The Moment of Composition
Charles Merrill, Ed.D.

Photography is a medium through which I have learned to see!
Of course I am fortunate that my eyes can see, but what I mean is to
encompass the structure of a composition through the lens of my
As a ten year old,I remember learning to use my Mothers's
Brownie Hawkeye camera to take snapshots of her and my Dad
standing stiffly together with Mom slightly behind with a forced
smile. Dad looked rather serious and wanted the moment to soon be
over. I waited for the roll of 127 developed film to return from
Kodak to "Gube" Clowers' small town drug store.

As a curious child, I quietly anticipated "seeing" the black and
white prints of the two most important adults in my life. I never
knew about composing a frame in the view finder and hoped that I
had not cut off their heads or feet in my quick snap usually in the
glaring Texas sun.

Sometimes light would enter the old box camera and the
pictures would have this reddish shadow to one side and ruintheir
awkwardly captured expressions. I was pleased to be able to use
this magic box and covered my disappointment when the pictures did
not "turn out" well due to the broken camera and my simple child's
view of the world in which I lived.

Picture taking was for the purpose of having a record of
ordinary rural life to remind us that we had a family and a place to
stand. There was no thought of composition other than to get
everyone into the picture. Seeing the glossy images confirmed that
we were a family and that the bright days Summer would come

I do not recall when I first learned that composition of an
image was perhaps as important as capturing the image on film. I
was an adult and had learned more about perspective in drawing and
painting, counterpoint in a musical score, and character building in a
story. Returning to photography later in my life has been rewarding
as I have made connections with that earlier childhood time when
my world seemed more black or white with few shades of color.

Color photography has furthered my natural sense of
composition when framing an image. I am less concerned about the
starkness of contrast or capturing the picture as a record of a
moment in time. The image must "speak" to my sense of balance and
perspective. Did my reawakened eye come from those early
childhood times with the simple camera? Perhaps learning in other
mediums enabled me to value the process of composing a fresh view
of a familiar scene or person. I will probably never answer the
question which ultimately does not matter anyway.

An important value that I have learned by paying attention to
composing an image is to trust the natural and intuitive process and
to appreciate what a potential pictorial situation offers. The
technical use of a camera is also important, and yet cannot replace
the composition that is framed by the eye interacting with the
colors and contrasting elements in a landscape, sunset, or a close up
of a flower.

July 17, 1998