In the last post I wrote about poetic themes in photography. I also mentioned that I find poetry everywhere in nature. One aspect of poetry is a connection to music via the notion of rhythm.
Rhythm, it has been said, bypasses the intellect and directly works on older parts of our brain. In that sense it is one of these “triggers” that can extend a picture from something we only perceive with our eyes into something that has a “feel”.
We probably learned already before our birth to listen to the heartbeats of our mothers. But all musical rhythm ultimately goes back to the two-beat movement when we walk. From this two-step pulse all the complex rhythmic divisions evolve. This pulse, often accented by prominent beats, has an element of expectation. We expect and anticipate in a rhythm the next beat – that is what moves our feet when we start to itch for dancing.
This dynamical element seems to me an extremely important element of any rhythm. But when we talk about rhythms in visual art we often only mean repetitive patterns. In the picture at the top, one could say the tree stems form a pattern and a rhythm. But I think the rhythmical element in that picture is (also) in the ripples in the stems created by the disturbed water.
There are many dynamic rhythms occurring in nature. Leaves falling from the trees in autumn. The pattern of light and dark on the ground as clouds pass the sun. In photography these dynamic processes and the element of expectation are difficult to express. In classical Chinese landscape art scrolls were slowly unrolled during viewing. As only small parts of the scroll were viewed at any time, the rhythm of light and dark, of mountains and lakes took place in real-time. Also the element of expectation was there as the scene slowly unfolded. In comparison, a single photograph seems very static. Maybe, and I am just thinking aloud here, something similar could be done with a series of photos, though.
But not all is lost. Dynamic pulses can be shown also in static photographs.
There are various rhythms in this cloud, but most of all I think there is a pulse implied in the very shape of it. This wave-like pulses are typical for water of course and we rightly expect that this shape will evolve, move or dissipate.
But rhythm and energy alone don’t make a poem (and only rarely the best pictures).
This photo is only about energy, rhythm and light. One can only guess that this might be a photo of a river or fountain. While I think it is interesting as an abstract study, I don’t think it is poetic. Besides rhythm, poetry also needs a meaning, idea or story. At least in my view.
When we think of rivers we mostly think of water. But all rivers interact at least with the surrounding landscape. Rivers in Finland are often also an interaction between the water and the rocks around which the water streams. It is this interaction, which gives the river its dynamic – and actually also its distinct sound. Each rapid has its own pattern of sounds and a distinct rhythm.
It is for this reason that I find the picture below more poetic, even though it is quite abstract as well.
But while the upper picture only describes the energy of the water, the lower picture shows the rocks, the dark bass line of the water and its brighter overtones made by small rocks beneath the surface. Here we see both the rocks and the water and the river and its song are more identifiable. But I think this also shows that poetry in nature doesn’t have to be “romantic”. It can be abstract as long as there are both rhythm and some kind of story involved.