I am a Triangle. What are you?
As children, we’re given colored “blocks” that include squares, triangles, cylinders, half-circles and other shapes to play with and build things using our imagination. And, we do. Other toys include similar blocks with the goal being to match the block to the hole it fits into . . . no square pegs fit in round holds, right? Our play and learning begin with shapes and colors. As photographers, we can and do use shapes to build our compositions.
Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” This idea resonates with me on many levels.
In the world of shapes, there are three primary ones: circle, square and triangle. All other shapes are in some way derivations of these three. This is similar to how all variations of color stem from the primary red, blue and yellow.
My first encounter with Freeman Patterson was at the 2001 NANPA Summit. What I took away from this session is something that has helped me throughout my photography and something I share with others whenever they are stuck and not seeing anything to shoot or having a difficult time defining what it is they really see.
In his book, Photography and the Art of Seeing, Freeman states, “A keen observer will remove the labels from objects and view them as shapes. He will be arranging circles, ovals, and rectangles, not trees, faces and buildings – and find good composition much easier to achieve.” This statement can serve as a springboard for creating stronger compositions and can break the “stuckness” free. It certainly has for me.
As I look back over my images , I’ve noticed a distinct pattern in the way I capture many scenes and subjects. A broad sweep of my images reveals to me that the Triangle is my dominant shape, regardless of the subject. Of course, there are circles, squares and other building blocks of design in my compositions, but the triangle appears more often. I don’t go looking for triangles, I SEE them. They jump out of scenes and demand notice. It happens naturally on an unconscious level. Once seen, the shapes are worked to build an image I’m satisfied with.
If you were to look through your own images, what pattern might you find? Perhaps, your dominant shape would be a circle or a square. Go through your images and see. Then, when you’re out photographing, take notice of which shapes gain your attention most quickly. As a creative exercise, go out in the field and assign yourself only one shape. Shoot and look for nothing else. See what happens?
Later, when you’re out and about and cannot find your way to a good image, lean back on the exercise of seeing shapes instead of things. Shoot outside of the label of the thing. By training your eye to recognize shapes instead of specific objects, you’ll likely be surprised and pleased by what suddenly comes to life. Try it. You’ll see what I mean.