Representing Space: The Pictorial Imperative

Representing Space: The Pictorial Imperative

Stephen Boyd Davis (Middlesex University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-020-2.ch010


The chapter is concerned with the relationship between the planar space of graphic representations and the world space that they represent. To achieve some coherence in thinking about the spatiality of different media such as film, television, and videogames, two opposed modes of composition, the configurational and the pictorial, are described, both historically and in current practice. The film theory concepts of diegetic and extra-diegetic are also unified with these two modes of composition. It is argued that the historical, developmental path to the spatiality of modern media suggests an almost irresistible pictorial imperative. So while we may at times regret the dominance of one particular mode of picture-making that, for some purposes, certainly has weaknesses in both informational and affective terms, in the end we must acknowledge its attraction and its power.
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From World Space To Picture Space

It is worth looking briefly at the apparently obvious relationship between the world to be depicted and the depictions that are made of it.

The space of the real world is commonly described as three-dimensional. This way of conceiving space is a culturally specific one, and it has been objected that the Cartesian system little resembles our experience of the world (e.g., Lannoch & Lannoch, 1989, p. 41). In this view, it might be preferable to use spherical polar coordinates representing how far up or down, right or left, the observer must turn, together with the distance from the observer of the various parts of the environment, in order to see or reach some part of the scene. However, Cartesian three-dimensional space has a good fit with depiction on a two-dimensional surface. Indeed, it is almost certain that the idea that space is naturally measured on three orthogonal axes would not have occurred without the prior achievement of perspectival depiction. Descartes’ model presupposes just those kinds of graphical mapping of world space to picture space with which our culture is familiar: a picture has two dimensions, comprising marks on a plane that is orthogonal to the line of sight, and the world has an additional dimension: that of depth or distance from the observer.

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