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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Five: Using the frame to define ideas > Golden Nagas, Luang Prabang, Laos, 2005
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Golden Nagas, Luang Prabang, Laos, 2005

Using the frame to express meaning does not always involve all four outside edges of an image. We can also frame or enclose a subject within a picture itself by creating an internal boundary, which can guide the eye to the subject as well as express an idea. For example, in this image of two monks passing through a temple compound, I created an additional two-sided frame within the four edges of the image itself. I placed a long white wall, topped by a long row of fearsome golden Nagas – Buddhist Serpent Gods – deeply stacked along the left side of the picture. At the end of that wall is a small building with a triangular gable. I moved the camera to align the outside edge of that long wall with the left edge of the building. The monks were walking back and forth along a pathway between the end of the long wall and the small building, as they worked on maintenance chores. I photographed numerous monks as they moved along this path, and finally was able to relate two of them within a single instant of time. The towering golden wall of Nagas complements the vivid colors of the monk’s robes, yet also dwarfs them, creating scale incongruity. The tall frame echoes the upright posture of the monk at right. More importantly, the frame within the frame pulls the eye into the picture to effectively express the glory and scale of the setting these simple monks inhabit.

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Phil Douglis30-Sep-2005 15:54
Good point about the movement here, Rod. The flow of energy offers a strong counterpoint to the fixed wall of Nagas.
Guest 30-Sep-2005 13:57
I just viewed and commented on Tim's photo. It's an interesting contrast. Not only is there a different "feel" due to the lack of movement (vs. the movement in yours), but the very compositions as well make the feeling different. It's as you said before, there are many ways to photograph the same scene.
Guest 30-Sep-2005 13:53
Thanks for the reference to Tim's photo. I'll definitely take a look!
Phil Douglis27-Sep-2005 03:21
Thank you, Rod, for your observations. Essentially, this image is intended to tell a story by relating the body language of these monks to this remarkable structure where they live, work, and pray. The white wall, topped by golden nagas, pulls the eye to the small figures of the monks. The compression you mention plays a big role in this. You might also want to look at Tim May's image of the same subjects -- he was in Laos shooting along side of me, yet creates an entirely different interpretation of both the temple itself and the body language of the monks. It's at:
Guest 26-Sep-2005 18:57
I've been looking at this photo for a few days now, because it gave me "a feeling" that I was not able to really put a finger on to convey here. I think the framing here where you use telephoto is quite great. Not only does it create the size incongruity, it compresses the scene and gives it a demension. I've always found such places interesting. When touring temples in Thailand, I could not help but notice the incongruities Clara mentioned. It's interesting how monks, who pretty much own only the clothes on their backs, surround themselves with gold and gold leaf. It must be purposeful in some way. She's also right about Theravada Buddhism, which is why I continue to wonder about the use of gold and gems at their temples.
Phil Douglis26-Apr-2005 20:17
Thanks, Clara, as always, for adding a theological dimension to this image. I sensed that my revised framing strengthened the relationship between the ascetic monks and the mythic nagas -- but you've strengthened it further by suggesting this theological incongruity. Of course, because of your familiarity with Theravada Buddhism, you bring a context to this image that I did not have, and can thus find meaning here that I never would have envisioned.
Guest 26-Apr-2005 19:18
Hi Phil, you know that I prefer to submit my comment before reading other people's ones, to have a fresh look. What I see the main effect of your framing is what I would call ideological incongruity, between the ascetic monks and the mythic nagas. Is like a photographic statement you are making about the underlying nature of Buddhist thought, which after all is not simply human and about human life. Theravada Buddhism is a down-to-earth way way of living, however is not fond of this world.
Phil Douglis21-Apr-2005 20:10
Glad you also prefer this cropped version, Ruth. It demonstrates the power of framing to change meaning. It was just a small adjustment, but it makes a huge difference in terms of simplification, as well as expression. Beginning photographers need to pay special attention to the precise placement of their edges. Sometimes they concentrate so hard on what is in their picture. that they do not pay close enough attention to those four dividing lines that determine what is in, and what is out.
ruthemily21-Apr-2005 18:05
thanks for linking me to this photo, Phil. i too prefer the re-framed version we see on this site. it simplifies and strengthens the message. i am struck once again how such a small "slither" of a photo can completely change its meaning. that's a lesson in paying attention to detail!
Phil Douglis18-Apr-2005 17:28
Thanks, Dandan, for this comment. I am glad that you liked my previous version -- it told a different story than the cropped version. The original, which is at: , uses those Nagas to frame three monks at work. They seem very protective, and the three monks do indeed suggest three different aspects of life itself. I also liked the full dimension of the building in the background of the old vrsion. It worked because of how I used those Nagas to frame the image.

