Class Assignment
Write and design a small book.

Cognition: Viewer Interpretation of 3-Dimensional Objects in Photographs


I took this series of three photos for a "Bachelor’s Thesis" required for graduation from the University of Washington’s technical writing program. Part of my discussion of using photography to reproduce sculpture centered around the expectations and familiarity the viewer brings to the photograph.

Technical Excellence vs. Familiarity:
Photo 1 of the Henry Moore sculpture "vertebrae" was taken on a day when the ambient light was good for such a convoluted image - a moderate overcast that diffused the midday sun. I did however, choose a point-of-view that is not seen by the everyday passerby. Nearby construction allowed me to climb above the work so that the profile would be unknown to most people. Very few Seattle residents have been able to identify this object, even though it is a technically good image of a well-known object.

Photo 2 in this series was used for the cover of the book. I removed the head and foot so that only the outline of the back and right arm are visible. A surprising number of people got it on their first guess. Almost everyone else got it on their second or third guess.

Photo 3 was used within the book opposite the Moore photo. Not surprisingly, no one got this wrong. Artistic merits aside, the photo is horrible as a documentary image - little detail. However, the subject is totally familiar. People often commented that they thought they knew the model, or knew someone who looked just like her. Oddly, the people who actually knew the model, never guessed who it was. This was due to more expectations. Everyone who knew her felt it was so "out of character" for her to model nude, that her true identity was never guessed.

Much more than beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The more complex an image, the more complexity must be shown to keep the viewer from "filling in" the details; but, an image that is too detailed can be busy and overwhelming to the viewer who might not want to do the work needed to parse the information or meaning.

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Richard L. Gilmore,
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last modified: Thursday, August 9, 2001