In the Monty Python sketch The Penultimate Supper, the Pope takes Michelangelo to task for painting a fresco of the last supper, which includes a kangaroo, jellies, 28 disciples and…

3 Christs!  (No wonder Leonardo got the gig!)

You’ll have to find the sketch to understand the relevance of all of this, but in the general argument about artistic merit, Michelangelo makes the point that having three saviours works because “the fat one balances the two skinny ones”.

Balance is the topic that I’m supposed to be looking at while I work through the photography exercises in the book I’m reading at the moment.  I say supposed to be because I’m not entirely convinced by the argument that says pictures should have equal “weight” distributed around the image.  Anyway, the assignment I was looking for was to find pairs of subjects and compose images to give them “balance” in the finished shot.  Now this can be very straightforward (if uninspiring) with shots like this:

However it doesn’t take me long to start pushing at the boundaries.  At first I shot this, which actually still qualifies as balanced, for the larger masonic building is unable to dominate the smaller pub next door because the brightness of the white walls compensate.APW_2317  Well that was the theory anyway!

I then went totally off piste and shot a pair of images that reflect the yin and yang of this part of Durham.  On the one hand the leafy tranquility of Old Elvet, and on the other the prison which sits along side.  Two images which as a pair give balance.  Maybe.

I also shot the Courts, which has obvious balance through its symmetry, and which for me sums up the problem.  I find such shoots boring.APW_2321

APW_2338I head for the Palace Green resolving to take this more seriously, and as I cross Kingsgate bridge I shoot this in which tree and cathedral become the two halves of the equation; one large but airy, the other small and dense.  I also shot this sculpture of the architect APW_2464-Editresponsible for the Kingsgate development, Ove Arup.  No attempt at balance whatsoever! And then I just relaxed into finding my own versions of balance, either through symmetry or asymmetry, they all worked for me.

My heart still wasn’t in it really.  Maybe Durham was to blame.  There are too many idiosynchracies in this city; random alleyways, conflicting rooflines, contrasting building materials and so on.  Much like myself.  I don’t necessarily fit with conventional views of how I should act and struggle to conform with the expectations of others, and while I do my creativity suffers.  Free to be myself and it blossoms.   I like Durham for it’s strangeness, so will extend the metaphor to me too.  How can I achieve balance when I get more out being unbalanced.  How can you shoot balanced pictures in a city with buildings like this?APW_2427_8_9The strange thing is that having decided to forget about balance I was then unable to escape it.  A shot like this could be seen as the two younger people balancing out the older one (though there is obvious symmetry too),APW_2415but what about this shot?  On it’s own it may seem free of balance, but of course I know that the man carrying this shopping had a similar load in his left hand.APW_2468

I wanted to finish with a portrait to completely subvert the balance and had seen a place where the light flooding from a side street gave fantastic opportunities for broad or narrow lighting, either of which would do the job.  I found my spot and waited for a suitable subject.  Many unremarkable faces passed by until I knew I had found her.APW_2451  Of course no sooner had I begun talking to her and her boyfriend that the shaft of light that inspired the shot disappeared behind a cloud.  Great.

Having started the conversation anyway, it would have been rude to do nothing so I shot them as a couple.  Arggghhhhh. Balance!!!


Michaelangelo: I’ll tell you what you want, mate. You want a bloody photographer! Not a creative artist with some imagination!