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Archive for November 8th, 2020

The illusion of depth and perspective in an image is so beguiling that we—smart, scientific and skeptical—willingly suspend disbelief and get sucked into the illusion of receding  space created on a flat surface.

You don’t have to trek through Ecuador, like Fredric Erwin Church, to get this thrill.  Step out your front door and there you’ll find receding space as far as the eye can see even if that’s only to the end of the block.  Your camera will aid you because it will flatten the view for you, i.e. it will compact the three-dimensional reality in front of you into a framed two-dimensional surface.

When you treat yourself to a hike in the nearby state park, well, the phrase “as far as they eye can see” is ecstatically notched up.

The most powerful part is (1) because it’s the closest plant to the viewer and it sets the sense of scale.  All other plants—and that’s all we see—are therefore seen in relation to (1), with the result that we sense how far back they are.

You can compare this analysis to that of Fredric Edwin Church’s painting in the previous post.

The progression from foreground plants to distant hills –and pine trees way in the distance at upper left–occurs in similar layers. Church manipulates the gradations of color and light to heightened effect and just because he can.  In the photo, however, the gradations appear more subtle and to lovers of subtlety that effect may actually be more thrilling  than the technique in Church’s painting.

But wait, there’s more.  Even before you notice the little plant in the lower left corner, you want to look at this image.  It contains an approximation of the Golden Section.  You may not even know what that is, but our environment, both cultural and biological, has conditioned you to like this ratio.

The photographer may not have made all these compositional calculations consciously. This sense can be cultivated intuitively.

Knowing how to analyze why this works does not in the least spoil the pleasure of perception.  On the contrary, look how it deepens your experience.

(Click image for enlargement.)

Mary Shieldsmith ,  Brown County State Park, 2020

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