By Levi Shand
What is FGR?
The Figure-to-Ground Relationship (FGR) challenge reaquaints photographers with their primal visual roots. Which branch is a branch, and which is a slithering predator? Each of us today is the product of someone having made a good choice in that situation, or of having maneuvered away from situations where the choice was too close to call. Okay, so that’s an extreme example but it encapsulates what figure-to-ground relationship is all about: an economy between the party sending visual information and the receiver.
The FGR challenge asks photographers to isolate the human form against a clean background. Easy enough, right? Maybe not. In the above example of the snake and your ancestor, it is the snake’s job to remain hidden. It was your ancestor’s job to spot the animal before it becomes dangerous. In a photograph or other piece of two-dimensional art, it’s easier for the viewer to pick out forms if they’re isolated and contrasted against a neutral backdrop.
In a street photograph, it is the photographer’s job to decide how simple it ought to be for the viewer to perceive forms in a given image. Shall it be difficult or easy? It is the photographer who decides how much work the viewer is to do discerning the subject, and it is the viewer that decides whether to stick around long enough to do it.
This monthly challenge asks the photographer to practice being gentle with their viewer. Don’t make them hunt in the shadows for light glinting off a shoulder, or cheekbone. Establish sufficient contrast and distance such that a whole human figure can be identified immediately in the frame. If that is too difficult, try isolating a fragment of the human body first or an animal form, and then move up to an entire figure. If one human form with good FGR is too easy, try two and so on.
Good luck, and happy shooting!