Contrast, Paradox and Leading Lines – article written for the Yzerfontein Urban Conservancy newsletter, Sept 2015

Small flower reaching for the sky mirrored by the massive horns of this Nguni.

Contrast, paradox, and leading lines are some of the aspects to consider when thinking about the composition of any photograph. They are also the elements I want to focus on when discussing my photograph of this Nguni cow approaching a flower. This photograph was taken on a farm adjacent to Darling during the flower season of 2011. Flowers come and go, some seasons are good, some less abundant; but the cows are a familiar sight year round, and I love to photograph their rich texture, amazing horns, and luxurious coats. To me, the most pleasing aspect of this photograph is its paradox: it is a situation filled with contradiction and surprise. The strength of the cow, the frailty of the flower. The starkly contrasting black and white cow, the colourful field. The cow and flower are not a natural association in my mind, but in this picture I feel they enhance each other. It is when comparing the two subjects that each of them shows their core individuality. Contrast is created when two elements are set in opposition to each other; like black vs white. Contrast lacks the element of surprise contained in paradox, but nevertheless remains a powerful part of this particular picture. The contrast in this photograph works on the one hand, and is problematic on the other. Pleasing is the white face of the cow peaking into the contrasting black lips and nose, problematic is the side lighting. The sun is falling onto the cow from the side, creating the contrasting dark shadows that fall over the face from the horn and ear. Sidelight is a great creator of contrast, it is what shows up the veins and strong jaw of the cow, but in this picture the shadow from the ear almost succeeds in killing off the picture. Fortunately, the eye of the cow contains enough expression for the picture to hold its own. I am not yet brave enough to ask an Nguni to back up, flip its ear back, and let me retake the shot. The potential menace to the poor waiting flower I see in the eye of that cow is enough to make me keep a respectful distance. My final comment is just a quick mention of how the leading lines mirror each other in this composition. The flowers and stalks of grass are reaching for the sky, mirrored by the horns of the cow reaching upwards too. The cow is bearing down to eat, but the angle is along  the same compositional lines, creating an overall directional flow that is balanced and pleasing.

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