a photo study: contemplative photography XII – seeing space

I’m continuing this series of contemplative photography with an exploration of the element of space.  Andy Kerr and Michael Wood at Seeing Fresh note that the challenge in their space assignment is to shift our intention from seeing forms in space to seeing visual space itself; that is, the space that surrounds things and space that is between things.

Opening myself to seeing space as around and between objects

John McQuade and Miriam Hall invited me to drop my orientation to things by introducing dot-in-space.  My understanding of dot-in-space began with a review of a previous post a photo study: negative space in which I wrote:

In photography negative space is perhaps the most important element as it embraces the subject within your image — the element of interest — helping it stand out and inviting the viewer’s attention.  It is the aspect within a photograph that generally doesn’t attract much attention.  It is sometimes referred to as white space and has the potential to change what appears to be an average subject into an outstanding image. 

It is easy to focus our attention on the subject, on what we see as the most important element of the photograph. Adding to or taking away negative space affects the subject within an image as they effectively become smaller or larger within the frame of your image. 

simplification and negative space

McQuade and Hall write:

When we see, we always see something. … Seeing something means that we see a foreground dot against a background space…you cannot simply see or make an image of space. An image of the clear, blue sky would not likely be a perception or an image of space.  It might look somewhat blank and not very dynamic, but perception is always dynamic… A cloud in the sky would cause the sky itself to fall into the background of the cloud, which then becomes the foreground (the dot.)

dot in foreground
space in foreground

In photographing space, McQuade and Hall suggest that I invert the relationship between the dot and the space so that the dot becomes a supportive element for dynamic space.  When the dot recedes to the visual background, the space element assumes the function of the foreground.   The dot (which often occupies an edge or corner of an image) then, serves as an anchor.

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McQuade and Hall furthers their discussion of space by encouraging the photographer to open the self to the subtlety of space which moves beyond the dot and to the experience of space.  Within this level, a trace element of the dot within these images are always present, but it is not the focus.

…the main quality of visual space is that it is pervasive…it is a feature of the whole perception.

…pay attention to how your eye and mind react. If one, your eye doesn’t land somewhere, but instead, is buoyed by an overall space; and if two, your mind does not fixate somewhere but, at least initially, rests in a sense of expanse, then this is an equivalent image of space. 

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As with all mind shifts this aspect of contemplative photography has nudged me outside my usual way of seeing the world.  Negative space in other photographic genres is a means to embrace the subject within your image — the element of interest — helping it stand out.  In contrast, contemplative photography invites the subject to move into the background so that space becomes the element of interest.

As always I would love to read your comments and view your images.  Let’s tag with #aphotostudy.

Within the website Seeing Fresh, visitors will find an introduction to Karr and Wood’s discussion of contemplative photography as well as a series of photographic assignments on color, texture, simplicity, light, and space that include representative images.

5 replies to “a photo study: contemplative photography XII – seeing space

    1. Thanks Allan…this study journey has been a series of nudges for me as it encourages me to step outside my own perceived limitations.

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