Triptych (Contiguity, Sub-divisions and Frames)
What additional meanings do subdivisions of the visual text entail, how does the addition of frames change the meaning - and what of contiguity and juxtaposition where the frames hold discrete images?
Most evocative, most popular of these forms is the triptych replete with art-historical echoes from centuries of religious use.
Why triptych (the sub-division of an image into three, or three contiguous usually semantically linked images)? Why not diptych (a division into two)? The latter clearly does not the same effect as a triptych: in a diptych the binary -or mirror relation- is fore-grounded, so avoiding a sense of centre (the central vertical appears as a fold). Why is it that the triptych has the strongest effect (and not, say, a division or collecting together of four parts, four discrete aspects of a whole, like the four seasons genre paintings). Four and two being symmetrical are de-centered, there is no central image. Three and five have a centerpiece; three is the most basic form of this design, its minimal unit - centerpiece and wings.
But other variations are possible (at the opposite extreme we have the division of the image into multiple facets of a fine grid, or the frame filled with multiple images constituting this grid).
Such effects are at their most intriguing when the picture ‘behind’ the frames appears to be continuous, where a single image is divided into three (or more) or just subdivided… Then the multiplication of the relations to the frame apply, together with the resulting multiplication of foci, of focal points, vanishing points and the force of the diagonal relation (sometimes, but not always, the same), of margin/centre, left/right relations (narrative and moral) as well as the role of grounds (fore, middle, back).
Many painted and photographic images are presented as two or three (or more) ‘times’ images. In this case the reason for the frame is clear; these are different images, of different contents, or different points of view. The conjoining of the images insists on their community or contrast; the frame underlines their difference. But what if the image-content is contiguous and we witness the subdivision of a single image? As discrete in framing; but clearly, originally, not so. At once. At once, continuous and broken, as if the tearing out of reality that constitutes making/recording an image, once made, was seen as inadequate, as requiring revision, subdividing the image further to permit, frame, its possibilities, statements and formal relations... At once unified and broken, one and many. Seen at once; both aspects recognized at first glance, at one in this difference. Their tension producing meaning. At once.
A meaning at once present. But present in a diminution of the degree of presence. For the subdivision of the image by means of additional frames interposes something between the viewer and the image; it is as if the immediacy of the image has been tempered with, so increasing (slightly) the lack of presence of the image content.
Multiple frames may also appear as the overlaying of a ‘grid’, sometime aid to achieving proportion; otherwise signaling the modernist grid, with its implications of map-making, formalizing, documenting and subdivision for the purpose of analysis. If the result is a single line of images, there may be the additional implication of a narrative direction, like a cartoon or film strip. If the over-laid grid is many storied, like a mesh or net, then there may be a reference to mass production; multiple frames as signaling not only the victory of reason over the storage of an image, but also the dominance of a mode of mass production suited to a mass society, a society whose economy is driven by of mass consumption, a society where the means of exchange is shaped by the commodity.
Such an effect is apposite if it offers new meaning, bringing out new aspects of the space en-framed - if not it is felt to be redundant. Either offering a new clarity, a clarity of focus, of detail, of commentary: or else a cluttering of the image.
Frame as ritual (the putting aside of a special space, the suggestion of another kind of time, the repetition of viewing). Space found within a space with entry and exit points. Time of passage as well as the time represented. Valued time; a holy time… or a spectral time. Repetition: quantitative as indicating value; qualitative as indicating intensity and cycle. So much favoured in religious representation. Each space (like) a niche; an aedicule, space sculpted to configure value. To draw it from us, our manna, our sacred thread, gift to the world of something human (even if offered in a mode of self-denial, as a deferment to eternity, to an elsewhere - ‘outside’). Simply put: such re-framing is a sacralising mode. The image (its viewing) is also a form of ritual experience.
(Part of a long tradition -exacerbated of late- of using technique and technology to put back into reality what -it is often claimed- has been lost to the advancement of technology.)
The triptych has centre piece and wings… prioritized re-framing (a priority also true for discreet images arranged in this way). Reminder of (our) human point of view, of (our) human, imprint on images (a reminder of the human choosing of the matter, of point of view). In case we forget (realism or documentary photography as a form of illusionism). Interposed to (further) guide our thoughts (and feelings). A reminder that the space of vision is just such; our forward screen, ‘forwards’ oblong of image making – and its ‘wings’; our reception of the visual: our constitution of the visual; our visual field. Human window on the world. Gift of (our) nature: differentiated by (our) culture. Point of view writ large…then refined according to identity.
The sense of ’forwards’ offering what is present, presented. But also as the imminent arrival of the immediate future, as that which we need to see, to know in order to move forwards… A relation of image content to frame (a part of the means of expression and a key influence on the form of expression) which tells us that the importance of the image lies in our knowledge of the future. That there is something to learn from (just as the mapping of the grid helps to analyse and so appraise, to judge and store an image for future use. So constituting a claim on our time; a claim of priority, its demand upon us as the recognition of a right to be a guide – as to what (in reality) is to be valued. As of use in our lives in the ‘what is to come’. Which both always arrives; and yet always remains before us. (Remaining in frame, as it where, representing that part of the future which can never arrive).
Re-framing as re-cognition: recognition of a demand. The demand to redefine reality and order its priorities – its values, and so what we hold sacred - its sacred places and the values we enshrine there.
Frames: the initial tearing out of a piece of reality; repeated in reframing (but with the memory of the context remaining in other, neighbouring, frames…). Then the (almost) final frame of museum space, institutional framing, as manifest in space, in wall, in installation in room, these spaces as the physical manifestation of the host institution, the en-framing institution (all levels conferring, significance, specialness, creating value…). The inner framing of the image lies somewhere midway between these basic frames of reference (lost context and institution host). But foremost between us and the content of the image. So claiming a priority of interpretation. The right of suggestion.
The final frame of course being our own particular viewing, our own frame of reference.
Even in windows, in the world of brute space; we have this sub-division, in the biphora and triphora of medieval architecture (as well as in the frames of modern windows). As seen from within; the image (of a landscape) divided: from without; a decorative texture or feature of attraction (expensive to create) in the surface of the wall or storey (usually found in the wall space of the middle floor, the piano nobile, often expanded into a small enclosed balcony or loggia). Privileged space from which to see… (and be seen).
Lastly then, the frames accreting in the image position us as those who are privileged to see.
A form of flattery, as well as of cajolement.
Copyright, Peter Nesteruk, 2010