connection to nautilus and Weston – these are all analytical approaches at best and (more or less) clever mind games at worst. But what the first picture for me does is to express my deeply felt reverence for the forms in nature. And if it can communicate that to you, it is a successful picture. If it doesn’t, it fails not matter how many clever things I try to put in there. It is as simple or complicated as that.

See you next time!


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