This month's self-assignment will show you how to use a powerful compsitional tool called interrupted form to add depth and an illusion of spatial reality to yout photographs. But before we get into the use of interrupted form, let's take a brief look at some art history to see how the tool was discovered and developed. We'll begin by examining a seemingly unrelated and lowly object, the picture's frame!
In the beginning, frames had nothing to do with canvas art. Prehistoric picture makers scratched or painted their designs directly on the cave wall, and a frame wasn't needed. As mankind progressed and modes of housing improved, so did modes of art. Pictures painted directly on a wall could not easily be changed when an artist tired of them. Worse yet, medieval plastered walls contained chemicals that attacked the artists's pigments and eventually destroyed the painting. So, in the quest for portability and durability, artists were forced to use other materials as a base for their painting. The began with wood and ended with canvas, but whatever the material, the painting was no longer an integral part of the wall and had to be attached to it. Thus, the the frame was developed as a device for hanging a picture.
Why is the development of this device so important? Because the frame not only served the utilitarian purpose of supporting the picture for hanging, it served an aesthetic purpose as well. It created a border around the picture and separated the canvas painting's contents from the surrounding environment. In doing this, the frame became a window to another world, the world contained in the painting. And in acting as a window, the frame affected the composition of the picture. To see how, let's look at how the frame was used by the classical artists of the Renaissance.
Renaissance painters regarded the frame as a necessary evil. They used it to support the picture for hanging, to provide the picture with a decorative surrounding, and to establish the the pictorial-window illusion just discussed. But they nevern regarded the frame as an integral part of the picture or as an integral part of the picture's composition. Instead, they treated the frame as a separate boundary, a boundary that established limits to the pictorial area, a boundary that contained the picture but never cut into it or became a part of it. As a result, the Renaissance artists carefully composed their pictures within the boundaries of the window-like frame, and that window separated the real world of the viewer from the illusionary world presented in the painting. This Renaissance attitude regarding the use of the frame lasted until the middle of the 19th Century, when it was unseated by the monumental discovery of a new pictorial medium--photography!
Early photographers were not used to the all-encompassing vision of the camera. In taking a picture, they concentrated their seeing on a main or central subject and often failed to notice other, less important subject matter that fell within the pictorial area, the area surrounded by what we now refer to as the pictorial frame. The camera, however, reproduced everything that fell within the frame. Previously unnoticed objects were not only included in the picture, they were often included in a way that had not been seen before ... with their forms being cut into or "interruped" by the boundaries of the picture. Most of the photographers, many of whom were artists experimenting with the medium, regarded the interrupted form as a faulty mistake that was to be avoided in the future shots. But a few visionaries, such as the painter Edgar Degas, recognized this so called fault for what it really was--a powerful compositional tool that could be used to enhance a picture's spatial reality by increasing the illusion of depth.
to understand why interruptive framing creates more depth than noninterruptive framing, let's compare the two. When a picture's border cuts into or interrupts a form within the picture, our eyes are drawn to that interruption, and we are forced to notice the border. This forced attention serves to establish the border as a near spatial plane, and the forms that are overlapped by that plane appear to be much closer to us than other forms within the picture that are not overlapped by the border. As a result, the picture gains an illusion of depth and an enhanced realism. Conversely, a noninterrupting border doesn't draw attention to itself and remains visually unimportant. Here, the border is not established as a plane, and depth is not added to the picture.
Now that we understand the principle of interrupted form, leths put it to use in a self-assignment:
1. Go through you old pictures and, using a pair of cropping L's, see if you can recrop them to produce an interrupted form. Then, study the effect of the cropping and note how it enhances the illusion of depth.
2. Shoot the series of different scenes. Take two shots of each scene; one shot using noninterruptive framing and a second with interruptive framing. Process the film and compare the results.
By the time you finish this assignment, you'll have enforced your understanding of interrupted form and honed your skill in using it--all of which will definitely make you a better photographer!