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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Gallery Twenty: Controlling perspective with the wideangle lens > At Rest, Khong Island, Laos, 2005
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At Rest, Khong Island, Laos, 2005

At Rest, Khong Island, Laos, 2005

Wideangle environmental portraits can be highly effective if you move in on your subject and wrap critical context for meaning around it. I was shooting very close to the young woman, the subject of my photograph. I placed her head near the top of my frame and her feet near the bottom, yet I was still able to embrace much of the bed upon which she sits, and upon which her mother rests. The young woman is my foreground layer, the bed and mother the middle ground layer, and the neighboring yards and houses the background layer. This layering stacks the picture in substance the subject herself is a study in relaxation, confidence, and Laotian costume. She contrasts both in size and attitude to her mother. She is upright, her mother is not. She is much larger, implying her primacy as a caregiver. She is relaxed and confident, while her mother seems frail and quite vulnerable. The background gives us the atmosphere of a Laotian house the lower flow is open on all four sides and the earth floor stretching back into the picture tells us even more about the nature of this dwelling. All of this is made possible by two things: my choice of vantage point, and the 24mm wideangle lens.

Canon PowerShot G6
1/20s f/3.5 at 7.2mm full exif

other sizes: small medium large original
Phil Douglis28-Feb-2005 23:02
When I make a portrait, Dandan, I always try to go beyond describing appearance. I am much more concerned with expressing something about who my subject is, or what my subject is, rather than just recording a likeness. To do this, I always try to incorporate symbolic aspects of their life, in any way I can. Thank you for seeing this in my portraiture.
Dandan28-Feb-2005 10:11
Phil, when I post my comments, I was expecting your answer like this. I want to hear your analysis on the context of the image. Now I understand that you are using these environmental elements to represent their life. You are not making a portrait; you are making a portrait of their life… That enriches the meaning of the image itself. Thank you!
Phil Douglis28-Feb-2005 03:15
Dandan, I intended the plastic basket to provide critical context for this image. My intention was not to make a picture of 50 years ago, but rather of today. That basket contains work that must done to maintain the household.

I could have taken it out by changing my vantage point. I could not have made the same image if I did so. If I was to crop it out of this picture, it would destroy the composition of the entire image, because it would would wipe out the entire left hand end of the bed with it. The bed post at left would vanished, destroying the spatial relationship now expressed by the relationship between that leg and the posts that support the house, a relationship that carries the whole image forward in space.

Earlier, you suggested a crop in another image, the wideangle Buddha image, that also would have disrupted the composition of the image itself, which tells us something that could be very important to your development as a photographer. Everything in a well made picture is interdependent on other parts. In other words, you could not chop out that doorway in that Buddha picture without destroying its hand gesture. And you could not crop out the basket without destroying the overall flow and thrust of that bed in space. Cropping is always best done in the viewfinder itself, where you can make adjustments in space that can compensate for such issues. If you must crop a finished image, you can only crop on a perimeter where it would not affect any other content, or damage the structure of an image itself. I am delighted you made this cropping suggestion, because it can teach you a great deal about the nature of photographic composition.

As for what you feel is a distraction cause by the plastic basket, I must disagree. The basket was on that bed for a reason, Dandan. The bed is more than a bed. It is a table as well. It is the heart of the essential life of this household. I included everything you see in this image for a purpose, and once included, it is impossible to arbitrarily chop it out without also dismembering the image itself.

As for not including the basket in the first place, that becomes a matter of the photographer's intention. If you had been making this shot, and had an aversion to plastic baskets, you would had to find a vantage point that did not include it. As for my own version, this was the story I wanted to tell, a measure of my intentions, plastic basket and all.

Hope this helps, Dandan.
Dandan27-Feb-2005 12:40
Phil, this image has a lot incongruities between her and her mother; I noticed even her flippers are different colors. The wide-angle surly brought out the depth of this image.
But for some reasons, the plastic basket is kind of distracting for me. I think that you included it in there might be want to show the environment as whole. But if you crop it out, wouldn’t it make the image more clean look, less clutters. The wood beams would make a perfect frame for the two people in there? The image could look like was taken 50 years ago… or I am missing the point of your picture here?
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