Assignment One – Contrasts
Johanne Itten’s contrasts was definitely a challenge. Not only did this cause much consternation trying to capture an image, but capture an image of what exactly? The first part was to get to grips with the language and what those adjectives “mean”. When something is described as “liquid” what attributes are being defined? A single word is liberating, yet enslaving. A contrast in itself.
I was also drawn to Barthes distinctions between “operator” “referent” and “spectator”. I would take a photo of scene before me that I felt captured an essence, a characteristic or mood, study it, and have a completely different reaction to it post capture. It seemed that depicting these contrasts was elusive, subjective, and often variable, depending on the “spectator” within me. What exactly is the right single word to describe a scene before us? A scene that can be captured and depicted in many differing ways, from different perspectives: an infinity of options….
Some images could clearly fulfil the remit easily, or rather, several of the adjectives could equally apply to any single image. The challenge was finding a couplet that was harmonious when compared to each other. I often found that having chosen or captured a defining image, when seen in comparison and contrast with, its “partner”, the image pairing “lacked”. It was a quiet revelation that a contrast “changed” when contrasted! I felt that of the final grouping, these were as succesful a pairing as the current skills and humble creativity would allow.
Straight and Rounded:
The strong verticals of this office block (“Straight” – above) contrast strongly with “Rounded” (below). Also a strong contender for “opaque” this image has a dynamic that extends beyond the frame, imparting a sense of heady verticality into the clouds.
Anish Kapoor’s “Tall Tree and the Eye”, a collection of reflective spheres distort, reflect and refract light around the spectator, creating a warped and curved view of the surrounding environment. “Rounded” seemed a fitting description.
Still and Moving:
“Still” (below) was a captured quiet moment amongst a throng of bustling pedestrians outside a busy attraction. The central framing gave a static presence and I felt that the “referent”‘s moment of quite reflection (they stopped to read their map!) was also a moment of calm and stillness in their day.
“Moving” (below) depicts the opposite of “Still” (above). The image of a high flying plane, heading who knows where, at some absurd velocity, is anything but still. The composition lends a dynamic to the image, reinforced by the vapour trail and the assumed movement of the object on its way out of frame…. And yet, it was taken at a moment of calm, high in the mountains, peaceful, unhurried, restful…still.
Diagonal and Curved:
“Diagonal” (below) presented so many options and interpretations; from gently implied eye movements along some subtly inferred line to a strong graphic depiction. Obviously, I went for graphic depiction. The image of a corner of a building was so strident, so obvious, that it selected itself. I pondered on the simplicity and obviousness of the image as depicting “diagonal”, and yet it was so strong, the colour contrasts so powerful that going for the obvious here seemed…obvious.
“Curved” (below) was less obvious. Again, “curved” could have been construed and depicted from any construction of eye-leading elements, yet the chosen image builds its “curvature” from several elements. The wide lens used adds a distortion to the verticals, and the repetition of the arches on several levels leading to a perception of being within a dome, in which of course the spectator is placed by the strong elements. The further contrast of the architecture and the placing in time of these images adds to their contrasting subjects. The modern, emotionless, almost brutal,external lines of the office block, contrasted with the ornate, excessive, and internal lines of this religious amphitheatre.
Broad and Narrow:
“Narrow” (below) conjures images of constriction, limitation, of circumscription. As I pondered these words I recalled squeezing through “chimneys” when I climbed rock faces. At first, my intention lay in that area, to capture that heady mix of fear, of limited movement, and enclosure, but considering a coupling that was less obvious with “broad” seemed to offer more options. Here “narrow” is still depicted as constraining, of having a potential for darkness and being uncomfortable. The image tries to capture the verticality of the passage, the effort and strains needed to surmount this “chimney” and emerge from these straits into a broader aspect.
