Ian Talbot: Retrospective – Four Squares 03 :: Formal Concerns







Chapter 37 of the ongoing series Ian Talbot : Retrospective by British fine art photographer Ian Talbot.







Four Squares 03 :: Formal Concerns



© Ian Talbot


“Content, of course, is not identical with subject matter, because in the arts subject matter itself serves only as form for some content. But the representation of objects by visual patterns is one of the form problems encountered by most artists. Representation involves a comparison between the model object and its image. Since the image is hardly ever a mechanically exact copy, some questions arise. What conditions must be observed to make an image recognizable? What kinds of visual concept do artists use to represent objects? What accounts for the variety of these concepts?” Art and Visual Perception, Rudolf Arnheim


The above quote explains the problems and issues that I have attempted to explore in my “Formal Concerns” series better and more succinctly than I ever could taken as it is from still the classic work on the subject, so I have little to add here except for some detail on the making of the particular image shown.

As you would guess, the actual subject matter is unimportant and only served as examples of the shapes that I wished to use. As with all the images in this series, the objects are square, distressed mirror tiles and the background scratched metal; actually nothing more than an old baking tray. I chose “distressed” objects only because I find them, visually, more interesting than pristine ones. There is no further significance to the choice.

The above information is given only to illustrate that the “subject matter”, chosen for its “shape” become the elements by which I have constructed the “form” of the image. In this case the “form” is obviously not four squares but a cross. If the image has a “subject” it is merely as the cross, or the letter “X” if you like.

It is accepted wisdom that light objects appear closer and darker objects recede yet here the eye will readily accept that the form of the “X” floats above the lighter background, so stubbornly does the brain insist on the primacy of known patterns or shapes; and that even though the “X” in fact doesn’t exist as an object but is only, as I have said, a constructed form. However, interestingly it is possible, with an effort of will, to “force” the opposite reading of the spatial positioning of the elements. It is even possible to induce a visual effect where this positioning “oscillates” between the two alternatives, once again requiring only an effort of the “will” to read the image thus. From this more obvious and simple example I went on to explore these issues in greater complexity, of which more in a future post.


    Ian Talbot

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