From a purely selfish perspective — which of course is where I spend 99% of my time — the great thing about A&P is the way it helps me to see. This is often through discussion of someone else’s art, but last week’s post on my own Sourdough Trail image brought several comments that especially struck home, among them David’s

The thing I love about the top image is the ambiguity of the space, and the resulting ethereal, floating quality. Most of the image sits right on the picture plane, but there’s a secondary sense of spatial depth. The two readings create a tension, which I find very satisfying.

and Jay’s

Reminds me of pantheistic forest cultures where every rock, stream, branch and leaf has a spiritual identity and where the forest dweller is in a constant conversation with his and her environment, and every part of that environment communicates.

The image above, from the winter phase of the same Sourdough Trail project, seems to me very much in the spirit of both of these comments. Although it has depth, as evidenced by occlusion, atmospheric perspective and loss of focus, it presents itself, to my eyes anyway, as a woven screen like tapestry. Even in its winter bareness, everything is entangled as in Jay’s vision.

Just to illustrate the contrast, the image below, again from Sourdough Trail, also features a screen of foliage, but it’s very distinctly behind the trunks that frame it, so the sense of space is quite different here.


But the top image can exhibit an additional effect that Karl called the oscillation of a two-state illusion. It’s not terribly strong, but you might want to look again to see if you notice it before I describe it.

I didn’t catch it myself at first, either at the scene or viewing the first print. But when I showed it to a Japanese friend, she did a double-take. She explained that she had first seen the dark trunks as spaces between light-barked trees, then the negative and positive spaces had switched for her to the “correct” interpretation. Once I saw it, I can reproduce it at will. It seems to enhance the entangledness in an unusual way.

What I didn’t realize until writing this post is: the same transformation from the world’s three dimensions to a screen-like sense in two is something I’ve also pursued in some of my recent waterfall work. I’ve realized that this is different from the identity of a photograph as an arrangement of flat shapes on paper (or monitor), something I have been more consciously aware of. The image below may not be the best example, but it’s one where I was imagining the water like a sheet of cloth. Most of the rocks are hidden by the surrounding water; a few anchor it at the bottom, somewhat breaking the illusion in the same way Jay noted with the dark leaves at the top in last week’s picture.


So I’ve been thinking about these ideas of real and picture space and how they work. I’m especially curious about other people’s perceptions. Does the tapestry-like flattening-with-a-thickness happen for you in the lead-in image? Did you see the negative/positive alternation? Do you even notice “space” at all when looking at pictures? I don’t think I was consciously aware of it until long after I started making photographs myself. That’s not to say it doesn’t matter, but what’s primary is the effect on the viewer.