While in one of my favourite bookshops this afternoon I came across An Inner Silence: The Portraits of Henri Cartier-Bresson also available on Amazon (should charge them for advertising).
Cartier-Bresson is legendary for his composition. He never cropped, to my knowledge, always preferring to use full frame for his compositions. Looking through his wonderful portraits I was struck by how much space his subjects occupied in the frame. Fashions and trends have changed in portrait photography.
It seems to me that photographers these days are afraid of 'empty' space. The subject is crambed into the frame, every pixel filled. Elbows and the top of the head are cropped out, fingers and feet rest on the edges. In contrast Cartier-Bresson lets his subjects breathe. He often puts them in the bottom right of the frame with loads of space above them filled with a staircase, a wall, a window frame, the corner of a building and so on. His images are beautifully balanced and nothing in the background disturbs.
So why do we nowadays crowd our subjects in the frame. I suppose it's to create immediate, in you face impact, a symptom of our times. We demand rather than request the attention of the viewer.
However, I also believe that it takes tremendous skill to handle 'empty' space well in the frame, so that it is not seen as unnecessary or a waist, but rather as an enhancement to the mood of the image. The greater distance to the subject invites the viewer to enjoy the image at leisure and contemplate it.
Perhaps we should think again about this approach to photography. We could probably all benefit from a bit more space.
I'd be delighted to hear your opinion, so feel free to email me.