Below The Line Photography

Below The Line © Knut Skjærven

Below The Line © Knut Skjærven

Below the line information! Above the line information!

Ever heard of this? Well, you have now.

It is a good thing to memorise the two terms because we are going to use them as household words in Street Photographer’s Toolbox. They fit the picture.

Making this distinction it not new, by all means. But the terms might be.

It is a distinction you may find in discussing visual communication in general. Other words for it is Top Down Information or Bottom Up Information.

Above the line information will refer to that level of information within a photograph that to a large extent rely on knowledge and experience to be communicated.

If you look at the image in this post above line information would be the painting, the door, the woman, and other things that you easily can name and agree on. For instance you need to know that a painting is an object that can be hung on a wall to know what you see in the photogrephs is “just” a painting.

You need to know what a door looks like and that it can be opened and be walked though to know that there is a door in this photograph.

You need, roughly, to know what a standing, middle aged, ruck sacked woman looks like to recognise her figure in the photograph.

This is information based on knowledge and experience.

Below the line information is of another type. You don’t need much knowledge or experience to recognise it. In fact, you hardly recognise it at all. It just works. It is largely innate.

Look at the similarities of the two human beings in the shot. The one painted and the one live. They group together whether you want them to or not.

The rectangular forms of the paining, the door and the structure of the wall form another set of connections that are just there and works for you in holding things together. You don’t need the help of knowledge or experience.

If you are familiar with the content of Street Photographer’s Toolbox you may already have guess where this is leading. Yes, below the line information are roughly that type of information that can be known and analysed by Gestalt Factors in photography. You can read much more about this in other posts.

Why do I use this particular photo to illustrate the distinction?

For me visuals works very well as memory tags. As the photo has an distinct upper and a distinct lower section, it will be easy to remember the difference between above the line information and below the line information.

Would it be too ambitious to say that we could call a certain type of street photography for Below The Line Photography? That type of photography that explicitly, and in the very open, acknowledge and try to use below the line types of information in its communication of messages? I only pose this as a question.

Maybe it would not? Maybe is would be not be too ambitious?

Another time.

© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved. Text and photo.

Copenhagen April 4, 2013.

NB! The notions Top Down Information and Bottom Up Information are among others use by Eric R. Kandel in his new book The Age of Insight (Chapter 11). He refers to E. H. Gombrich but the notions originally dates further back to the founders of Gestalt psychology.


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