What is Power/Subordination in images?

I developed the concept of Power/Subordination as a description for a key property (or output) of my images. It describes the relationship of power implicit in one or more image elements towards other elements (or the viewer) making them appear subordinate or somehow weaker. This feature is present in 27% of my “top 50” images and 22% of the “top 200” images. Therefore, it is a significant trope.

Here are examples:

Above the tall, powerful, new, turbines with their science fiction appearance seem to be marching across the high ground of the landscape. In contrast the old, worn fences look weak, low down in the scene and unable to stop the “progress”. This effect is enhanced as the turbines appear to be looking into the distance and to be unaware of the fences.

In the next image the turbines, whilst a similar size in the frame to those in the above image, do not appear dominant relative, this time, to the viewer. They are at a distance, looking at the viewer, almost hiding behind the shed, as if in a stand-off with, but not threatening the viewer. Somehow the viewer seems to be in control of the scene.

Both images are examples of a Power/Subordinate relationship within the image but demonstrate how changes in the composition can result in opposing relationships and narratives.

In narrative and relationship terms this image is a combination of the two above. The stone cross is looking powerful and, perhaps defiant in the face of the viewer. The ring of the Celtic cross appears to form the hands-on hips stance of a confident leader confronting the viewer. By contrast the power-pole in the background is timid, hiding behind the hill, not wanting to be involved. Its construction, being almost an inverse of the stone cross, lacks the confident stance. The third pole, on the left, is like a bystander present (to balance the composition) but not involved in the story.

This image was created because I saw the pleasing triangular shape formed by the rock and the 4 posts. However, once seen, I started to perceive a power/subordinate relationship between the confrontational looking poles and the small rock that seems to be shrinking into the ground. The cut-outs near the tops of the front two poles adds to the impression that these are in some way human. This image only works the way I describe because there is little sense of depth and the rock looks to be almost on the same plane as the posts.

Here the solid, concrete, WWII lookout post is high and looking out to sea, oblivious of the viewer. It is dominant and immovable. In contrast the viewer is low down looking up towards the lookout. Even although the lookout is not acknowledging the viewer’s presence this particular viewer feels the weaker but not necessarily threatened.

Here are 2 further examples:


This is a very anthropomorphic way to view images, but it comes very naturally and unbidden to me. The exercise has demonstrated how viewpoint, position in the frame, size, construction materials and the juxtapositions of elements and viewers can result in very different perceptions and meanings in an image.

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