Photo Essay

It isn't negative

Small Blue, Cupido minimus

Negative space sounds negative, depressing, morose or bad; but it should actually be identified as positive.

We tend to clutter things up. Our desks are a clutter of odd things: pens, paper, cough drops, scissors, loose buttons, paper clips, etc. Our lives are filled with the confusion and noise of social media which screams attention from every possible outlet: Facebook Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and our email boxes are cluttered with ignored updates from all of them, including all the impending threats of our computers exploding into the nether world from every available hoaxer and hacker.

The kitchen sink is cluttered with dishes from yesterday and our clothes litter the bathroom and hang miserably over the edge of the bathtub where we hurriedly dumped them this morning on the rush out the door.

Our pockets are stuffed with bits of paper with forgotten groceries jumbled with candy wrappers and loose buttons we tore off on the door knob or bits of string we dutifully salvaged from a yesterday something.

Our heads are cluttered with the screaming news blips that float down Facebook feeds that Aunt Jane is dyspeptic and going in for another drying out or the loud noise of Twitter with its political wars.

Outside the leaves are making a mess of the sidewalk by changing color and dropping like flies and the rotting plums are getting the last good go-over by wasps and hornets in the late autumn sun.

Every minute and second is filled with noise and every inch and millimeter is filled with clutter. Our lives are crowded, and still, there is more to jam into the small space called life. We feel crowded, packed like those miserable cheap sardines in olive oil.

That's when it's time to stop. If your lungs are filled with asbestos, it's not possible to breathe. Fish go belly-up when there's insufficient oxugen in the water. Only so many fish can survive in so little water,

If you can't grab all the candy, then choose carefully; take that which is most desired and savored.

Negative space is about that—it's about opening the bottle of fine old wine and letting it breathe and enjoying the boquet. It's about enjoying the space and using it to enhance your subject.

In music, it's an easy bad habit to disrespect the rest marks and rush through the piece. Galloping through a Mozart Minuet doesn't make the performer a genius or artist; but what truly marks great musicians is the ability to express the rest—the space where no note is executed. Sometimes rushing through music is from anxiety and the need to use every note up like a metronome gone schizophrenic.

The same can be in photography with the incessant need to fill the space and clutter the image with stuff.

Negative space is about removing or ignoring the clutter and expanding the space by leaving it "empty"

Negative space can create emotional images through simplicity: a forgotten hat on an empty wall, an empty chair in a vacant hall; a lone figure on beach; lone flower in a vase; dropped hankerchief on a floor; violets strewn on a mohangany table, a wilted abandoned rose.

Negative space can be used to explore the physical dynamics of your subject: the intricate whorls on a snail or the lovely elegance of a conch shell or feather on elemental white backgrounds.

Negative space can be used to create a world about an object through isolating the subject form the clutter around it.

Negative space can be used to show comparative size by focusing on a smaller object juxtapositioned by something larger.

Negative space can be used to show size or dimension by creating a unique environment such as a flea beetle or chrysomelid browsing on a petal.

Negative space can be used to create intimacy by drawing the viewer in under a canopy overhanging the upper edges.

Negative space can engage the viewer as a voyeur, tricking the audience to look.

Negative space can draw the viewer in through directional focus on the subject.

Negative space can frame an object so that it is memorably sweet as the plums in William Carlos Williams imagist poem:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably


for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

William Carlos Williams

Negative space is the haiku of photography; it's the reduction of something complex into an illusory simple image, stripping away the unnecessary noise and clutter and putting emphasis on a few carefully chosen elements to create a memorable impression.

It's not just empty space for empty space. It's not the midbreak pause between the long acts of Parsifal or Tannhauser where you crowd out to the gallery to get your wine and caviar and chatter with your friends about the tubist blasting away under the soprano's feet and the horn players engaged in a poker game on vacated orchestra chairs.

Negative space is more like that long suspended silence of an audience mesmerized by the solitary elegance of the final spin of a figure skater.

But however defined, negative space is not negative. It's that incredible wonderful opening of 2001, A Space Odyssey--the exploration of space and expansion into infinity even within the very close confines of a single image. It's all that dark area that surrounds the moon and planets. There is no such thing as negative space because in reality, there is always something there. The challenge is to use it deftly and create your own intimate universe and to bring the audience into that other world of illusion.

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2 responses

  • joselionel

    joselionel (Deleted) said (17 Oct 2018):

    Delicadeza en las tomas, contundencia en el uso de las luces, composiciĆ³n y buen manejo de esta maquina que nos da tanto a quienes amamos este arte.

  • Mary C Legg

    Mary C Legg said (29 Oct 2018):

    google transl" Delicacy in the shots, forcefulness in the use of lights, composition and good handling of this machine that gives us so much to those who love this art.

    Wow- thank-you so much for such nice compliments! mary

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