The concept of “broad” offered an obvious opportunity to contrast the tunnel vision of ginnels and alleyways with broad natural landscapes and vistas. With “Broad” (below) the open populated plaza and the wide elaborate, bright frontage of the Royal Palace offered a different concept of broad from that of herds of Wildebeest sweeping majestically across open savannas. The view of the Palace, with free roaming pedestrians, the expanse of sky, and the slightly elevated perspective gives a sense of panorama, even though it is clearly urban.
Transparent and Opaque:
I grappled with these opposites. “Transparent” (below) attempts to capture the essence of transparency by making the image less transparent. How do you depict an object that allows a complete unhindered passage of light, in a medium that depends upon light to capture that quality, a conundrum indeed. This glass bottle, with its imperfections and distortions, creates a diffusion of light and yet allows its shape and function to be discerned.
“Opaque”: transparent is clearly…clear! But “opaque”? For me “opaque” is not the opposite of transparent, as in a complete lack of transparency, it is not total obscurity, but retains an element of perception within it. A misty morning may hide the details of the trees, but shapes and forms and varying levels of brightness betray that something lies beyond the diffusing element. Opaque is a barely discernable level above complete occlusion. This image of an office building has a glass façade proud of the main glass walls protecting the workers. This façade deflects UV light and keeps the main building cool but also adds an element of privacy and protection from scrutiny, the workers can see out, but the view within the building is obscured, especially so from angles that reflect.
Soft and Hard:
“Soft” has many possible depictions, but here, the flower, the low light, the way the main elements diffuse into soft focus, imbue an air of a hazy, lazy evening. The delicate wings of the Bees adds to this effect.
“Hard” (below) exploits a harsh direct sunlight onto a solid geometric roof line, producing deep shadows and bright contrasting highlights. The texture of the adobe walls, with its sandy, granular surface also imparts a perception of roughness.
Liquid and Solid:
Probably the most trying adjective to capture. “Liquid” has many properties, and can be attributed to many substances and characteristics. Wanting to avoid water as the obvious medium I was drawn to this pattern of molten rock, a lava flow from a recently erupted Volcano. The contortions and twists of the rock show the fluidity of rock at high temperatures and offered an interesting alternative to “liquid”.
“Solid” (below) tries to capture the “substantiality” of solidness, the stability and “authority” that “solid” conjures. This image of almost white vertical marble slabs and the dark Titanium metal walls of the Guggenheim, gives a sense of walled protection, surrounding the pedestrians, who also provide a contrast in scale and movement.
Large and Small:
This image of “Large” (below) looks up at a looming tower, and a bright midday sun. The angle portrays the height and vertiginous nature of the tower, and yet grants the spectator a sense of smallness in its presence.
“Small” (below) evokes a sense of solitude and isolation under a vast open sky. The implied wilderness of the desert adds to the atmosphere.
“Large AND Small”
A single image to depict a contrast? Several fit the bill, however the image of this immense wave crashing against a basalt cliff face depicts the immense power of the ocean. The contrast with the frail, exposed, “frozen” watchers of this gigantic wave is stark. It takes a moment to notice the small figures standing just a few metres from the tsunami that is about to engulf them (it doesn’t…the complex wave pattern never reaches this viewpoint..they’re safe).
Overall an enjoyable and challenging first assignment. Some considerable time spent pondering on meanings and how to depict them visually, looking for subject matter that fulfilled the criteria and desired intention, and cursing my fat fingers, dodgy eyes and lack of creative thought. Overall, some images communicate the concepts well, some pairings work better than others, and technically the images could be improved. Getting to grips with compositions that worked, looking for balance and lines and colour, and working with the technical elements (shutter speeds, depth of field, exposure settings) was testing and highlighted a number of areas of improvement. The biggest lesson was learning to think a little more. Time seemed to be the biggest lesson. Dont rush, consider the elements in the view finder a little more, check settings… Experience will improve these basic skills and awareness, but until then, I still think that any “good” images are fortunate rather than planned… Hopefully I can shift the ratio in my favour, and away from the gods..