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