Freeman (2007, p178) describes juxtaposition as bringing two things (at least) to our attention at the same time. Viewers have a tendency to assume a relationship between things seen side by side. The connection that is suggested then provides the foundation for illustration. He explains juxtaposition further by noting it has two sources. The first is content, where the initiative comes from the subject, and some thought is applied to achieve this. The second is graphics, where the inspiration comes from a chance appearance, such as reflection in a window to include a second element.
For this exercise I have a content driven motive. I am going to set-up a still-life using two or three elements that, when juxtaposed, will provide an illustration for a book cover. The course notes stress that originality is an important factor, and that if a photograph is not interesting to do, it will probably not be interesting to look at either.
I decided to use the novel that I have just finished reading as the basis for this exercise, ‘Notes from an Exhibition’, by Patrick Gale. The book tells the story of an Artist, Rachel Kelly. At the beginning of the book Rachel is found dead following a heart attack. The story of her life up to that point then unfurls, noting the whirlwind of creative highs and anguished crippling lows due to her bipolar disorder. It also describes her being alternatively wonderful and terrible to her husband and four children.
I chose to use artist’s tools, such as paints, brushes, small easel stands and palette as the main elements of the composition to directly link with the painter at the heart of the story.
The broken photo frame in the foreground was a happy accident. I originally planned for the small print to sit in one of the easel stands but as I setting up the still-life I accidentally knocked it off the table. I decided to include it in the frame to help symbolise the fragility of Rachel’s condition and the fragmented family she leaves behind.
The six pebbles on the left are directly linked to the story as Rachel’s youngest child gave her six pebbles to represent a member of their family. Rachel treasured these stones and was undertaking a series of paintings inspired by them at the time of her death.
I chose to include the pile of tablets as a reference to Rachel’s illness. I chose 6 to mirror the number of pebbles.
I shot at f/9.5 to keep most of the focus on the foreground of the photograph with the top a little out of focus, as this is where the title/author’s name could sit. I also left some room at the bottom for this too.
I wanted some dramatic lighting for the scene so positioned my Speedlight, with diffusion dome, in the top right hand corner, just out of frame. I positioned it low to allow shadows to be cast from the easels. My initially attempts as this left the foreground quite dark so I placed a white reflector at the bottom left of frame to bounce some light on to the foreground.
While I do like the overall effect of the final image, lighting, diagonal lines, colour accents, I think now, with hindsight that I possibly have too much going on in the frame. If I were shooting again I would perhaps have omitted the medication to simplify the composition.
However I have still found this to be a useful exercise as it gave me an opportunity to really consider the way different elements relate to each other and experiment with symbolism.
Juxtaposition is a technique that I have unconsciously been using when setting up still life arrangements or deciding how to frame photographs taken in the wider world. Now that I am aware of this technique I can give it more considered thought and apply it to better use in my photography.
Freeman, M. (2007) The Photographer’s Eye. Lewes: ILEX