In terms of their graphic qualities vertical lines have certain characteristics in common with horizontal lines. Because they will be seen in the context of a frame it is critical that they are aligned in parallel to that frame and through this relationship they can also express stability.
Vertical lines can be used to create a sense of strength and power, they are associated with standing, perhaps with standing tall and potentially with standing over or dominance. If they extend far into the image they will also denote height although I suspect the opposite is equally true so perhaps it is more correct to suggest that a vertical line acts as a measure within the frame. Generally I saw more verticals than horizontals when capturing images for this exercise. This may be me or it may be that human beings provide obvious verticals and there are plenty of those about. Trees, posts, walls, buildings and many other aspects of the landscape offer dominant verticals. My challenge was to find four distinctly different examples whilst continuing to avoid just photographing one straight line.
Fig.1 is my safe choice that plays to tall, strong, dominant and powerful, a church tower. I wanted to dominant the image with the tower but to include soft shapes and other lines to create an interesting image. It would have been easy to select a viewpoint that isolated the tower but I wanted it to “tower over” something other than an empty churchyard. Churches were designed to stand out in the landscape, churches like this one, when built, would have dwarfed every other building in the town other than the lord’s castle. they might have been the only non-military building constructed in stone. I wanted to capture this dominance and to show the tower as being dramatically larger than its surroundings and filling the whole vertical perspective of the frame.
St. Andrews Church in Farnham is a favourite location in my home town. It brings back memories of my elder brother parading the scout’s colours for the annual remembrance day services, my first and certainly my last live performance as part of the school choir and the site of William Cobbett’s grave. Cobbett is my political hero, a man who championed the rural poor, battling the urban centric politicians of his day.
In fig. 2 I wanted to balance the statue against the many verticals in the old house. I have used a moderately shallow depth of field and processed for high contrast to focus attention on the many tones of bricks and the strong lines of the chimneys.
Still in Winchester I took a series of photographs of the old wooden framed buildings around the cathedral. The wooden frames are quite constant and repetitive but the way the bricks have been placed inside them varies. Where the bricks were neat and horizontal the vertical beams did not dominate the image. However, in this one section, in fig. 3, where the bricks were laid at many angles the vertical beams became much more important as dividers of the frame and as frames within the frame.
Fig. 4 is one of a series of photographs of Antony Gormley’s self portrait statue in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral. I had gone to Winchester to specifically photograph this statue thinking it would be an interesting take on a person being a vertical line. I had hoped that the crypt would be flooded as the statues often stands with its feet in the water but it was not. I hadn’t realised that the crypt had railings across it but this gave me an image of many verticals. In this version I have used a mid-range DoF on a 50mm lens to have the railings just out of focus but strong in the image. This seems to have him imprisoned.
In fig. 5 I tried a shallow DoF but cropped a little wider. The statue is smaller in the frame and the railings less significant. He seems less imprisoned because the iron bars are less dominant and he might be a man taken through park railings, a more comfortable and gentle composition.
My third interpretation of the statue in fig. 6 is taken with a 105mm lens through the railings so that they are excluded and we see the statue as a strong vertical framed by another vertical and the arch. It is interesting how different framings in exactly the same light impart different moods. Imprisoned in fig. 4, distant, isolated and remote in fig. 5 and strong in fig. 6.
I wanted something quite different for my third study. Fig.7 is an exercise in how strongly multiple verticals can dominate the composition. The bandstand at Southsea stands between the naval war memorial in the same town and the Millennium Tower representing a curved sail on the edge of the naval dockyard in Portsmouth. I believe the distinct vertical lines are the main element. The Millennium Tower is a strong vertical and looks powerful in the landscape despite having a clear curve on its left edge. Perhaps, because it is deep into the image we ignore the curve or the message of strong, high reaching, straight-up and vertical outweighs any other impression.
I see the curves on the roof of the bandstand long after seeing the vertical frame and the two towers but this is probably partly because I wanted the white towers and the frame to be prominent and have processed to have crisp whites against the grass and the sky.
I wanted a real person as my last vertical. In fig. 8 I was lucky to find a women standing between a black post and the verticals of the door frame with her back to more straight lines and even a near vertical row of books in the window. A composition containing lots of verticals. I seem to have a large collection of doorway images, some were taken because the fabric of the door was interesting, rusty metal or cracked timbers, some are because the door is impressive in some way but now I am taking more that are only interesting because someone is standing by them. The portrait shape of a door appears to be a strong compositional feature that I keep including in my photos.
I am beginning to think that a series of open, ajar and closed doors with glimpses of their occupants or hints of the occupants would be interesting. In the famous “Open Door” by William Henry Fox Talbot (1844)* we see a broom leaning by the partly open door but no sign of the broom’s owner or the building’s occupant. We are told that people were here, probably quite recently, we are shown what they were probably doing before they left but we know nothing more about them. I like this sense of a partly solved mystery.
Does the women in fig. 8 live behind the white door or is she just standing there to take her phone call?
*McCabe, Eamonn. (2008) The Making of Great Photographs, Approaches and Techniques of the Masters. Newton Abbot, David & Charles