For the past forty years I have avoided working from photographs. I have also avoided including a branch in a corner of a snapshot, thinking it acted as a distracting cliche. Last October when I attended Susan Abbott’s workshop in Vermont, she talked about Zones and Bridges. I assumed I understood, thinking she was using different words to describe how I constructed my compositions. I was wrong. I didn’t understand then and I didn’t understand for the first week and a half of her workshop in Provence. It was only as the workshop drew to a close that the fog cleared and I began to see with my eyes that which my brain was struggling to fit into a neat and tidy box. Susan stressed the importance of a good motif. What is motif? I’ve heard the word and used the word, without really understanding what it meant. What does Susan mean by motif? Not surprisingly, I found multiple meanings in the dictionary. I checked my notes….
My current understanding of motifs, zones and bridges may not be what Susan was describing. Right now, that’s okay with me. She presented me with a new way of viewing reality, breaking it down into segments that can be transformed into interlocking shapes that create an energy flow between them. My previous vocabulary to construct strong compositions was limited to shape, value, temperature, color, line, movement, direction, space, position,size,format, pattern and texture. That seemed like more than enough to keep in mind when constructing a foundation for a work of art. My simple definitions of motif, zone and bridge are as follows:
- Motif -The arrangement of the puzzle pieces
- Zone – One of the puzzle pieces that makes up the most simplified version of the composition shapes as determined by value, not distance or color.
- Bridge – Any shape that crosses through multiple zones
Using these definitions, I’m able to move forward.
At first I experienced discomfort when forcing a fencepost or lamp post to pierce through what I had thought to be a nice composition. Slowly, over a period of days, I saw my thumbnail sketches and my snapped photos differently. As I sifted through the snapshots of the day, I noticed that the compositions with “bridges” had stronger visual impact than any of the others … significantly stronger. the piecing together of the puzzle pieces began to be intuitive and I could simplify landscapes more effectively in a shorter amount of time. The discomfort vanished, replaced with the thrill of an enhanced way of seeing the world around me. I could finally see past the rich patterns and textures that I would get lost in, inspired by and be unable to balance them well against the surrounding shapes. I can now delete most of the photographs I took during my trip.
Susan had opened another door for me, a giant door to a larger world.