Abstraction through Cropping: Coplans’ Self Portrait by Kayli Callahan

Cropping and composition are integral elements to consider when breaking down the theme of framing. How the artist chooses to position the subject matter within the physical frame reflects the ideas surrounding the conceptual frame. For photographer John Coplans, the staging of the subject within the viewfinder is one of the most significant steps within his process, and because Coplans poses as the subject within many of his photographs, he directs an assistant on how to compose the image. He must dictate to the assistant the parts of his body he wants photographed, their scale, and their relation to the border of the image. He then sets the lighting, he arranges the printing, and he orders the physical frame. Coplans wrote that as an artist, he doesn’t do anything but talk. Yet, it seems that his talking is vital as it deals mostly with framing.

2000.98_coplans_1822 Self Portrait (Interlocking Fingers, No. 18) captures the artist’s intertwined fingers drawn together towards the front of the picture plane. The image is large-scale and closely cropped, removing the wrists and most of the palms. The close cropping and unusual framing presents an unconventional viewpoint of a common subject. Hands and fingertips are images encountered in everyday, daily life, but Coplans’ image presents a new take on this common subject. Fine lines and faint folds in the skin that ordinarily are barely visible on a life-size hand become thick, deep crevasses in Coplans’ 31 x 24 inch gelatin silver print. Coplans reimagines the common subject in a way that changes the original image.

 The closely focused composition and the narrowly positioned border removes most of the context that contains the subject matter. By composing the image so that the subject is obstructed, the framing begins to abstract the image. Coplans removes information from the image by closely cropping the hands, but he adds to the subject matter by enlarging the hands and creating new shapes. While the fingertips may still be recognizable in their larger-than-life state, new organic shapes and forms emerge from within the image. Coplans takes something common and ordinary and frames it in a new context, forcing the viewer to reexamine and reconsider the subject.

By Kayli Callahan, Class of 2015


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