BY MICHAEL PERKINS
JUXTAPOSITION IS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL, as well as one of the easiest, forms of photographic narrative, a key tool in the effective composition of a picture. Just placing two elements side by side within the frame creates opportunity for comparison, an analysis of the attributes of the old versus the new, the tall versus the small, the important versus the meager. The correct choice in the juxtaposing of two things can add up to an image that explores contrast and actually comments on their relationship to each other.
When the superb stands directly next to the shabby, a statement has been made. When the giant is flanked by the tiny, a judgement has been rendered. Even the mere intermingling of dark and light objects in a purely abstract way comes off as a deliberate arrangement, an intentional remark in visual terms. A thing by itself is one kind of picture. A thing in relation to another thing in a photograph can open up a far wider universe of ideas.
Often, juxtapositions are just organic discoveries of things that already exist in opposition to each other, as in the image seen here. In other cases, the comparison is more deliberately staged or interpreted in some way that has not previously been as clear to the casual observer, yet visible to the photographer’s eye. The idea is to place choice before the viewer, asking him/her to either favor or refuse one thing in reference to the other, to, in effect, rank the two ideas in order of importance. This is a key part of the engagement between photographer and audience.
When everything seems to be already shown, or decided, in a picture, it’s less engaging. However, once something has been placed in the frame that leaves something unanswered, engagement increases dramatically. A dialog of sorts has been begun with the “outcome” of the photo that’s been left in a suspended state, only to be resolved by the exchange of ideas, both by the taker and receiver of the image, as to what the whole thing is “about”. One of the first visual exercises given to children is being asked to comment on “which of these things is not like the other”. Turns out that adults respond to that mental tug-of-war as well, and that creates real opportunity for the photographer.