Monday, January 2, 2012

Roland Fischer's Figure and Ground

Roland Fischer is a German photographer who shows at Von Lintel Gallery in New York. He has done several series of portraits shot in swimming pools that are remarkable for several reasons. One is his lighting, which casts absolutely no reflection on the surface of the water. This has the effect of placing the figure in an almost abstract, ethereal space.

The water reaches the level of the collarbone, creating a portrait bust-like shape which provides the basis for an unusual figure/ground relationship. One can read the image as being broken into two clearly defined sections: the model and the water. In my introductory photo classes, I often talk about the significance of the ground and the importance of creating interesting negative space (non-figure) shapes. Fischer's use of the pool solves this problem in a very elegant way.

But there is a third section: where water and the figure overlap. This area functions as a transitional space in which both elements exist simultaneously and provides an alternative to the either/or of the figure and ground. This area becomes very significant, and I think the intent is to use the suggestion of intermediacy to go beyond portraiture and into philosophy -- a discussion of his work expands to include the ways that we divide and categorize.

There's one more thing: the water as background comes in front of the figure, creating a kind of compositional/metaphysical joke. Below is another example of Fischer's work, from a series of building facades, shown at Von Lintel last September. Is this figure, or is this ground?

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