Synecdoche: The Essence of Images

Table of Contents Visible SynecdocheTemporal Synecdoche I was having difficulties as a result of Caesar…

I was having difficulties as a result of Caesar in 10th quality Latin class when I initial listened to the expression “synecdoche” (although the expression is from the Greek) — it is a figure of speech wherever a section of some thing is utilised to stand for the total. Now, common synecdoche consist of “threads” to imply outfits, as in “dig these new threads I’m sporting.” Or “boots on the ground” when conversing about troopers. Or “she received a interesting established of wheels” to indicate a new car.

Around that similar time, I was slipping deeply into photography, and it always appeared to me that a photograph was a synecdoche as well. And comprehension that rhetorical machine aided me evolve in the way I captured subjects in pictures. So although a synecdoche is definitely a literary form, I’ve constantly felt its software was broader.

Rubin, Coit Tower 3:15AM (2015) — a synecdoche of the renowned monument.

Visible Synecdoche

The entire world is all close to us, in 360 degrees, all the time, wealthy in visual details, and a photograph is a little small rectangle we use to clip out a little bit of visual room. We don’t show everything, we display this frame. And we be expecting that compact frame to characterize more than just that slice.

But even additional than that, the way the photograph slices up visual space to depict points can be fairly poetic. When we change from “obvious” to “obscure” occasionally we’re shifting from a headshot to a thing indirect.

Adam Savage and the Maltese Falcon (Rubin, 2008).

Here’s a picture of Adam Savage keeping his awesome duplicate of the Maltese Falcon. It’s a good Apple iphone snapshot, a typical type of documenting portrait. But to build a much more interesting portrait of him I didn’t need his facial area shot, absolutely lit, plainly representing almost everything going on — that could really feel like as well a lot, also normal, also clear I could get a image of his arms, just a bit of the statue peeking out. That is a synecdoche. Or a profile. Or a shadow. It doesn’t have to be a huge entire doc, it can be just a section, and I use that to depict the total.

Adam Savage and the Maltese Falcon (Rubin, 2008)

It was not a massive cognitive leap, of course. I was familiar with vintage images like Alma Lavenson’s self-portrait (just her arms close to her camera), and even Kertesz’s portrait of Piet Mondrian, just his pipe and glasses (which I might argue is far more metonymy*, but we’re splitting hairs.)

Alma Lavenson, Self Portrait (1932).

Below are other of my portraits that are far more poetic as visible synecdoche.

Musician Joan Baez (Rubin, 1998)
Artist Gronk (Rubin, 2015)
Film editor Kate Sanford (Rubin, 2015)
Musician Butterscotch (Rubin, 2016)

Images can depict our meant subjects instantly, but they can also be synecdoche, and stand for them extra obliquely.

Temporal Synecdoche

Images also slice a teeny fraction of a 2nd from the infinite continuum that is time. I take this 125th of a 2nd and conserve it, and use it to characterize all these seconds, all these times — of the bash, of the family vacation, of my afternoon. This is also a sort of synecdoche — a split 2nd representing an occasion.

It is effective on a larger sized scale too. I’m on vacation, and I really do not need to photograph everything I see, every working day of the getaway. I’m not a journalist covering the function. This is not my job. I’m in my existence. I really don’t have to stay at the rear of the camera and practical experience almost everything by means of that filter. My photos sample the time I’m absent.

I could just take a couple of photographs 1 day, and they could characterize the entire vacation — a few fractions of a 2nd and they signify two weeks in Paris. When you want to see my photographs from the vacation, I never clearly show you all 3000 shots I took I cull that established down to 20… or 3… and these get posted to Instagram or pasted in a scrapbook. They represent.

This is how photos come to be iconic. Think of all the good news pics that may perhaps have began as a snapshot of a thing — like the flag being elevated on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal — the impression of that minute has appear to signify a thing quintessentially patriotic, a type of synecdoche.

Temporal synecdoche of my daughter. 2019. Immediately after months of driving all over jointly working towards, this was the moment of her driver’s take a look at. I didn’t require additional than 1 picture to seize that interval of our life jointly.
2012. A second excised from hundreds of similar times of us actively playing gin in San Francisco.

I used to feel that the enhancing approach associated hunting for the quintessential picture shot of some thing, the legendary picture. I have appear to think that any number of shots may well be a very good illustration of a individual or celebration, and the simple fact is that the collection method is what helps make a person impression iconic. Like staying on the protect of Daily life journal or remaining revealed in a museum. There are many appropriate responses, but you pick one, and that highlight raises a photograph to a new stage.

Synecdoche is the essence of pictures impression-makers are continuously choosing bits of room and time to describe their encounters. It is the defining attribute of the art type. And after you completely grasp this thought, it liberates your picture-having to be more ingenious and poetic. Consider it.


*Metonymy is equivalent, but it is not a section of the issue symbolizing the full factor, but some other connected object — like declaring “The Crown” to necessarily mean the queen. In pictures, this would mean the portrait didn’t genuinely have any of the individual in it, but just their stuff. We do this all the time in visual storytelling — it’s a reduce-away shot that provides texture and flavor.


P.S. If you appreciate this way of approaching pictures I stimulate you to take one of my workshops by the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. There are periodic 3-week online programs (6 periods), and this summertime there is an in-human being 1-week intense that should really be exciting for any creative amateur, possibly if you have plateaued, come to feel like you are fantastic at picture having, but want to force by yourself. Anyway, Thanks for listening.


About the writer: Michael Rubin, formerly of Lucasfilm, Netflix and Adobe, is a photographer and host of the podcast “Daily Images, Each Working day.” The views expressed in this write-up are exclusively all those of the author. To see more from Rubin, pay a visit to Neomodern or give him a adhere to on Instagram. This report was also released in this article.


Picture credits: Header photo from Depositphotos. All other photographs copyright © 2021 MH Rubin.