Playing with perspective

In the 1920s artists and photographers introduced a new way of looking at the world around us by playing with the rules of perspective. They called this ‘new vision’ photography.

Instead of taking photographs from a normal eye level perspective, they experimented with low angle and high angle shots to create a greater sense of drama in their images. They also rotated and boldly cropped images, emphasised angles, focused on repetitive forms and used strong tonal contrasts. These different ways of playing with perspective created new tensions and intrigue in their work. One of the most prominent photographers during this time was László Moholy-Nagy.

Today we are very familiar with camera angled shots that use forced perspective.  We see them used professionally in painting, photography and cinematography, and often in a fun and spontaneous way by ‘happy snap’ amateurs (I am definitely in the latter category). Understanding the basics of these techniques can help all of us to bring a new vision to our work.

Here are three photographs which illustrate the new vision concept. They were all taken in the 1920s by László Moholy-Nagy .

Bauhaus Balconies 1926

László Moholy-Nagy, 1926, Bauhaus Balconies

This low angle shot features repeating angles and strong diagonal lines. It’s been further enhanced by the angle tilt of the camera and dramatic cropping.

Oskar Schlemmer in Ascona, 1926

Oscar Schlemmer in Ascona

This high angle shot is given more complexity through the play of diagonal shadows that envelop the figure and confuse the eye. Strong tonal contrast adds to this dramatic effect.

Lago Maggiore, Ascona, Schweiz, ca. 1930

Moholy-Nagy_Lake Maggiore

This is simultaneously a low and high angle shot, further enhanced by the diagonal lines of the boards. We are drawn into this image via the legs of the bathers, moving on to the boaters and swimmers below, and then finally across the lake to the distant shore.

Finally, for Father Ted fans, here’s a completely different ‘play’ with perspective.

Forced perspective confusion


Using visual metaphor in the classroom

Images can be a powerful way to generate ideas and promote creative discussion in a classroom. One of the most effective ways to do this is through the use of visual metaphors.

“A metaphor is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something important in common. Metaphors “carry” meaning from one word, image, or idea to another”.

A visual metaphor improves the ability to reason about complex systems.

“Metaphors help us describe, visualize, and make sense of the world around us. For example, a possible metaphor for the brain is a computer. The images this metaphor creates help us to make sense of something complex — many would consider the brain, like the computer, to have intelligence, memory, and organization, and perhaps even to be user-friendly.

“Modern advertising relies heavily on visual metaphors. For example, in a magazine ad for the banking firm Morgan Stanley, a man is pictured bungee jumping off a cliff. Two words serve to explain this visual metaphor: a dotted line from the jumper’s head points to the word “You”; another line from the end of the bungee cord points to “Us.” The metaphorical message–of safety and security provided in times of risk–is conveyed through a single dramatic image”.

Visual metaphors used in advertising are often simplistic and shallow. When used by filmmakers and artists they are usually more profound and complex in the conveyance of meaning as well as reality.

Look at these images. Each one could be used as a visual metaphor. What implied comparisons do they convey to you? How could you use images to promote complex reasoning and discussion in your classroom?

Michelangelo. Detail from The creation of Adam.


Henri Magritte. Time Transfixed

Magritte_Time transfixed

Salvador Dali. Detail from The persistence of memory

salvador-dali-the persistence of memory

Edvard Munch. The Scream

Edvard Munch-The-scream-1893

The power of association

The combination of a specific word and an associated image can deliver a powerful message. Here are 3 examples. Each one uses the same word ‘Renewal’ with a different image, resulting in 3 different messages being conveyed.


In this example the image evokes memories of domesticity and past times, maybe shattered dreams. In association with the word Renewal, the message becomes one that relates to building something new and different from past experiences and memories.


This example is somewhat similar, but this time the image and word combination convey a message that relates to the possibility of restoration: pre-loved to new.


The same word combined with this illustration evokes a message about hope and expectation, the possibility of fulfillment of dreams and ambitions.

Other image associations could change the message, eg think about:

  • renewal of vows
  • renewal notices
  • urban renewal
  • health
  • beauty
  • nature
  • fashion and decor

The image needs to be compelling enough to suggest the message you want to convey.