Why then did I crop it? Not just for the sake of form alone, although the form is now much cleaner and elegant, as you note. I cropped it because it made an even more dramatic example of framing -- and this entire gallery is devoted to demonstrations of framing. This image seems almost unreal to me now. Tim May, my pbase friend who was with me as I was shooting this, says this cropped version seems almost eerie. I think it has to do with the intensified interplay between the monk who is covering his face and those Nagas towering over him. It is almost as if he is now hiding from them. This is more evident in this cropped version than in the first version. The cropping, as I noted in my previous comment, also made the image more vertical and upright, a metaphor for the upright lives of the monks themselves.

And what is cropping? It is reframing. In this case, we can see the dramatic effect of reframing in action. That's why I cropped it as shown here. You have every right to enjoy the previous version. The story it told was certainly worth thinking about. But as an example of framing, I think this cropped version is a stronger choice.
Guest 18-Apr-2005 10:45
Since I saw your original version before, and I loved it. Now I saw this version, I really wanted to compare the two; so I went to your worldisround site to look for. I am so glad that you still kept the original un-cropped version there

This cropped version is cleaner, more elegant, but the un-cropped version seems speak more to me.

To me, the “fearsome golden Nagas” occupy a large portion of the image; it symbolizes the religion power in the society. The smaller house and the three monks symbolize peoples’ daily life. The three monks represent three stage of human being. Working, which represented by the third monk, is a most important part of our life, don’t you think so?!
The space between the right wall of the house to the edge of the un-cropped image help to emphasis the smalls size of the house compare the environmental background. To me, it symbolize the small personal space we build around us, small comparing to the outside world, but it’s the home where we live in, which reflected by the three monks stay inside the boundary of the house.

However, this is only my opinion; as you said, each expressive image will relate to people with their own experience... not everyone sees the image the same way...
Phil Douglis17-Apr-2005 03:24
All that I took off was a third monk and part of that building that Alister thought diluted the structure of this image. I agreed with him. Thanks for this observation, Tim. The monk who draws your attention is now the focal point of this image. Before he had to compete with a monk on either side of him. There is a mysterious feeling here, a byproduct of his masked face. Why? We will never know. (I don't post previous versions of the same picture because I feel they could seem somewhat redundant and dilute the power of the final version.)
Tim May16-Apr-2005 17:56
I wish that you had kept the former version so that it was possible to compare the change - but that aside - I am drawn to the right hand monk - I feel much from his stance and covered face - is he frighten of the power of the nagas? Or, on the other hand, his masking symbolizes how much I don't know about his culture, background, and religion.
Phil Douglis08-Apr-2005 18:55
You should. Your idea has joined mine to make this a cleaner, if different, expression.
alibenn08-Apr-2005 07:19
Now I really love it!!
Phil Douglis07-Apr-2005 21:21
I love your suggestion, Alister. By cropping the third monk out of this image altogether, the image becomes more vertical, and the frame, which is what I am using this image to demonstrate, plays an even greater role in expression. The new long, tall frame becomes a metaphor for the upright lives of the monks themselves. The image becomes much more simple in terms of aesthetic form as well, and the middle monk would become an elegant echo of the Nagas that tower above him. There is also greater contrast between the monk who strides through the image and the one who stops who stops to look at us while covering half his face. We sacrifice the third monk, who is working, so this image becomes less about maintenance and more about monkish life itself. The new version is now posted. There may no longer be three monks in this photograph, but the image is much the stronger for it. Thank you for this suggestion. I now owe you one half credit on this photo, Alister.
alibenn07-Apr-2005 13:49
I'm such a sucker for strong diagonals!! Plenty going on in this one and a little difficult to hang on to a focus for more than an instant. For me, and I stress this is just my opinion, I would take a fraction off the bottom, to eliminate the shadowed wall on the left, to root that wall more strongly, and secondly, I think I would take some off the right to eliminate the third figure and the white pillar. That way, it hightens the image, a worthy metaphor for the monks, it strengthens the vertical even more, the middle monk, who would become the furthest right, is in a very elegant and eclectic pose, and would beautifully balance the right hand side.!!!
Keen to hear your thoughts on that Phil...
Phil Douglis28-Feb-2005 23:28
You are right -- a frame is rectangular. But in this lesson, I am showing how you can use half a frame, which in this case could also be looked at as a triangle. In any event, I am framing the monks within that wall and that building, which in turn, is working inside of the regular frame of this picture.
monique jansen28-Feb-2005 12:14
Although the frame is rectangular, the feeling you get is of a triangle, because of the lines in this photo - triangle in this context may mean religious building, stupa, temple, soaring to sky. Not sure if that was your intention with this picture, but that is how I see it.
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