WONDERful art.

WONDERful art.

Let’s talk photography. Or more precisely, cinematography as photography. And let’s talk Wonder Woman. If I haven’t already mentioned or dropped enough hints, I love the new Wonder Woman movie. I never knew how empowering a superhero movie could make me feel because I’d never seen a three dimensional, complex superhero who represented me. I know that sound cliche, and but it’s true. (We can discuss the value of representation in popular culture on another blog).

Hands down, my favorite scene in the movie is Diana crossing no-man’s land. Whenever you feel overwhelmed or defeated or that the impossible lies before you – watch this scene. Seriously. Especially if you are a woman. So, I decided to breakdown the approximately 5 minute scene and visually analyze individual frames. And, as impossible as it may seem, I fell even more in love. Every single frame is a thoughtful, gorgeous piece of art. Like – “I’d frame that and hang it on my wall” art.

First the iconic overall image. 

Really, in just this one image, so many artistic techniques are employed. Contrast, depth, lighting – each telling a story. But, let’s take a look at some of the other frames and how they utilize these points to tell a story.

Lighting

Lighting is heavily used in this entire scene to convey a sense of good versus evil and a new dawn rising from the darkness.

In this first photo, we can see the light starting to engulf the enemy. Our focus becomes a point off the canvas that we cannot see. It creates a sense of anticipatory defeat.

In this photo, the juxtaposition of the light is much more hazy. Pockets of light reflect dark areas and the overall light is dimmer. At the end of battle, the “good” side and “bad” side are much more difficult to distinguish. We can no longer tell where the battle lines are. The photo is also taken from a different angle, while almost all photos prior to this place our heroes on the left and the enemy on right, we are disoriented by this angle, furthering confusion of right and wrong post battle.

Depth

Depth helps express the vastness of “no-man’s land” both physically and psychologically throughout this scene. In the two photos below, we gain a perspective of 3 dimensional battle, as well as distance from the enemy. I find the second photo particularly striking because we can’t see our hero. We know she is behind the blast of light, but without the visual, the human element of war if removed. Similarly, we can’t see the gunman. In this way, we are not only shown the physical distance from the trench to our hero, but the phychological distance that can be created in war between two sides.

Perspective

Perceptive is used very sparingly and to great visual effective in this scene.

Two of the more stunning visuals appear from direct overhead shots. In the first picture, we see Wonder Woman taking heavy fire to her shield. The composition has an other worldly effect, not only because we are placed in a heavenly viewpoint, but the use of light and proportion are reminiscent of stars in the universe – seeming to remind us that Diana is a god. In contrast, the second photo, only a few frames later is the same perspective but now above a man-made weapon. The proximity to earth is much closer now and the gun fills the space – as if to showcase the cold narcissism of mankind and war, oblivious to the universe which Diana represents.

Contrast

The entire scene is filled with contrast. Diana and her gang’s entire presence is in contrast to the environment. They are more colorful and brighter than the surrounding soldiers and imagery. These two photos illustrate this point. In both photos, Diana is presented with warm tones, while the environment is shot in cool tones. Her colors are vibrant and distinct, while the surround imagery is muted, dark, and dull. Finally, her outline is crisp and clear, she is well defined among objects and people who blend into the surroundings. This, along with similar characteristics of the men in her group, provide the audience with war as the backdrop at these moments. Both shots are incorporated in parts of the scene when Diana and Steve are communicating directly with one another (verbally or otherwise) – at these moments the director wants us to focus on them, not the battle. By physically creating a distinction between Diana and surrounds, we are fully focused on the emotion they exchange.

Balance

Balance is probably one of my favorite art principles. Perhaps because of the psychology behind it – our eyes )and in-turn brains) find balance in an otherwise unbalanced situation. Since balance is all but required for something to be aesthetically pleasing, the entire scene is balanced; however different types of balance are utilized. In the first photo, we see a very formal symmetry – each half of the photo almost perfectly mirrors itself. The second photo is much more interesting and employs informal symmetry. It does this several ways – first, we have the rule of threes used, with the Scotsman taking roughly one third of the space. Couple this with light and, because smaller spaces of light can be balanced with larger blocks of dark areas, it balances the frame. Another fun technique engaged here is the use of a triangle. Since triangles are symmetrically balanced, a photographer can create balance in a photo by creating three points of a triangle. In this case, the men’s heads and overlapping bodies each act as a point.

Moment

The most visually iconic parts of any film come from the moment photo. The perfect still frame that encapsulates the entire movie (or scene, in this case). Your movie poster image. The most traditionally visual, these two frames are the most likely to framed or used in a blog post because they tell the whole story rather than portions of it. In the first, we see the moment before Diana deflects a bullet. These conveys all her power, her wonder, her fearlessness in a single frame. In the second photo, we see her voracity, unbridled and in action. It sums up the battle in a single frame. It demonstrates all her strength and empowering emotion.

Selection

Selection can be a little harder to discuss when looking at a curated or edited piece because you have no idea what other images were NOT selected. So it’s more of a speculation on why the artist might have selected a particular piece. I found this photo incredibly powerful and for that reason chose to talk about it’s inclusion. I think the most powerful part of this photo is that it is one of the few frames in the entire scene Diana actually blends into the surrounds. Her metal isn’t as shiny, her skin in shown in the same cool tones are the imagery, and her features are ill defined. It creates a feeling of doubt, perseverance, and humanity. In this moment she is most relatable, most human. We identify with facing the impossible, the unknown – without armor, with our heads bowed down, lost in a sea of debris and dust. But we persevere – we press on. We dig our heels in and we move forward- knowing whether anyone else can see it for not, we are a superhero. I love this photo.   

Foreground

I saved my favorite for last. Foreground and background is used often throughout this scene to effectively story tell without dialogue and highlight dramatic moments. My favorite use is the following photo. I suppose I’m a sucker a Hollywood love story, but this image just melts my heart in the most heartbreaking way possible. Typically, the foreground is an artist’s focus, when the background becomes the focus, the foreground is often meant to be forgotten, white noise, almost a background in front. But this image is different. The photo manages to connect the foreground and background in such a way that the subjects become the foreground regardless of their respective location and everything else becomes the background. The distance between them becomes non-existent. It feels as though they are side by side despite the image telling us they are yards apart. The photo plays with our sense of depth and perception without being hokey (like “I’m holding the sun” style image.) The artist placed both subjects directly in the center of the image facing each other both sharply in focus in contrast to the environment around them, adding almost a third layer of foreground and fourth layer of background that are both blurred. Leaving Diana and Steve sandwiched in between. Positioned behind Steve looking at Diana, the audience feels the situation from his perspective. It’s just all brilliant.    

 

As a disclaimer, I make no assumptions the artists involved in these images intended any of the meaning I found in them – but that’s the beauty of art, it moves each of us differently.

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