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Rule of Thirds

Monday 01/22/2007 7:11 AM

I cherish the feedback loop.

Whenever I finish a new remix, a chapter of a story or get a photo back from the film shop (old days) or up on the screen from my digital camera (these days), I am instantly critical of it. I listen to it again. Read it again. Out loud. Look at it again. And again.

If I find something wrong, out of place, I immediately fix it. If the correction is not obvious, I obsess about it. Lose track of time. Forget everything.

Once the correction is in place, I start all over again. If I find another flaw, I fix it. Wash, rinse, repeat. Ad infinitium it seems sometimes. Candy can tell you stories about the same 4 bars of some song I'm remixing repeating over and over and over in my office, driving her insane.

Many a night, I'd hear the slow drag of Chauncey's toenails across the hardwood floor just as the time reached ten o'clock because that was when he was supposed to go outside for his walk around the block. More nights than I'd like to 'fess up to, I put him off. "Just ten more minutes, Chaunce," I'd tell him.

Candy has since made a mint from telling people about my now infamous interpretations of how long 600 seconds can be, should be or turned out to be.

But it's how I create. Throwing myself in head first.

Sometimes I get aggravated at the thought of working on something new because I know I can't half do it. Saying yes means committing myself to the deep end of the pool, and I'm not always in the mood for a swim.

Once I get through to the other side, though, things are beautiful. I obsess. Playing my music over and over. Reading my story out loud and reveling at the song of it all. Staring at my new picture, looking away and then returning my gaze. Absorbing it. As if some aspect of myself is becoming one with or assimilating my new artifact on a level where words are useless. A primordial re-integration with my act of creation.

Recently, I'm discovering happy accidents that thrill me as well. Take last week's Beauty of Blur. That was exquisite. I stared at it for long minutes after minutes several different days last week.

Then there's the beguiling one: The Time Was image. Ever since I posted it late Thursday evening (early Friday morning), I've been coming back to it. Taking it in. Clicking the link for the hi-res version.

It seemed so simple, so off-hand, so almost wrong in a bad picture kinda way, but at the same time it seemed to invite the center of my attention. Why?

I can remember taking the shot. That afternoon I had wanted to use my (at the time) new film camera to take some shots of The Boys (back when The Boys meant The Red Dog and The Black and Tan) at The Asylum. We had made our way down the decrepit asphalt road, the one that Mother Nature seemed to always be on the verge of claiming (or, arguably, re-claiming) for her own.

We were down on the edge of the time-to-time pond (it wasn't at that time, but instead was wearing its marsh mask). They had disappeared into the tall cornstalk-like weeds and were making a rustle and ruckus as they chased after each other, scaring the bejeezus out of the indigenous (and other, passing through) wildlife.

I don't think I was tripoding then, so I probably started to crouch on the embankment, trying to guess where they would explode from the green. The moment I snapped the shot, I knew it was wrong, and when I saw it a week later when I picked it up from the photo center, my suspicions were confirmed. Not long after, it was filed and forgotten.

Now, years later, I look at the image and swoon. The two halves of my mind bicker and I can almost hear their distinctive voices and respective arguments. The complaints about the dogs in the bottom of the frame. The less precise response insisting that for whatever reason it just works. The former harrumphing like Chaunce when it got to be 10:45 and he still hadn't heard me get up from my desk.

By late Friday afternoon, I figured it out. The Rule of Thirds. That Wikipedia link will tell you everything you need to know, but the super short version is that instead of centering your photo on a single subject, when possible, you can probably have more success at creating a captivating image by strategically architecting your shot to straddle, follow or otherwise relate to the frame of the image as if it was divided into thirds, horizontally and vertically.

Without adjusting or cropping the image from Friday, I divided it into thirds and — Lo and behold! — it almost lines up perfectly. At the same time, though, it plays with convention in that there is no group of subjects scattered amongst the thirdly borders. Rather, the subjects are clumped in one of the "triants" (as opposed to quadrants) with the rest of image uniformly filling the rest of the frame. The only other significant aspect of is the dividing line between the marsh grass and the trees in the distance. Yes, I know it doesn't match up exactly, but I think you'll agree that it is, without doubt, close enough to suggest the rule.

Which leaves me making a similar comment as I did with the Blur image: Not even today do I think I would be smart enough to intentionally create such a beautiful mistake.

And that, Dear Friend and Reader, is why I find myself staring at this image over and over and over.

File Under: Analysis; Artwork, Mine; Me; Photography; Rule of Thirds
Music: Tori Amos "The Original Bootlegs"

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