Showing posts with label backshots. Show all posts
Showing posts with label backshots. Show all posts

Thursday, June 15, 2017


I used to storyboard for a live-action director named Colin Higgins, and Colin told me to use back shots as frequently as possible, because it's a great way to reveal character. I agree and I used to call for it in animation sometimes, though I probably shouldn't have. Only a few classic animators like Tom McKimson felt comfortable with this angle, and most modern animators probably dread it. Anyway, back shots are what we're talking about here.

The old Pakistani man on the right (above) seems to be suffering from osteoporosis, and from a side view he'd probably appear like a question mark. The squared shoulder, the half-hidden head, and the gentle and wise position of the arms and hands seem to tell you all you need to know about him. This is an exceptional amount of information, even for a back shot.

The girl in green (above, left) is wearing a light and airy, unpretentious house dress. The hairstyle is neat and practical, the attitude of the body is confident and contented. She's a likable person, all the more because she appreciates the positive visual impact of clothing wrinkles!

Two people who are worlds apart: The bridesmaid full of anxiety, with the bondage strings in the back (above, left), and the traditional old woman, making her way down the street in a shapeless, widow's dress. You admire the older woman because you know she's devoted thousands of hours to bringing up a family.

Osteoporosis (above) again, though a milder case. The jacket is modest but not unfashionable, and the hat is color co-ordinated. High-heeled boots. Maybe this woman is an artist. The spindly legs disappearing up into the jacket, come to an odd end at the top where the hips are unexpectedly wide. It creates a mystery, which is a very considerate thing to do for the people who walk behind you.

You see lots of back shots like this (above) in drawings made a hundred years ago. The jacket is tight around the shoulders with gravity pulling down loose fabric in the back. It's the perfect suit for a tall, older man on the go, someone who was used to thinking on his feet and giving orders. The interior volume of the umbrella makes a perfect contrast. He's taking large, manly strides.

Holy mackerel! An interesting dress (above)! It's inappropriate because it's too tight, but that doesn't prevent her from projecting a strong personality. She thinks she looks good in it, and her confidence wins us over; besides, she's probably doing it to impress a guy, and whenever a girl dresses to impress a guy can't help but be flattered.

I always find myself rooting for girls like this, hoping they'll get the get the guy they're after. I always want to know their story. Everybody should possess some clothes that that subtly suggest a backstory.

Whew! Another strong contrast! The woman on the left (above) is vain, overly fashion-conscious, probably flaky, maybe abuses pills...but, she makes an effort to please, and that makes up for some sins.

The woman on the right (above) is earthy and self-confidant, probably more intelligent than people give her credit for. She's independent, proud that she thinks for herself, maybe not open as open to new ideas as she should be. I always think this is a wrong life strategy.

You should never be self-contained. There should always be a part of you that needs other people, and can be hurt by them. I think people should always be somewhat incomplete without other people, regardless of the consequences. But what do I know?

BTW: The pictures are all by Maira Kalman. Sorry, I can't remember the name of her book.

Friday, May 13, 2011


The best sexy backshot of a woman ever drawn has to be the one Wood drew of Louis Lane for "Superduperman."

You'd think that a having a jacket like Lane's would break the clean line of the silhouette, and maybe it does, but it doesn't matter. The shoulders and lower back on the jacket form an arrow pointing down to the butt. The flare on the jacket bottom acts like a rising theater curtain, creating a reveal for what's below. 

Wood rightly perceived that seamed stockings trump unseamed ones, at least in cartoon drawings. That fine little line catches your eye, and makes you want to follow it upward.

Seams (above) are no longer a manufacturing necessity, they're there for looks.

While I'm on the subject of backshots, I can't resist mentioning that I like the dynamism in photos that show a woman walking briskly away from the camera.

Does this (above) remind you of the Don Martin's gag where the chivalrous men shoehorn a fat lady onto an escalator?

Painter John Currin's women (above) would never have that problem. They're designed for the modern urban environment.   

Monday, May 09, 2011


I promised to write more about Geoff Dyer's book of photography essays, and here I keep that promise. Reading Dyer, I'm amazed how many discoveries were necessary to bring us to the point that photography's at now, where it's universally considered an art form, and can handle almost any subject we throw at it.

Take the Ben Shahn picture of a sheriff's back above. In 1935 when this picture was taken, backs were a new subject for photography. Dyer says Dorothea Lange discovered them earlier that year, and the innovation spread like wildfire. Amazing as it sounds, backs had to be "discovered" by somebody!

I love this photo. Dyer's a British radical and he interprets the subject as a big American bottom and a big American gun. He extrapolates that this sheriff likes to sit a lot and probably spends a lot of time reading on the can. Haw! Maybe there's some truth in that.

What I see is a symbol for the fact that somebody's always regarding us and judging us, just as we're always regarding and judging others. We're like social insects who are always on the lookout for mutants and deviants.

Dyer, Lange and Shahn see authority figures (above) as lummoxes who are always looking to perch on something. It's a funny way to see the world, one that's very useful for cartoonists.

Some big people have the ability to enclose the space around them with their limbs. They carry with them a tiny universe and they're good at sucking you into it.

Lummoxes learn this behavior when they're kids by observing other lummoxes on the street. Most lummoxes are nice enough people but they're big and can't resist a little harmless intimidation of the skinny. It's just the way things are. It's lucky that we have cartoonists to point things like this out.

But I digress. The topic is backshots.

Even raggedy farm laborers (the Lange shot, above) possess great dignity in a backshot. When viewing somebody from the front we too often see what what we disagree with or take exception to. Look at the same person from the back, especially if that person is observing something and doesn't seem to be aware of us, and we see that person as a thinking human being...a noble creature who can take in information and make decisions of great importance.

Aaaargh! There's more to say, but I'll have to save it for another post!