“I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.” ― Robert A. Heinlein
[one_half padding=”4px 10px 0 4px”]In a strange, almost psychotic social twist, “breaking the rules” has possibly become more admirable than following them. For every person out there yelling and screaming about something not following one rule or another, there are two applauding that the rule has been broken. Breaking rules, regardless of where they’re found or to what they apply, is seen as a measure of one’s independence; a willingness to stand out from the crowd and break away from the status quo. Those who create new technologies or build huge businesses from scratch are often said to have “broken the rules,” either of business or technology, in achieving their goals. Adventurist billionaires such as Sir Richard Branson or Elon Musk are widely considered to have gotten where they are by breaking all the rules.
So, do rules exist only for the purpose of being broken? What good is it to have a set of guidelines if no one is going to follow them? I know one of my most frequent non-photography pet peeves is matters of grammar and improper spelling on social media; not those committed so much through acts of “fat-fingering” or victims of auto correct, but those intentional misdeeds such as substituting U for you and R for are, along with other idiosyncracies of what is commonly referred to now as text speech. While such abbreviations appear to me as a lack of attention and most likely diminished intelligence, more than a few linguist have decided that such rule breaking is part of the natural, continual, evolution of language. If breaking the rules is actually just evolving the rules, then why is anyone worried about rules in the first place?
Sociologists tell us, as do those of severe moral convictions, that without rules society decays into chaos. We must have a system of laws, rules, and guidelines that set the standard for acceptable social participation for society to have any meaningful cohesion. Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not try passing off a Bruce Springsteen tune as your own. Where we have rules, we typically have people assigned to enforce them: policemen, teachers, court systems, and government agencies come to mind. Photography, and creative media in general, doesn’t have any official authority reprimanding or punishing those who break rules of art. Does that mean we’re doomed to chaos?[/one_half]
[one_half_last padding=”4px 4px 0 10px”]Today’s image, for example, breaks the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds, for those not familiar, relates to how an image is framed. An image is theoretically divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically and the four intersection points are considered the strongest areas of the image. If there is a horizon, for example, it should occur on either the top or bottom line. Whatever the primary focal point is, it should be positioned on one of those imaginary lines with other content placed as to guide the flow of vision from one intersection to the other. The rule of thirds is so basic and fundamental, that software tools such as Photoshop offer guides to help position an image along the correct lines.
But this image just won’t fit. The young woman in the picture should be positioned along the left vertical line; her bust and her hips, ideally, would fall along the horizontal lines. If this were a painting, those issues would be easily resolved. This isn’t a painting, though, and we are limited by a couple of issues that are immutable. First, this image is part of a series that, for the sake of visual continuity, all have a canvas of the same size (reduced to 1200 x 900 pixels for use here). Cropping the image differently just to make it fit the rule of thirds would have made it awkward and interrupt the visual flow of the whole set. Second, there was just behind the model an open and rather unattractive space that would have altered the aesthetic had it been included. So, expanding the frame to fit the rule of thirds is not a solution either.
What ultimately matters is whether the image works and, to a large degree, this one does. While I might not submit the image for adjudication, I still find it quite lovely and would have no problem with it bring part of a gallery presentation. Breaking the rule, in this case, isn’t so much a matter of innovation as it is necessity because of the constraints. Are we plummeting into chaos? No, not at all.
We must be our own guides. Not every rule should be broken. Not every image should try breaking them. What every photograph should do is make us feel, and if we’ve done that we have found success.[/one_half_last]