Negative Space

Please excuse the lack of posting and the current strange philosophical musings. I’m still in stage three of the photo decluttering – that is, the stage where I reprocess everything I picked as my “Hall of Fame” collection dating back to 2004 when I got my first 2MP digital camera. In the process though I have streamlined my workflow and discovered a better way of processing, so another point of simplifying my life!

That aside, I have some thoughts about the idea of “negative space” that have cropped up during this frenzy of photo editing. The artists among us will know what I’m talking about, but I will demonstrate with some pictures and then get into the philosophical aspect of it. This concept applies to music as well, as I remember someone saying something along the lines of “it’s what you don’t play” – that is negative space. Of course, John Cage’s piece 4’33” is a demonstration of this concept as well, albeit possibly an absurd one, perhaps absurd by design, I really don’t know or care.

In the following photograph, about two thirds of it is negative space. I will show it with that cropped out as well and I invite you simply to contemplate the difference. I prefer not to get into too much analysis of it and allow it to speak for itself, because I think most people just instinctively feel the difference. If anyone wants to offer an analysis, feel free to do so.

With the negative space (as shot).

And without the negative space (cropped).

 And here is one that has a lot of “stuff”, as a contrast. 

It’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with a lack of negative space in an artistic sense as it is somewhat a matter of taste. The first photo “works” either  way, but I prefer it as shot. There exists a sort of counter movement to minimalism called maximalism, which I can certainly appreciate as well as some of those people do have an interesting artistic flair of their own. The ice cream shop pictured (Dutch Dreams in Toronto) actually moved to a larger and far less interesting location. The cramped, dark, and full of clutter location pictured was a popular land mark place that had been there for decades, sometimes with a queue going up the street in the summer.

Nevertheless, I tend more toward the simple for my own life, and what I notice is where I try to leave some breathing room on surfaces, things appear and gather, as if nature really does abhor a vacuum. It does take effort to keep those spaces and to find room to breathe in life. I think the impulse to clutter both physical and mental signals a disorder in the self. There is a difference between a sort of ordered clutter as in maximalism and the general disorder that clutters most people’s lives. The former is done with intent and the items are loved, whereas the latter “happens” without a mind towards things that are loved and wanted.

Modern people seem to lack negative space in their lives. The cult of so-called positivity may have ramifications beyond “being positive”, whatever that might mean. We view “negative” as taking away, and we view that as bad, like children who have their video games taken away as a punishment. Taking things away is viewed as a kind of punishment and thus “negative” connotes “bad” in the minds of people. Silence is a form of negative space that we can’t seem to abide as well. If it’s not the TV on all day, it’s the radio, internet, podcasts, YouTube videos, chat windows, blogs… There is certainly no shortage of noise with which to fill our lives, and this applies equally to physical clutter. 

While some may disagree, I think we need to redeem the negative and find that we do indeed gain something from discarding something. We gain space and sanity at least, and these are no small things. 


4 thoughts on “Negative Space

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