Golden Section (or, me and HCB)
I’ve just been reading in my insanely good $1.98 book from Amazon (see link above) about how and why the great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, thanks largely to his training as a painter in his formative years and subsequently hanging around with the cubists and surrealists in Paris (aah, wouldn’t that have been nice!), maintained a fairly rigorous and geometrical approach to the design of his photographs.
In large part HCB’s ouvre utilizes the classical Golden Ratio (or Golden Section). In this, and here I must defer to Wikipedia, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one. Photographically speaking, and in painting, this is often achieved in the form of the golden rectangle, in which the ratio of the longer side to the shorter is the golden ratio. A golden rectangle can be cut into a square and a smaller rectangle with the same aspect ratio.
What you get, effectively, is the rectangular picture area divided into a square and a rectangle, such that the resulting (smaller) rectangle has the exact same shape (albeit at the opposite orientation) as the larger rectangle.
This made me interested to re-look at some of my pictures, and I was pleased to find examples where I’d intuitively done this, as in the man in the Egyptian cafe I posted a couple of weeks back, or as here, on this beautiful, cool Venetian evening back in 1986 with the ghosts walking by.
It seems to me appropriate to use as an example a photograph taken in Italy, because further investigation reveals a link with the sequence proposed by the Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, whereby the higher up in the sequence you travel, the closer two consecutive Fibonacci numbers of the sequence divided by each other will approach - you guessed it - the golden ratio (approximately 1 : 1.618 or 0.618 : 1). And another Leonardo (da Vinci)’s illustrations of polyhedra in De divina proportione (On the Divine Proportion) and his views that some bodily proportions exhibit the golden ratio have led various scholars to speculate that he incorporated the golden ratio in his paintings (such as the Mona Lisa).
Then again, it’s all pretty close to just the boring old rule of thirds. But I’m kind of happy and content right now to share the rarified atmosphere with HCB, Da Vinci, Salvador Dali, Le Corbusier, Chopin, the designers of the Great Pyramid of Cheops and co.