‘Looking’ at the Image

By Kelly Cowan

Editor’s Note: I have acquired my photographic education, such as it is, from a number of talented artists and photographers over the years, and someone I spend a lot of time communicating with about images these days is Kelly Cowan. She is one of the people who suggested that the image of Alyssa from last week’s edition of Planet Waves Astrology News had an anti-woman message implied. In that dialog I asked her to offer an analysis of the photo, drawing on her theoretical knowledge base and her experience deconstructing the implied messages of photographs. She said today that this is not a complete analysis; but in conclusion of this week’s conversation, I am sharing her thoughts here. — efc

The image depicts a woman’s torso without her head. The image is a body part. Color is often the first thing noticed in an image. Color is different from black and white images, which are dependent on different viewing characteristics. This blue is a soft blue. Blue is one of the most popular colors and it feels familiar. В It is associated with water and sky. Certain blues can produce chemicals in the body that are calming.

Photo by Eric Francis / Book of Blue.
Photo by Eric Francis / Book of Blue.

This is a tight crop, which suggests intimacy. There is a piece of fabric with a knot. What is the fabric? Is it a matching belt? Matching hair ribbon? The fabric is taut but the viewer does not have access to what or who is causing the material to be taut.

The position of the fabric creates a diagonal line across the whole image nearly from corner to corner. Diagonals are always perceived as tension. It bifurcates. When a diagonal interacts with horizontal lines or any opposing diagonals, it can create a triangle that may converge on an area in the image. This leads the eyes to linger on that area of the image before the eyes move back out again across the whole image. The eyes are compelled to move.

A diagonal is dynamic energy in motion. What action is expected? Does the motion appear to be moving upward or downward? There is the neck of a woman and by the smooth skin texture the viewer can see that it belongs to a younger woman. What if the woman was quite old? The neck is brightly lit, causing sharp shadows. Sharp shadows are often perceived as tension. Light and shadow create focal points. There are numerous sharp diagonal shadows including one that originates at the neck and crosses down the body into the area of the heart.

What is the meaning or the suggestion of the sharp shadow? What does the shape of the shadow suggest or reveal? What did the artist intend by the light and shadows?

There is no overt violence in this image. No, what makes this image and other images like it so insidious is it’s surface depiction of ordinariness and sense of normal.

This image could be made by anyone and be seen anywhere in society. The color and the light is pleasant to look at. It draws the viewer in. There would be no resistance or questioning before the act of viewing is complete which often occurs when viewing an overtly violent image or distasteful image. When viewing unquestionable violent images most viewers would experience a sensation that signals resistance or rejection. В The surface depiction of this image allows any embedded messages to flow freely into the viewer’s perception unimpeded. It flows as freely as the water and sky we associate with the color blue.

5 thoughts on “‘Looking’ at the Image”

  1. What I’m curious about, Eric, after this incredible discussion on the imagery portrayed in this photo is – would you use this photo again in the same instance, or a similar photo in the future?

  2. Victoria, I like the picture and I think it worked in its original context. But we would be useless esoteric teachers at Planet Waves if we did not offer a perspective of looking at imagery that explored the implied messages, the energy and the symbolism, stepping outside the usual framework of doing so. We publish a lot of images with full awareness that they have impact. This is intended to pass along some analytical tools, in case they offer relevant information now, and in case we need the tools in the future. There are people I will stop and listen to (as best I can) merely because they are who they are; Kelly is is one. She knows stuff that I don’t know, and holds herself to a high level of integrity. (Then she gets to answer 51 of my questions for the privilege of having said anything at all.)

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