Through The Viewfinder: Space, Context, and Attention
4 Nov 2008
Earlier this year JPG held a photo challenge called Through the Viewfinder. Most of the photos in the TtV challenge seem to concentrate on the feel the viewfinder gives: a change in contrast, a framing, the marks of the viewfinder all add a visual nostalgia.
But I think TtV offers something else that most of the photos in that challenge ignored. It gives you a chance to play with space, context, and the attention of your viewer. To do this you have to shoot the viewfinder as only part of the photo. Most of the photos in the challenge were shot (following the example provided in the challenge description) so that only the viewfinder itself was visible.
Shooting the world outside the viewfinder adds more zing. The extra space gives you room to put the viewfinder's image in context. The space around the viewfinder gives new possibilities for composition. And lastly, the smaller image on the viewfinder means that the viewer has to really focus on the image to perceive it.
The area outside the viewfinder can add to the feel of the image on glass. This is the effect I was attempting in the shots of this essay. For me, the inclusion of background elements adds quite a lot to these images. I find that the full photos produce more reaction than cropped versions that feature only the image on the glass.
One of the great things about TtV is that you can play with spatial relationships. Waist-level viewfinders have a right-angle view that can offer a new perspective. There's quite a lot of pleasure for me in reconstructing the image path in complex shots, especially like the photos by other JPG members that I link to below. In my photos I did this slightly differently; the vantage point of each photo can be seen in one of the other shots.
Having the frame-within-frame of a viewfinder shot allows you to change the geometry of the composition. I particularly like the contrast between the square format viewfinder compo and the standard 3:2 aspect ratio of my digital camera.
A while back the Getty Museum in Los Angeles had an exhibition of work by Andre Kertesz. One thing that really struck me were a number of prints there that were tiny, on the order of two inches or so. They draw you in, these tiny prints, they make you focus on the subjects because your eyes have to strain to see the detail that you know is there. You lean forward, and concentrate with your whole body.
When the viewfinder image is a small part of the overall composition you get this same effect.
Please check out this selection of work from other JPG members. If I could put other people's work in my essay I would have missed out my images entirely. The selections below illustrate these principles in a very tangible fashion.
You can find many more such photos on this site by searching for keywords like TtV, viewfinder, or view finder.