Photo by NYIP Student Edo Carboni
Here's a photo that tells a timeless story — and one that has a lot to say about NYI's Three Guidelines as well.
In this simple and sparse image, Edo has managed to capture an image that not only has a subject, but which transcends a simple subject and expresses a universal theme. NYI's Guideline One asks the photographer, "What is the subject of my photograph?" Sometimes, an especially strong photograph has a subject that is not just a subject, but rises to a level of a theme, sometimes even what we call a "universal theme."
But in reality, most of the time, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, "A subject is a subject is a subject." By that we mean that the picture of little Sally on a pony is just that, a picture of our daughter on a pony. Or, the photo of the family pup sitting in the back yard is a photo of our pup in our backyard.
Not so this photograph. Here we see a young child reaching through the slats of a playpen, just barely managing to snare the pacifier that sits on the floor almost out of reach.
We don't know whose baby this is, whether it is a boy or a girl. What we do know is that this is a young child that is learning (and mastering) early motor skills: See, reach, touch, grasp.
If this child is a relative of Edo Carboni, we're sure that every family member who sees this photo will think it's a great photograph of that child. But the rest of us, who don't know the particulars, can still appreciate the universal theme of early human development, child development if you will, when skills that most of the rest of us take for granted are first attempted, and accomplished.
This photograph works in part because it is so well visualized. Its stark simplicity, which we will explore in a moment, gives it great power.
But this photograph also plays on an icon of communication through touch — the importance of contact between the human hand and The Other. In your mind, you can visualize the image of God reaching out to touch Adam's finger in Michaelangelo's inspired fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Or, you can remember the touch between the child and the extraterrestrial E.T. in the movie of the same name.
So, here, we see the infant, almost off stage, make contact with this object that is almost out of reach, almost not part of the limited world of the infant.
The other power of this photograph resides in Edo's fine use of the other two NYIP Guidelines for Great Photographs.
Guideline Two asks, "How can I focus attention on my subject?"
Here, the child's hand and extended index finger and the pacifier are large in the frame and in the center of the image. The shadows in the background contrast with the light tones of the baby's hand and the pacifier.
Our attention is also drawn to the center of attraction by the reflection of the baby's hand and the pacifier in the highly polished wood floor, and the photographer has the benefit of converging lines in the floor that draw our eye from the foreground toward the baby's hand.
In addition, Edo has used selective focus — the choice of a large aperture to create a narrow band of sharp focus. Notice how the slats in front and behind the baby's arm are in soft focus. The plane of sharp focus in this image is very narrow.
NYI's Guideline Three asks, "How can I simplify my photograph?"
Here, we see nothing in the image that distracts. We could argue that a little bit of the extreme left-hand side of the photo could be trimmed, but it's really not necessary. Try covering the left side of the photo and see what you think.
We caution NYIP students that not every great photograph rises to the level of having a universal theme. This image, in its own quiet way, does attain that higher plane. Our congratulations to Edo Carboni for capturing this moment of infant achievement.