Juxtaposition: a word not often tossed around by you and your friends, but you probably incorporate this idea into your photography without even realizing.
Before we go any further, let’s get on the same page and establish that for our purposes, juxtaposition is when two objects are positioned next to each other with the intent of comparing or contrasting them. Why bother with trying to deliberately include juxtaposition in your photography? Because it has the potential to bring your photos to new levels. Applying this idea to your photography allows you to create photos that have an interesting or compelling story behind them, or even add a level of humor to what you’re trying to convey.
The great thing about juxtaposition is that a lot of the time it happens by accident. And it doesn’t happen just in photography – you see juxtaposition in your everyday life. We’ve actually noticed it on The PhotoShelter Blog recently:
Here, two different thumbnails for two different blog posts wind up next to each other on The PhotoShelter Blog homepage due to chronological ordering, and now we have a story about a baby who gets really excited when he sees the new iPad.
Now we’ve compiled a few examples of interesting juxtapositions in five images by PhotoShelter members. Their ability to create stories, comparisons, and even a bit of humor are great inspirations for anyone looking to juxtapose their photos. While you’re checking out these examples, ask yourself: “When you stare at these photos, what draws you in?”
1. Children playing near Beirut, Lebanon, 1982
Photojournalist Steve McCurry shows a group of children playing on a tank in Lebanon, demonstrating just how effective juxtaposition can be when utilized in photojournalism. For some parts of the world ravaged by civil unrest, this may not be a shocking image, but for others this photo is a cause for concern. Seemingly innocent children playing on a tank contrasts with what many feel is “normal” for play. The result is that the story you get about this place in Lebanon is very different than it would be if it showed soldiers near a tank or children playing on a playground.
2. Camels and Oil Fire, Kuwait, 1991
In this second photo, McCurry again turns to unrest in the Middle East, this time with camels searching for food against the fire-lit sky. There are many levels of juxtaposition in this photo, from the dangerous, fiery explosion and plumes of smoke behind the peaceful camels, to the silhouettes of the camels against the bright light of the fire. This photo so eloquently depicts the state of Kuwait in the early 90’s by creating a stark contrast between what is peaceful and tumultuous.
3. Edhi Orphans: Pakistan’s Abandoned Hope
Photojournalist Warrick Page shows us a moment of tenderness between a father and his adopted son from the Edhi Foundation in Pakistan, which encourages women to give up unwanted children rather than abandon or kill them. “Some are born out of wedlock – a major social taboo – others discarded due to physical and mental disabilities, but nearly all are abandoned due to poverty,” says Page. There are several elements of juxtaposition in the photo: the color contrast between the hand and foot; the smooth blur of the hand against the sharp focus of the foot; and even the fact that the child is wearing an over-sized garment. All these elements serve to contrast our thoughts of Pakistan’s political turmoil and poverty with the father’s gentle, caring touch.
4. Middle-aged man riding children’s bicycle
Now what we’ve all been waiting for: the humor of juxtaposition. A middle age man riding on a child’s bicycle? In real life that would be a little odd but in photography it’s, well, really funny. Stock photographer Tatiana Boyle shows that in stock photography you have a chance to use juxtaposition just for fun, and it’s not always about depicting a greater story. This is a fantastic way to contrast youth and age in a way that communicates a funny message.
5. Storm Troppers
When was the last time you saw two Storm Troopers inside of an ornately decorated building? This is a stroke of luck for Advertorial photographer Ryan McGinnis, who was able to capture this interesting juxtaposition between our world and that of space fiction. This photo comes across as relatively humorous; it causes you to question why the Storm Troopers are there and the ridiculousness of the idea that they are walking around like average Joe’s. McGinnis identifies as a “storm chaser,” and here he is shooting storm troopers, that’s interesting.
Examples of juxtaposition exist in everyday life, and there is a good chance there are at least one or two happening any given time you’re out photographing. Have you ever realized that when you’re in a grocery store, there’s rarely ever similar colors next to each other? Yeah, that’s one for you right there.