When I saw this on the front of today’s G2, against a black background rather than the white here, I thought this was a splendid photograph; 14 hours after I first looked at it, sat on the tube, somewhere between Blackhorse Road and Tottenham Hale, I still do.
The nurse – a man or a woman, you can’t tell which – carrying the child but totally separated from it by the protective gear; the ash-coloured ground and the orange-red of the plastic sheeting, making it look as if they’re emerging from a fire; and then there’s the blue bag in the nurse’s left hand – you don’t necessarily want to know what’s in it – as it says on the sign at the left of the picture, it’s suspect. The overall impression is one of science fiction or horror; something is very wrong here…
But also, as well as the emotional impact of the photograph, it seems to fit neatly into where I’m just now mid way through The Art of Photography. The orange and red leap out at you (in the printed version everything is darker and richer with the nurse’s boiler suit definitely in the orange part of the spectrum rather than online as here where it is more yellow; the picture is slightly more tightly cropped too) offset by the contrasting small bits of blue running down the side of the tent, making a line with the carrier bag and the pale blue of the nurse’s face mask . There is none of the lively vibrancy you sometimes get with light, warm colours – the orange is Guantanamo Jumpsuit not something more cheery; the reds are danger beware, not warmth. All of this colour is emphasised by slight underexposure – the white tent is a greyish off-white and not flaring; the shadows in the background are a very black black.
And then there’s the formal composition of the image: the way it is broken up into squares and rectangles by the horizontal and vertical lines that run through the whole scene, apart from the framed clear rectangle in the lower central third of the picture filled by the nurse and the child, striding towards us.
It may seem cold to attempt this sort of distanced analysis of what’s going on to make the picture work, but I do feel that it marks a few steps forward from where I was in April when the course started. In April, I’d have gone “That’s good” and read the article and moved on; now I feel better equipped to assess what makes it good. This is progress, I think.