Contextual Coercion?

I love taking pictures and I love trying to capture the essence of a particular moment.  It is hugely frustrating and addicting and satisfying and vexing all at the same time.

The times I do create an amazing picture I feel as though I have helped make my world a more artistic and thoughtful place.

Art and its interpretation is completely and utterly subjective.  I am sure everyone asked would agree on this point.  The artist creates a work of art and the people interpret it according to their perspective.

I was wondering though, does an artist have the right to force a particular perspective on their artwork?

I recently joined Instagram and I have enjoyed seeing the many, many, many fantastic pictures there.  As with most things in life, the good always comes with a bad.

Instagram forces a 1:1 cropped ratio on all of the pictures uploaded.  A user will not find any sweeping panoramas or photos of tall architecture.  The website severely limits photographers.

That was how I used to think.  I joined Instagram with full knowledge of this restriction.  I wanted to use the forced cropping to force me to be more creative.  I have enjoyed the challenge immensely.  After viewing some of my original pictures and then the “Instagrammed” pictures side by side, I questioned if I might be diluting my original work and forcing the viewer to see the picture only from the perspective I chose.

Here is an example.


I love this picture and all of symmetries it portrays.  What does a viewer think of as they look at it?  Geometry?  Design?  Harmony? Bridges?  Are they thinking of the grain in the wood?  The texture of the crusted barnacles?  The softness of the light as the field of depth increases towards the center?

Now here is the “Instagrammed” version of the same picture:

I’ve already stated my dislike for the forced crop ratio.  In order for me to be a tad more creative, I decided my “Instgrammed” pictures would combine typography with the picture.  I overlayed a quote of my liking to match the tone of the photo.

I actually think the above picture benefits from the closer cropping.  The photo is squared in a more geometric fashion.

The question I’m struggling with is this:  Does the quotation force the viewer to interpret the picture through my eyes?  If so, does it matter since I am the creator of the art?

As you think of the question, I’d like to look at a few more examples.

Below is a picture of Half Dome in Yosemite that I took a few years ago, as we were just about to ascend the cables to reach to apex.

I layered the picture with a grittier filter to help capture the essence of the ruggedness of the rock.

To be honest, a picture will never capture the magnificent permanence of the gut rock of the earth that is Half Dome. And this picture only captures the last thirty minutes of a grueling four hour hike to reach the top!

Does the viewer see the unmoveability, the lastingness, the scale of the rock?  Do they see the tired faces of the hikers who are so happy to almost be at their final destination?  A picture like this is ambiguous and I think that is good

Here is the same picture on Instagram.  The picture suffers because of the forced cropping, but the text and typography amplify the photo.  I think the quote only enhances what the viewer would have seen in the original picture.  But does that quote lock the viewer into just one interpretation of the picture?

I ask again, do I have the right to impose a particular perception of the picture?  (Say that fast three times in a row!)

Here is another example.  We will go from Yosemite to the City By The Bay, San Francisco.



Ah, the beautiful, iconic Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco.  A beloved and treasured landmark of California.  This is actually one of my favorite pictures.  Taken from Pier 39, it captures some of the spirit of The Bay.  Does a viewer focus on the Bridge, the sail boat, or the mountains?  I tried to give to picture a nostalgic feel with muted colors and less contrast.

A picture like this shouldn’t be cropped.  But I did, and the above photograph is what we have.  The text doesn’t intrude onto the picture, and I like the subdued smallness of it.  Does it add or subtract from the viewing experience?

Three years ago my family and I had the privilege of traveling to Hawaii on a nice family vacation.

We went whale watching off the coast of Maui and it was there where I took this picture

I love the ocean surrounding the tail of the whale.  It magnifies the grand scale of the sea, and even a large animal such as a whale can look small.  It is minimalistic and easy on the eyes, with a single point of focus.


Above is the “Instagrammed” picture.  The photograph is made smaller and the vastness of the ocean is made smaller.  I added a stanza from a favorite Switchfoot song of mine along the horizon line.  The font is open and is easily seen through.  I personally think it adds to the picture, but do I have the right to coerce the viewer into my context?

It is an interesting dilemma to ponder.  I am grateful that these are the things that I worry about; the world is a dark, war torn place these days.



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