As Above, So Below by Andrew Ilachinski
There are several aspects of this project by Andrew Ilachinski that could be the focus of attention — his persistence in acquiring permission to photograph in these underground caves; the challenge of assembling enough images for a small portfolio in a very limited amount of time; the strategies he used to overcome the problem of repetition when photographing an area that is, by definition, repetitive — but rather than focus on the project as a whole, there are certain aspects of this particular image that fascinate me.
Every photograph contains a certain visual component that sets the point of view. In the overwhelming majority of photographs, that point of view is, 1.) parallel to the horizon, 2.) perpendicular to terra firma, and 3.) from an altitude of roughly 5 feet — eye level for the average handheld or tripod-mounted camera. This point of view is so ubiquitous it's often one of the first changes a photographer can make to spice up a portfolio — stand on a ladder, put the camera near the ground, tilt the lens, etc. Doing so shifts the point of view and changes the convergence point of the perspective lines in the composition. This image in Ilachinski's portfolio does something that is rarely accomplished: there are two distinct perspective convergence points in opposite directions.
Cover the top half of the photograph and just look at the bottom. There is no question that his camera is pointed up and the perspective lines move toward some point above the object photographed. Now cover the bottom half of the photograph so you are looking just at the top. Notice how the perspective has shifted. Suddenly it feels as though we are looking down at something — almost straight down — and the perspective lines appeared to merge somewhere below what we are seeing. What a fascinating optical illusion this is to have perspective convergent points both below the subject and above the subject in the same photograph. There is an Escher-esque quality to this photograph that is fascinating.
As fascinating as this is, there is, however, and even more warping perspective that may have something to do with his use of a wide-angle lens (17mm according to the EXIF data). The right side of the top half of the photograph appears to lean away as though the entire top half of the photograph exists on the surface of a sphere. The bottom half of the photograph doesn't include that similar spherical perspective.
The strange geometry in this image is no doubt enhanced by the unexpectedly even illumination. This is a study in grays. An examination of the histogram for this image shows a classic bell curve completely devoid of significant 100% black or 100% white tones. In any other context, such an even distribution of tones would likely create a rather flat looking photograph, but here the image doesn't feel flat of all — either tonally or dimensionally.
I believe the tones look right in this photograph because of the direction of illumination. It appears to me that there are at least three sources of illumination — one just off the left side of the photograph, one in the lower right-hand corner, and one off the upper right-hand corner. Perhaps these multiple sources of light helped create the optical illusion of multiple dimensions and conflicting perspective — particularly when compared to the average landscape photograph that contains only one source of light, that giant ball of fire in the sky. However the effect was created, it's a fascinating, if not vertigo-inducing, image that punctuates this portfolio marvelously.
The portfolio can be seen in its entirety in our back issues — print (while still available) and our PDFs for computer, iPad, Android, and other devices. Plus, bonus audio commentary about this image is available to full-access members of LensWork Online.
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