Essence of Photography: Graphism

What does the golden ratio, 5000 year old monuments, and altered states of consciousness have to do with taking better photos?

January 16, 2020


Geometric shapes, grids, lines, and repeating patterns are all graphic design elements (or graphism / graphisme in French) that can be used to enhance your photography.

Architecture photography lends itself naturally to these types of images.

Modern architecture with geometric lines carved from metal and glass can be a great subject for aspiring graphism photography projects.

Whether a full view of a building, or a carefully composed subsection, there are many opportunities to create interesting images.





Ancient Origins

What is it about these images that we find so compelling?

Long before humanity built structures of metal and glass, and even before the invention of written language, graphism was a symbolic representation of ideas and abstract concepts through shapes and patterns drawn in stone or other materials.

This pre-cursor to art and language was more utilitarian than creative, and perhaps more representative of what the person was experiencing than the way visual art or photography is used today.

Early graphism patterns such as repeating spirals can be seen etched into rocks. An excellent example which still exists today stands at the entrance to Newgrange in Ireland (left). This ancient site is believed to be from around 3200 B.C., making it older than the pyramids of Egypt.

Other examples of graphism include dot paintings such as those found in Aboriginal artwork in Australia as this more modern example depicts (right).





What is fascinating is that these spiral patterns have been found in other sites around the world. Researchers have proposed that these abstract patterns are hardwired into our brains and have been experienced by humanity in various states of consciousness.

As an example, close your eyes and press your fingers over your eyelids. Do you see patterns, colors and other geometric shapes rippling across your field of view? These dots and spirals drawn on ancient surfaces could have originated from a similar phenomenon.

Studies have indicated that collectively, we find images with these types of patterns aesthetically pleasing, as they resonate with some innate function in our brains or consciousness.





Modern Graphism

Returning to architecture, we find that repeating elements and naturally pleasing patterns such as spiral shapes are all around. From centuries old mosques to modern buildings; ornate ceilings and spiral staircases take on an abstract form when photographed from certain angles.

With a clever composition, these familiar patterns are visualized in a manner not unlike ancient etchings which creates compelling graphism imagery in our photography.

Most if not all of these man made creations were designed using the divine proportion or golden ratio. Mathematicians, artists, architects, and even musicians have applied principles of the golden ratio to some of the greatest creations of humanity.

Photographers can also draw inspiration from these concepts in many ways, for example using the golden spiral as a guide for image composition.





Sense of Scale

With any abstract photography featuring repeating elements, an effective technique to make the image more interesting to the viewer is to break up the pattern with a contrasting element.

As we have seen from the concept of juxtaposition in photography, using contrasting elements also creates engaging images.

In these graphism photos, a human figure is used to break up the pattern and provide a sense of scale or interest.





Back to the Land

Graphism is not only limited to architecture or cityscapes. Repeating patterns and geometric designs can be found in landscape photography as well.

Shadows and reflections are a good visual cue to enhance or accentuate patterns.





Nature provides endless elements of interesting shapes and patterns including the spiral. Spirals can be found on a giant scale as in the shape of galaxies, all the way down to a tiny sea shell.





Not to mention one animal in particular which is the perfect subject for graphism imagery.





Whether in nature or the city, look for ways that lines, patterns, shadows and shapes all come together in an interesting way so that you can frame your photos to bring out graphism designs which create compelling images.






Essence of Photography is a series of tips, tutorials, and visual inspiration on a variety of photography skills and techniques.

All photos in this article were posted to the Aminus3 Photography Community and are copyrighted by their respective photographers.

Click on any photo to see a larger version or to leave a comment for the photographer.

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TOPICS: essence of photography

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