The Art of Simplicity

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and a photograph can certainly communicate a lot of information in a single image. But simple ideas are the easiest to communicate, and a simple image most effectively accomplishes that communication. In my artist statement, I write that I prefer simple, graphic compositions because I want my photographs to communicate something--an idea, a feeling, or a story. In a single photograph, complexity can get in the way of this goal, so I keep things as simple as I can. Take this photograph as an example.

Rock, Sea, and Sky, San Diego, CA

This is a photograph of a rock in the ocean at sunset. It’s as simple as that. The composition itself is uncomplicated because there is nothing else in the frame, but I have taken additional steps to simplify the photograph further. Unlike its appearance in this photograph, the ocean is naturally turbulent. The water and waves have a choppy appearance to our eyes. In my photograph I have eliminated this complexity by making a longer exposure. The water becomes smoothed out, and the scene appears much more calm. What I’ve done is create an abstraction. The water is a more abstract concept, and it does not distract the viewer with its natural, inherent complexity. This simplification allows the message of the photograph to come through in a clearer way.

Here is another example where I created a very simple composition and again used a longer exposure to simplify the complexity of the water in the ocean. The viewer’s attention is focused on the color and the feel of the photograph rather than being distracted by complex, choppy water.

Imperial Beach Pier at Sunrise, San Diego, CA

At a recent art festival in Palm Springs, I was speaking to a woman who commented on the simplicity of many of my photographs. She quickly followed up her comment by saying she meant it as a compliment. I assured her that I took it that way. I strive for simplicity in my work because my aim is to communicate a message or a feeling, or to tell a story with each photograph. For people to get it, it is best to keep it simple.