A Unit

   As a minimalist I am concerned with limiting lines, patterns, tones and eye movements in order to create stillness in the mind of the viewer, and therefore boundaries have to be setup to do this effectively. These boundaries give me the tools to discipline myself and therefore expand creativity, give me a recognizable style and build my brand.

   Setting boundaries is like the poet restricting himself to a meter system which binds him in composing a poem. An example of this could be the refrain in each line ending with ter or ler, that the subject of the poem is “Rite of Passage” and the number of lines must be exactly thirteen.  These requirements are challenges, if accomplished, creates in the poet the characteristics of being well disciplined, if they are not achieved he needs to continue to work on it or change the requirements. Of course there must be rationales for these restrictions. They must not be setup haphazardly. There must be a rhyme and a reason.   

   So, likewise, I use measures which impose restrictions in my image compositions. Please keep in mind that my reasoning is to create stillness in the mind of the viewer. In the visual language, my theory is that the less the eye moves, or there is a smooth flow in eye movement, the more stillness is created. So, I created for myself what I call a unit. A unit __ as I define it __ is the eye following a continual direction or pattern, with little or no breakage, along with an uninterrupted thought pattern.

   In the past my thought was that a subject in a composition would constitute a unit, and the more the subjects the more the units. For example, the number of units in the subject of a glass of water I thought of as two; the glass and the water in it. However, with a broader understanding of the definition of unit, the water in the drinking glass is one unit not two. This is because since both the glass and the water are transparent, with very little visual distinction between them, and with the use of photographic techniques, they would become one. This would also be true in the case of milk in a white cup. The eye movements would be smooth and united, where the mind accepts the connections and sees them as a whole, which creates the stillness I want.

   If the subject was the same white cup, but now filled with dark tea, then that would be two units. Because there is a much larger visual dissimilarity between the white cup and the dark tea, the mind would have two impressions rather than one when looking at this 2D image. Yes, there are two subjects but when the transition is so slight it creates a smooth shift and therefore one unit.

   With this view, there can be a difference between a subject in a composition, and a unit. A subject may have a number of units, and multiple subjects may form only one. If for example an object having multiple colors, shapes and patterns would be a subject of multiple units. This item would not be one that I would choose to work with, and this is one of the reasons I select my objects with a lot of care. I look for the ones that have fewer distractions in how they are formed and shaped. If commissioned to photograph an object or objects of multiple units I would do my best to reduce those units by the use of lighting, shadows, focus, distance, positioning, etc. in order to remain true to my voice.

   As a minimalist, this concept of limiting my units is very important. I do not believe I am just fooling myself, but rather growing as an artist. I may contradict myself at some point, as I work it out in my own head. I do understand that there are many things that can constitute a unit; not just the subject. Still my goal is to reduce them to focus on the message derived from the composition.

   We as artists should not just be visually putting things together just because we feel like it; there should be reasons behind the arrangements. In this our collectors and viewers have an insight into what they are looking at, and are in a better position to see if we have lived up to the boundaries we places upon ourselves and work within them or not.  

Broken Dark

Broken Dark

   This photograph entitled “Broken Dark” is an example of creating an image whose units are reduced to three. The lines have a pattern that has an even flow, for which the eye follows and the mind and the heart becomes still. Yes, there is a difference between the broken fence and the upright poles as subjects, but the pattern is so united that it forms one unit. This is a case where multiple subjects become one unit; the gray sky and dark earth are the other two.   

   Limiting the units is being put into use in this image. The result is the rest created in the mind and in the heart. I believe this is done by creating a composition to prevent jerky eye movements, where those movements are smooth and even.

   Of course I am not saying that this theory is the only thing needed to produce stillness, but it plays a big part in it. Three differently colored balloons, one beginning to inflate, the other at full capacity, and the third bursting. This could be seen as three units. However, for such an image other factors have to be employed to create stillness in the mind, even when the units are three.  

   Notice that in “Broken Dark”, the overall tones are dark; the fence, the ground and the sky. These tones are employed to make a smooth transition from one unit to another; limiting the units to three alone is not enough to still the mind.

   “Broken Dark” was shot at noon. It was a very bright day. The sky was blue, with no clouds. If I had printed it as is, with no added filtering to darken it, no grain to smooth out the continuity between subjects and I had not darkening the foreground, there would be too many units on display to get the desired effect. However, a question could be asked: Without all this work, could this be a nicely printed photo? The answer is yes, of course, but it would not be a representative of my work, my voice, my brand.

   Please post a commit. Let us know if you think that limiting units __ as I define them __ do indeed slow down the mind and bring calmness to the heart. I am sure we can gain benefit by reading noticeable happenings in your mind and heart when viewing 2D images.