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Visual Literacy: Line, Shape and Form

Yesterday, Adobe Photoshop’s product manager John Nack posted a link on his blog to photographer Shinichi Maruyama’s outstanding splash photography.

What makes Maruyama’s photography so compelling is its simplcity. Aside from a few Jackson Pollack-esque images, the majority of Maruyama’s photos consist of a simple arc of water, the splash from a drip frozen in time or a fan of liquid gracefully bending across the frame.

To me, these photos are reminiscent of traditional Japanese calligraphy. When examined superficially, both Maruyama’s photography and calligraphy are nothing more than simple lines on a plain white background. However, when looking deeply at both types of work more deeply, the subtleties of shape, the unique-ness of the forms (no two will ever be the same) and the energy contained in the composition begins to reveal itself.

While this all may sound a bit too metaphysical for a photography blog, it is critically important to remember that it is very easy to cram too much into a photograph or a page design. And it is remarkably difficult to be concise and simple, yet still effective.

A friend Bert Fox, a long-time photo editor, often tells photographers to remove everything that isn’t essential from your pictures. Any element in your photo either supports the story you’re trying to tell, or it is gone.

This is remarkably similar to one of my favorite quotes from the writer and explorer Antoine de Saint-Exupery. “True perfection is attained, not when there is nothing left to add, but nothing left to take away.

When seen in the light of these two perspectives, Maruyama’s photographs are nearing a perfection we should all hope to attain in our photography, design or illustrations.


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