The Perceived Center. Where is it?

Soft Solution © Knut Skjærven

Soft Solution © Knut Skjærven

Don’t believe those who say that your school days are over. Every time you reach a corner there is another one in sight. And so it continues it seems.

I think you know about my enthusiasm for Rudolf Arnheim by now. If for no other reasons that he challenged more traditional ways of seeing. Not that he changes what is “out there”, but he names it in new ways. It is like seeing the elephants for the first time. You have always known they are there somewhere, but you really never took the time to take a closer look.

So I picked up another book that turned out to be of a great interest. About 10 days ago and the last copy in the shop.

It is about centers, and carries the title: The Power Of The Center. A Study Of Composition In The Visual Arts. (University Of California Press, 2009).

I have know Arnheim since I was a student back in ancient times because his book on film was obligatory reading. One of the very few that dealt with film at all. And, yes there  was Kracauer with his “redemption of physical reality”. I leave him for another good day. I am sure there is potential for street photography in him too.

A Study Of Composition In The Visual Arts. I has a length I can handle. I can’t stand blockbusters. Not in any form.

Written by Rudolf Arnheim in 1988.

He says in the first sentence: This book has been entirely rewritten. That is the second time I read that in the introduction to one of his books. It is a good thing that Arnheim went to the school of eternal learning too.

This book is going to be very useful. I can sense that, but it is not easy reading. And is has to be adapted to the area of street photography. One piece at the time.

Let’s start with the center. That which is always there in any photograph.

There are, in fact, two centers. Those are a) the geometrical center, and b) the perceptually inferred center. Let’s call the last for The Perceived Center.

If you want to find the geometrical centre you simple measure it out. The geometrical center is in the very middle of a frame. In the picture above/below you have it somewhere right above the shoulder bag on its right hand side. Measure it out if you want to. Somewhere around there.

What about The Perceived Center? Where is that in this photograph? I wonder, as you might too. That is what we have to work with to find out. Not only in this photograph, but in all photographs. It is The Perceived Center that is the visual power point, so to speak. Not the geometrical center. You feel it more than you see it.

It is The Perceived Center that an image balance against. It is the true turning point.

I am not going to give you the answer since I have not got it. I am not sure there is only one. But I can ask questions as a starter. That is what this post is all about: Questions.

Is The Perceived Center one of the photographs hanging on the wall? The one the lady looks at? Or somewhere around there. Or it is somewhere entirely different?

I don’t have the answer, but one thing I am sure of: The Perceived Center is driven by a combination of multiple forces: borders, light and shadows, sizes of objects and people, lines and movement, tones of black and white or colour, and plenty other things in any photograph. It can hardly be measured. Only legitimised by argument or vision or both. It is dynamic and might even move around.

Your turn now. Think about it a least.

© Knut Skjærven. Text and picture.

October 8, 2013

  1. #1 by Rolland Viau on October 10, 2013 - 11:40 pm

    Thank you for this thought. For my point of view, I think a picture has more than one perceived center like in this picture. In fact, it depends of the viewer. About your picture, for example, for me, the perceived center is curiously the hand of the women. For sure, if I look objectively this picture, I will see the relation between the head of the women and the picture of the wall, and I will put the perceived center on the picture. But if you ask me what I find in this picture, I will see the line made by the arm to the open hand reinforced by the black and white sweater. I like it. So, yes for the importance of a perceived center, but just one? I am not sure.

    • #2 by Knut Skjaerven on October 12, 2013 - 4:30 pm

      Thanks for your wise comment, Rolland. I agree with much of what you say here.

      However, if you measure the dynamic weight of the elements you will probably have one center, but that center does not necessarily have to coincide with what you find as the main point of interest e.g. the hand.

      I too find find the hand intriguing :-).

      Have a good day.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: