Photo Focus: Sebastian Cortes, Jhaveri House

Welcome to Photo Focus, where I examine a single photograph. These short essay’s will give a greater insight into the individual image beyond its context within a group of photographs. Furthermore, this is inspired by an idea a professor of mine always discussed in graduate school. He would talk about what about the photograph brought the viewer in and kept his or her attention. I discuss what personally draws me to the particular photograph and hope that that gives you an entrance as well.


Sebastian Cortes, Jhaveri House

I know everyone is shocked, a photograph where the dominant element is architecture. I love architecture, especially in India. I think I am drawn to the photographs of others because I rarely make an excellent architectural photograph. Though, I have made a few. This photograph is by Sebastian Cortes, titled Jhaveri House. It was taken in Sidhpur, Gujarat. The photograph has two qualities that attract my attention. It’s formal qualities and the fact that I see it as being influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

This photograph, Jhaveri House,is a wide angle photograph of what I assume is a house or housing complex. The structure is so large, it does not fit inside the picture frame. The building dominates three-fourths of the image, it is also the entire background of the photograph. The bottom fourth of the photograph is filled by the street running in front of the structure. Furthermore, in the center bottom of the frame, directly in front of the buildings entrance is a man riding a bicycle.

This photograph employs multiple elements and principles of design. For one, it is almost monochromatic, meaning it is all one color. The photograph is mostly shades of grey. However, along the bottom of the building is a reddish brown strip and in the top right hand corner there is a hint of a tree, which is green. It is these hits of color that let you know this is a color photograph and not a black and white one.

The photograph also employs repetition. The buildings design is the dominant element of the photograph and it is somewhat ornate. The top half of the photograph is dominated by verticality of the structure. It is vertically divided into thirteen sections. Each section is divided in half by a decorative square, which I presenter as balconies. The center section has a rounded or half circle balcony, giving it unity with a hint of variety. The bottom third of the building has a large square structure in the center., most probably the entryway. There are six vertical windows on either side which are recessed into space creating an exterior walkway under the first floor of the building. There are also two columns, one on either side of the entryway, between the third and fourth windows. The photograph screams symmetry on a vertical axis.

Scale is also an important element in this photograph. The man on the bicycle is dwarfed by the architecture. It seems as if civilization is closing in on him. The scale relationship reminds me of a painting by Chinese painter Fan Kuan who’s scale is on a much larger scale. His painting, Travelers amid Mountain Streams (see below), made between the 10th and early 11th centuries,  is about the grandeur of nature an dhow nature is bigger and more powerful than humanity. However, made several centuries later, this photograph shows the power of humanity. Nature is almost completely obliterated in this photograph, save for the small amount of leaves visible in the upper right hand corner. In our strides to make the planet more comfortable for ourselves we selectively snuff out nature.

travelers amid mountain streams

Fan Kuan, Travelers amid Mountain Streams

I see the influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson in the photograph through the idea of the decisive moment. For Cartier-Bresson this meant finding an interesting space and then waiting for someone or a group of people to activate the space in an interesting way. It feels as if Cortes set up his shot of the building from across the street and waited. Then when the the man on the bike came along he took the photograph. Thus stressing the scale of the building.

Cortes employed specific principles and elements of design to create a simple yet stunning photograph. Many of his photographs are actually of interiors, but I love this exterior shot. His classically and formally framed photographs let the viewer know that he wants to show reverence to the spaces he chooses. He wants their histories to be visible in the photographs. He is a true master from whom we can learn a lot.




By |2016-11-10T20:01:30-06:00August 26th, 2016|Photo Focus|0 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an assistant professor of art in the state of New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico for this job she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. Between September 2015 and May 2017, she took a break from teaching to pursue art, research and life in India. Now she is back to teaching and part-timing it in India.

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