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The Poetics of Space. “Great images have both a history and a prehistory; they are always a blend of memory and legend, with the result that we never experience an image directly. Indeed, every great image has an unfathomable oneiric depth to which the personal past adds special color.”

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The Poetics of Space

“Great images have both a history and a prehistory; they are always a blend of memory and legend, with the result that we never experience an image directly. Indeed, every great image has an unfathomable oneiric depth to which the personal past adds special color.”

-Gaston Bachelard, p. 33

Minor White

Side of Barn with Windows, 1957. 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, 1956.


This project is based on the seminal text, Poetics of Space, published in 1958 by the French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard. In this book, Bachelard investigates familiar and intimate spaces of the house. Memory and imagination play important roles in infusing common details such as corners, wardrobes, stairways, attics and cellars, with personal and collective significance. Bachelardobserves space with a deep sense of contemplation and reflection—a method you will mirror in this project. You should approach this project in a similar spirit by investigating and observing ordinary spaces to create extraordinary photographs.

“…the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind. The binding principle in this integration is the daydream. Past, present and future give the house different dynamisms…”

-Bachelard, p. 6

Wolfgang Tillmans

Window Caravaggio, 1997 (left)

Grey Jeans on Stair Post, 1991 (right)


Imogen Cunningham Eugene Atget Laura Letinsky

In this introductory project you will document details of architectural spaces with a keen sense of poetic and innovative photographic vision. The images you create should convey a sense of intimacy whether the spaces you are shooting are public or private. To do this, you should spend time looking at, inhabiting, writing about and studying the spaces you are photographing so they become intimately familiar to you.Therefore, you should plan to visit each space regularly (i.e. more than once) so that you have the opportunity to photograph them throughout different times of day and under different circumstances. This project offers you the opportunity to explore a space deeply and create images that reflect ideas and concepts about you and your background as well as the fascinating pictorial details you reveal. You are free to create all of your images for this project from one specific location or based on a few different spaces. However, it is important that your series has a cohesive connection or theme that ties all of the images together as a series.


Although you should always shoot in color, all images for this project should be printed in black and white. We will explore color photography in future projects.

Walker Evans

Burrough’s Kitchen, Hale County, Alabama, 1936. New York, 1929.


“For our house is our corner of the world. As has often been said, it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word.”

  • -Bachelard, p. 4
  • Challenges…
  • Recognizing that Skidmore and/or Saratoga may not be “home” to you…
  • how do you make a space that may be new to you resonate with familiarity?;
  • how can an image of a relatively unknown space convey intimacy?
  • Hints…
  • Look for common or “universal” forms that activate your imagination
  • Look for details that trigger a memory
  • Look for scenes that inspire you to daydream

William Eggleston

Untitled (Red Room), 1973 (top)

Untitled (Hot Sauce Bottle), 1981 (bottom)


Andre Kertesz

Paris, 1926. Fork, Paris, 1928.


Strategies and goals…

Cropping, abstraction and fragmentation are visual tools you should experiment with while composing visual documents within the camera. Your goal is create a visually compelling and mysterious series of six, 8.5 x 11-inch prints. Rather than showing a literal or descriptive interpretation of space, your interpretation of space should be poetic and thought provoking. We will use minimal manipulation techniques in Lightroom to maintain the integrity of the photographic image as captured in the camera.

Martina Mullaney


Hiroshi Sugimoto

Color of Shadows Series


Uta Barth

In addition making this series of pictures, you should also look up at least three of the artists in this presentation and reflect upon their work in your sketchbook.


Need extra help? Camera Usage instructional video accessed on

Foundations of Photography: Exposure by Ben Long

If you wish to review the Lynda tutorials, you can access this information on your own.

(See syllabus for instructions on getting access to