What is Gesture? The gesture of an image is both simple and complex. It is defined differently by many and goes by many names. To me, Gesture is the soul of the image. It is the core expression of the frame presented to the viewer. In the images I feel most passionate about, Light and Color are the supporting cast and vehicle to communicate the Gesture.
When accomplished photographer Jay Maisel introduces an image to the viewer, he describes it simply: “The gesture of …” and it is always enough. One of Jay’s most well-known images is of Miles Davis on the cover of his album, “Kind of Blue.” This image of contrasting light and shadow deeply express the Gesture of Miles with no words or description needed.
I have adopted the technique myself, and it is a telling metric as to the quality of a frame. If it is not clearly obvious in fairly short order to the creator what should follow the phrase, “The Gesture of…,” then I do not feel I have successfully expressed the Gesture in the scene. By the same token, if it is not clear which of many phrases may be correct one for this image, I feel have not successfully pared down the essence of the image.
Some scenes and images are beautiful. Nature, landscapes, and many cities by themselves are beautiful and gorgeous. Perhaps their beauty itself captures an expression of the gesture of nature. There is nothing wrong with beauty of beauty’s sake, and in fact I am passionate about finding and sharing such beauty in the world. But finding beauty and using it to express or capture the essence of something, and when I feel successful in doing so, these are the images that truly speak to me again and again, over the days, weeks, months, and years that I view them.
Gesture need not be blunt, and it need not be human. All objects, all scenes, all that we see contains gesture, a core essence of the scene. A bench, a bridge, or a storm can all have expressions of gesture and it is a worthy challenge to feel, find, frame, and photograph that essence to share with others. Finding your own interpretation of Gesture of an object or scene is an exercise in expression and a way to share a view or vision of the world through visual communications. It is a way to speak that can never be put into words.
Gesture need not be culturally universal, either. As I have had the fortune to travel more, meet more people, I begin to more deeply understand how the breadth of human experience shapes how we see and understand the world. And those experiences for me, personally, still have a fairly limited breadth with few experiences in the world beyond the US. From simple differences in perception, such as instinctually reading an image from left to right instead of left to right, to deeply, core philosophical differences deeply embedded in culture, such as wabi sabi, we all see and interpret Gesture from different viewpoints and backgrounds. I suspect there is some degree of Gesture that transcends culture and language and gets to basic instinct, and am fascinated to study and observe that further over time.
Photography is the “Art of Light.” A photographer uses light to create a frame, and lack of light to define that scene. We use color to add depth and shading to a scene, painting in between, and sometimes outside of, the lines. And we capture and create gesture as the language to express meaning in and behind the final frame we choose to share. Together these aspects of an image are the language we use to communicate, expressing a message or meaning, and are hopefully the opening line of a conversation with our viewers.