“Leigha” is one image taken from a series which record the meals consumed by ten schoolchildren on the evening of 7 March 2017.
Morris, 2017. Leigha
It is a good image, technically and creatively. I feel, however, that it is not a strong image.
Using Frith’s method of layered analysis, the image has the following characteristics.
Firstly, the surface reading shows a slice of pizza ready to be eaten with the remaining pizza visible in the background, a pink flower which has shed some petals, an ammonite fossil sitting on top of two photography books, and a glass of water.
The intended reading shows a meal consumed by one individual, Leigha – a schoolgirl, at a specific time and date. It shows Leigha’s preferences, at least in terms of this one meal.
The cultural reading aims to reflect society’s relationship with food by recording the meals consumed by a sample group, it is a contemporary record of what food we consume and how we choose to do so.
Using Barthes semiotic system of analysis, the signifier is the slice of pizza waiting to be eaten, the signified is the individual’s choice of food which, by extension, is a reflection of our society’s food culture.
Hodgson informs us that images are about something in addition to being of something. “Leigha” is clearly an image of pizza prepared for a meal, it is about the food choices we make as individuals and collectively as a society.
In terms of meaning, I think the image’s narrative is quite well considered, especially within the context of the series.
The image is well executed from a technical point of view. Deliberately low key, the image portrays beautiful chiaroscuro with rich, deep shadows and the main subject being appropriately lit, maintaining the overall atmosphere of the image.
Where the image’s weakness lies, I feel, is in the composition.
Much has been spoken regarding the use of the golden spiral in composition, and the main subject of “Leigha” is placed centrally around the origin of such a spiral. There are, in fact, many places in which the main subject could be located and still remain the main point of focus. The golden spiral, whichever way it is orientated, is just one tool to help analyse the strengths or weaknesses of an image. Nevertheless, many of the greatest paintings, when analysed against the golden spiral, show placement of key features on significant areas of the spiral.
Morris, 2017. Leigha – spiral overlay
The main subject, the pizza slice, also sits on the lower left intersection of thirds, which is significantly close to the lower left intersection of the golden ratio. Again, many of the greatest work of art have key features which are placed on these points.
Morris, 2017. Leigha – ‘thirds’ overlay
I don’t think the problem with this image lies in the placement of the main subject. Rather, I think the issue lies in the overall composition, the mise en scene.
Inverting the image in Photoshop allows the background and immediate environment to be dropped out of the image, enabling us to focus on the positions of the main and supporting subjects.
Morris, 2017. Leigha – inverted
So, what can be done to improve the composition?
The flower and petals could be moved to a more significant position, currently they sit in a compositional “no man’s land”, not being located on a significant point of any compositional tool.
The same could be said for the glass of water, would the image have greater visual appeal if the glass was located more strategically?
Would more peripheral subjects benefit the image? Or less?
Perhaps the subject doesn’t lend itself to such a dark image? Perhaps the image would be stronger for a greater dynamic range? I don’t think the image would work in high key, but it is something to try before dismissing it outright.
These are all areas for further exploration.
See also: Da Vinci on … Composition
Barthes, R. and Heath, S. (1977) Rhetoric of the Image in Image Music Text. London: Fontana
Francis Hodgson: Quality Matters (2013) YouTube Video, added by Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography [Online]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dj3Wq-I7tc accessed 19 February 2017
Frith, Katherine Toland. (1997) Undressing the Ad: Reading Culture in Advertising. New York: Peter Lang