When to go poly.

I'm a huge fan of polyptychs. Polyptychs are combinations of images that are intended to be seen together as a singular work of art. Photography is the art of a still image. But there are times when one image doesn't work completely, and you get into long-form photojournalism, or editorial photography. Those, too, are great when you have the guiding vision to make them work.

But there's a middle ground. There's a time when a few images, displayed together, make one final work of art. Perhaps it has to do with my own personal art experiences, but two of these that work really well, in my opinion, grow out of their use in traditional painting. A lot of western, often religious, paintings, like The Garden of Earthly Delights,  use the format to separate thematically distinct pieces of a work that belong together. The Japanese tradition of breaking apart one image across three paintings, partly because of standard paper sizes, and using the negative space of the wall for aesthetic purposes is one that I think appeals to me more, particularly in the high-resolution modern photography world, where one high-resolution image can be cropped into a tryptic that still prints quite large. 

There's one more sort of polyptych that catches my eye, and I find myself using it more often. It's a sort of mimicking the fluid, changing nature of cinematography by creating a polyptych of images that are slightly separated by time. It allows a still photographer to use techniques like racking focus that would be unavailable in a single image. And maybe I'm showing my age here, but it can be used to mimic the look of holding a piece of cinema film up to the light, and being able to see each of the individual photos next to each other. 

The thing about any photo is asking yourself what it brings to the viewer. There's a word that's had an older usage slowly fade, despite it being more and more relevant in the modern era: being a bore. There's a sense of the word that doesn't mean the simple uninteresting meaning that the modern boring carries, but of a person that is gratifying their own ego by continuing communication, insensitive to the lack of value it has to the audience. There are a lot of bores on the internet. I try really hard to not be one of them. According to most people, I probably fail. But I think about it.

I think about it when I'm deciding which photos to show, and which photos to keep to myself. And it's the guiding logic I use to build polyptychs. A sort of Hemingwaysian guide to building polyptychs: Do not use the extra image if it is not necessary. If one image accomplishes your goal, do that. If it's two or three or four, do that. The more images in your polyptych, the more likely the mistake you're making is including unnecessary images.