The closest art to photography is painting, and thus the two primary visual art forms share basic precepts regarding light and composition. In the same way photographers use different lenses, filters, and lights to achieve their vision, so too might they learn to use various time-honored, classical techniques in composition. While a polarizing filter is not used for every shot, neither is the golden ratio and sacred geometry. But just as every photographer will have a polarizing filter in their toolkit, so too will they have knowledge of sacred geometry, whose rules they can exalt, or break, at will.
The late Myron Barnstone was a favorite art teacher made famous by his rigorous, classical drawing classes he had videotaped over the years, beginning long before the internet made video ubiquitous. The Morning Call reports:
Skill, no matter what medium, is based on years of rigorous training, mastered through the understanding of the structured, geometric systems used by artists such as Picasso, Michelangelo and Da Vinci. "I give them a toolbox," the Whitehall Township man says of his students. . . his legacy lives on in the dozens of students who have gone on to successful careers in the art world.
Although he has passed on, fortunately for us, Myron has left quite a legacy behind in the way of videos, some of which can be watched freely on YouTube. Here Myron introduces the "brief history" of the golden ratio in art, taking us on back to the time of cavemen:
"Welcome to the Golden Section"
Myron provides a few more concrete examples of how artists use dynamic symmetry and the golden ratio here: "How do Artists use the Golden Section?"
Here Myron elaborates on it all a bit more, in "Golden Mean, Golden Rectangle, Golden Section used in Art:"
Wikipedia provides a partial list of artistic and architectural works designed with the golden ratio in mind:
The legendary street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was famous for using tracing paper to try and find dynamic symmetry in his photographs, thusly studying and improving his composition until he was able to head on out to any street and capture the action in accord with the golden ratio. Cartier-Bresson stressed the need for internalizing the "golden rules" so as to be able to capture master compositions without the aid of any "little schema grills" clamped onto one's viewfinder, nor the "Golden Rule" etched upon the camera's "ground glass:"
Charlie Rose traveled to Paris and interviewed Henri Cartier-Bresson himself. When Rose asked Cartier-Bresson, “What makes a good composition?” Cartier-Bresson had one word—“Geometry....
...In applying the Golden Rule, the only pair of compasses at the photographer’s disposal is his own pair of eyes. Any geometrical analysis, any reducing of the picture to a schema, can be done only (because of its very nature) after the photograph has been taken, developed, and printed – and then it can be used only for a post-mortem examination of the picture.
...I hope we will never see the day when photo shops sell little schema grills to clamp onto our viewfinders; and the Golden Rule will never be found etched on our ground glass.”
When you see a street-scene evolving in front of you, can you capture the "decisive moment" in a golden ratio composition, as Henri Cartier-Bresson trained himself to do?
Regarding Cartier-Bresson, the legendary fashion photographer Richard Avedon stated, "Cartier-Bresson is the greatest photographer of the 20th century. He is like Tolstoy was to literature. He covered all the ground, in a vast way – politically, socially – and the most personal and complex insight into the human personality."
Well, perhaps masters such as Avedon, Cartier-Bresson, and Barnstone are worth listening to, studying, and heeding. The simple, classical tools and traditional rules of composition could be even more valuable than a new lens or camera.
Do you find anything inspiring in the above list? Please share in the comments!