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

Chapter 38 of the ongoing series Ian Talbot : Retrospective by British fine art photographer Ian Talbot.

Two Squares 03 :: Formal Concerns

© Ian Talbot

“Shape is determined by more than what strikes the eye at the time of observation. The experience of the present moment is never isolated. It is the most recent among an infinite number of sensory experiences that have occurred throughout the person’s past life. Thus the new image gets into contact with the memory traces of shapes that have been perceived in the past.” Art and Visual Perception, Rudolf Arnheim

Consider the image shown here. Do you instantly read it as an image of two square tiles? Even though to a greater or lesser degree neither tile appears as a perfect square? All previous experience would indicate, nonetheless, that they are indeed squares the right tile being somehow tipped so as the left edge is closer to the viewer. There are, however, no real firm spatial clues in the image that this is the case. Even the lower edges of the two tiles are aligned in a straight line unlike the two top edges. On the surface the shapes are ambiguous, even disturbingly so.

Past experience would inform one that the likelihood that the objects are, in fact, square tiles is extremely high of course. After all, apart from anything else, why would anybody manufacture tiles of such odd shape. Apart from that the brain itself has a natural urge to perceive shape in the simplest form possible; it actively wants to see right angles rather than “very nearly” right angles. This is so even when the “evidence” of one’s eyes mitigates against such a reading. Imagine, instead of the photographic image you see here, a line drawing tracing the actual shapes with no further clues given. Then the reading of the objects and their shape would probably be more problematic.

This image could be said to operate in the gap between what the eye perceives and the brain “knows”, or at least may think it “knows” on the balance of probability. It is in this gap that art may operate for the brain can often be easily fooled…

    Ian Talbot

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