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TEXT
the world of image
220
CONTENT AND CONCEPT
Selecting and Manipulating Content
A picture, as the saying goes, is worth a
thousand words. Which words those are,
however, is up to the designer and—in
the context of photographic images, espe-
cially—by the designer and/or a
photographer. A designer inventing an
illustrative image from scratch naturally
must select all the components (figures,
objects, or otherwise) to be included.
While this is equally true when conceiving
a photograph to be taken, many designers
overlook a similar level of calculation that
photographs require—themselves fooled
by the idea that the photograph is an image
of “reality,” they make the assumption
that it will simply capture what is needed
from whatever happens to exist within the
viewfinder ... and that they need accept it
as is. The choice of the pictorial elements
contained or not within a photograph,
regardless of subject matter, is entirely
their own, and has tremendous implica-
tions for meaning. Given a similar assump-
tion that viewers will make upon seeing
a photographic image—that everything
about it is real—every aspect of what it
shows, and how, must be considered.
In this study of an image for a
mystery novel’s cover, the infor-
mation conveyed by the image is
altered—sometimes subtly, and
sometimes dramatically—as a
result of changes in content and
composition. In the first version
of the image (A), the content and
lighting provide neutral facts: The
viewer is in a bathroom, probably
A B C
at a hotel. In version (B), this con-
tent is clarified by the addition of
a hotel key—but altered through
the addition of the knife and
money, signifying foul play. The
dramatic change in lighting, from
even to more extreme, as well as
the unusual direction of the light,
enhances the sinister mood and
further hints that something is
wrong: Why is the light on the
floor? In the final version (C), a
closer viewpoint helps create
a feeling of paranoia—what’s
happening beyond the frame is
unknown—and focuses attention
on specific details: the time on
the clock, the point of the knife,
the money, and the hotel key. The
manipulation of the light, as well
as selective focus, helps draw
attention to elements that may
be relevant to the story.
The same figure is shown here
photographed from the same
viewpoint in different environ-
ments. Although the figure is
the focus of the message, the
environment affects the tone
of the message, adds secondary
meaning, and positions the
figure in different relationships
to the viewer.
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