42 months ago I left a one word comment under this photo: “strange.” Then a few weeks ago it appeared in the HCSP pool where I saw it again, as if for the first time. I had no recollection of ever seeing the photograph in the past, but again I was immediately drawn to it. This time I’m committed to remembering it and I figure the best way to do so is by writing about it so I can figure out why I’ve been drawn to it on two separate occasions.
I’d be content with just leaving it at ‘strange’ but that would be too easy. This photograph plays one of those interesting visual tricks on me when I first look at it. My eye is simultaneously drawn to the smiling people in the adverts in the background and the girl with the doll’s hand in her mouth, the punctum. It happens quick and almost immediately your eye starts to bounce back and forth. It could go on that way for awhile unless you focus and make an effort to take in the whole photograph which is ultimately more rewarding.
The photograph is almost evenly divided in half, humans on the left and advertising on the right. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening between the man and woman in the background. The woman is holding something, and the proximity to the man makes you wonder if they’re together and potentially the parents of the little girl. The advertising on the right forms a nice triangle between the ads on the garbage can and the the two smiley people holding the ice cream. The menu of ice cream treats at the top of the frame mirrors the ads on the garbage can nicely. It’s pretty clear it’s the same branding.
Dividing the frame in two is one simple way of breaking down the frame, but there’s still more to it. One defining element of the frame for me is the line of three that starts with the girl and ends with the women in the advert. That line takes you nicely through the frame and creates a sense of depth. The juxtaposition between the smiling adverts and the slightly angst ridden expression of the girl creates an emotional tension that I find a bit surreal. You’d think getting ice cream would make a little kid excited.
The color palette works very nicely which is important. The hues soften the image, making it more comfortable. The blues and neutral work well together, but what really holds it together is the contrast between the three representations of skin color: the people, the doll and the adverts. The yellow in the woman’s purse could potentially be distracting but I find that the ads on the garbage can and in the upper right of the frame balance it out nicely.
The final detail that really bring it all together are the shadows of the doll and the mysterious individual in the hat. Is it the photographer? Is that why the girl looks anxious?
Sometimes deconstructing a photograph this way can be a bit ridiculous but I find that it helps me understand why certain photographs really resonate with me. All of the details are great in this photograph and they play a big role in bringing it together, but it wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for the punctum, the girl with a doll’s hand in her mouth.