Although the word “anatomy” is used primarily to refer to the “study of the structure of living beings” (i.e. animals and plants), I believe that it can also be used to refer to the analysis of pictures. After all, a good picture is “alive” in many ways: it can make a moment in time come alive for us, it can stimulate our imaginations, and it can hold within itself elements which are in tension and thus create the impression that the image itself is alive (rather than just a two-dimensional object).
An example of a picture from my own work which is “alive” in this sense is this one of Zuma Beach in Los Angeles which I took in 2007. I must admit that I took rather than made this picture, as it was done completely spontaneously without any manipulation or previsualisation of the mise-en-scène on my part. Fortunately, on this occasion, it pleased the gods of photography to smile on my endeavours. The diagonal line which marks the edge of the tide also visually separates a young couple (obviously very much in love) from a father reaching out to his son. In the foreground there is almost a perfect semi-circle of little birds, with one chap apparently going off and doing his own thing. The diagonal line leads us into the hazy horizon, which could be read as a visual metaphor for the uncertainty of the future: will the young couple make the transition to family life exemplified on the left of the picture, or is it just a passing romance?
Perhaps this sounds a bit like hocum, but it is fun to let one’s imagination run free every now and then. This is definitely one of my favourite pictures: I keep being drawn to the contrasting colours, the various geometrical shapes, the strong central diagonal, the quirky little birds, and the powerful human drama playing out before our eyes. All these potent elements make this picture come alive for me every time I look at it.