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30 - Gesture

My first photography teacher, Susan Shaw, was superb.

She gave an assignment: photograph gesture.

Gesture is human non-verbal communication, both with our bodies and faces.

There are two types of gesture.


Compare the body language of a guilty child, who later, is proud.

Compare the face of someone who is smiling, truly, and the same person who is faking a smile.1


There is gesture in photographs that isn't human.

It's the arrangement of, and interaction of, contrast, repetition, geometry, tone, color, depth, volume, light, and surprise.

5% & 50%

Gesture comprises, say, five percent a photograph.

Yet, the gesture can contribute fifty percent to the photograph.

D. W. Griffith regretted the loss of "the wind in the trees" when filmmakers shifted from filming in the "plein air" to studios:

[He] missed a certain beauty he thought had disappeared from film, from the way people saw life -- "the beauty of the moving wind in the trees, the little movement in a beautiful blowing on the blossoms in the trees.

That they have forgotten entirely. . . We have lost beauty."

On that note, Griffith fell silent.

On that note, if one were directing the scene, one would begin a slow pullback.2

1 Guillaume Duchenne (1806-1875), a French neurologist identified one-hundred facial muscles in 1862. He observed that false smiles involved only muscles of the mouth. Only true smiles, "the sweet emotions of the soul," activate the pars lateralis muscle around the eyes. A true smile has the Duchenne marker: a crinkling of crows-feet of the corner of our eyes. For current research on facial expression, start with the work of Paul Ekman.

2Schickel, Richard, D. W. Griffith: An American Life, Limelight Editions, 2004, p. 603.

The rest of the text is poignant:

"Whatever had become of him, whatever had become (or would become) of the medium that he had been the first to conceive of as an art, that fragile essence of his sensibility, at its best, and of one of cinema's potentials at its most generous, he had now fleetingly evoked one last time.

The problem was not merely that pictures now talked. Or that they had become big business.

Or that a new age of anxiety was upon the movies as television . . . destroyed everyone's confidence. No, it was more than that.

It was, really, that everyone had now arrived where Griffith had arrived perhaps two decades earlier -- at a place where innocence was lost, and with it the capacity to wonder at the miracle of a medium that could, if it would, show us, in the flicker of a ten-frame cut, something of our inward life, or, if you will, find in the trembling of a leaf, the symbol of an unknown yearning, an unspoken dream.

In all the long years of wandering and confusion, in all the long years when his own peculiar demons drove him down strange paths, in all the long years when, being the product of his bustling times and this often vulgar place, he had lost touch with his best self, his best and simplest hopes for this thing he had made.

But now, at the end, he remembered."