The Academy 2016 / January Challenge: Figure / Ground

The Academy 2016 / January Challenge: Figure / Ground

Encounter © Knut Skjærven

You don’t want to stress too much in January. After all the celebration around Christmas and the expectations you have for 2017. In itself exhausting. 

Here comes the rather easy challenge for January 2017 though you might not think it is that easy at first glance.

It deals with the principle of FigureGround.  A principle and a discovery that was made by a Dane, Edgar Rubin (1886 – 1951), more than 100 years ago. You know, the small country near the top of Europe.  As we still know it.

Rubin is one of the forerunners of the gestalt tradition that is rooted in Berlin, Germany, with the trio of Wertheimer, Kohler and Koffka. 

Nowadays, Rubin is famously known for his Rubin’s Vase.

If you belong to curious classes you might have heard of it. If not, the chance is here now. Figure/Ground is what January is all about.

Rubin’s Vase.  Copied from the internet. Click image to open the source.

What is it with Rubin’s Vase that is so fascinating for visual communication and thus for street photography, and that you indeed you should know about? Answer: It is the possible ambiguity of visual statements. And how to control it.

Take a closer look at Rubin’s Vase. There are two visual messages in it.

The first is the vase. The second is the two faces turned towards each other.

Hopefully you are able to see both but if you are unfamiliar with Rubin’s Vase you might at first only see one of the two.

You have to make a visual shift to see both. Most importantly you cannot see both at the same time. 

How does this translate to street photography?

I suggest you spend some time studying and understanding the information hidden in the links in this post: Rubin and his Vase. When you have got the grasp of it you should hit the streets with your camera and train for the January Challenge.

Here is what you would want to do:

A) Take one or more pictures in which there are no doubt about what is “the vase” of your shot. Meaning that there should be no disturbing elements that confuse or challenge or stress the main message.

You don’t want to make an ambiguous photograph. You don’t want to take a photo where both vase and faces are hidden. (I told you it was going to be an easy challenge).

This implies that you need to keep the Ground neutral.

The Ground has nothing to do with what you are standing on. The Ground in this respect is simply the context or the background or the surrounding of the Figure. It is all what the Figure is not.

A few reflections on the photograph that accompanies the challenge description will make this clearer: The Figure of the shot is the 2 people taking photographs. Focusing on these, the Ground is the rest of the picture: The interior of the half-finished building (Berlin Palace).

Can a Figure then be more than one “item”? Sure it can. Just as in Rubin’s Vase where there are two faces facing each other. When you shoot for January don’t overdo the numbers. Limit the Figure as much as you can. One persons would be best.

Once again: Occam will be all over you when you load your photograph to our workplace at Facebook.  In other words you need to go for a clear and distinctive Figure in your capture. No second message, no disturbances please. The Figure has to be in visual charge of the photo.

You can  post up to 3 images during January. This somewhat restricted mission is to make sure that your admin don’t overwork. This implies that you need to do your homework before shooting and before posting. Don’t post randomly and ask for comments because you will not get any.

Make sure that you are active on the site and comment on what others post. Remember, if you post interesting and relevant pictures you are more likely to get comments.

All pictures posted have to be shot between January 1 and January last, 2017. Don’t post old stuff. It is part of the challenge that you take and post fresh only stuff.

Good luck with January. See you there.

 Copenhagen, December 28, 2016.

© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved.

#newstreetagenda #knutskjærven #knutskjaerven #oneverystreet #leicastreetphotography #streetphotography #academy2016 #theacademy2016

About author

Knut Skjærven

Knut Skjærven is a Norwegian photographer, writer and researcher working out of Copenhagen, Denmark.

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