Left, right, left-right, left...
Despite my western education in reading and writing and all of my work life experiences being entirely informed by western methods, I have never been satisfied with the notion that elements with movement (or implied movement) in a photographic image should always, if you wish them to remain positive, flow from left to right.
And vice-versa for a negative implication of course.
In fact, on examination of many examples of left-to-right and right-to-left image-flipping, I am more comfortable with the right-left configuration... But it's another one of those guidelines that crops up from time to time in photography discussions - and I have had the comment made on several occasions by observers of my work - including at a recent presentation to a photographic society in London - that a fair amount of my photos seem to contain primary and secondary graphic cues that track through the frame counter-intuitively, i.e. from right to left; so I have set about a little experiment with some examples to examine this observation.
Consider the following two images:
The above photo is the scene as it appeared in front of me. The breakwater enters the frame on camera right and its diminishing perspective draws the viewer from right to left. Flipping the image 180 degrees around its vertical axis results in the below - the supposedly more comfortable rendering of the photo for western eyes:
You may perceive an alteration in the way the image speaks to you visually, however, to my eye there is no discernible transformation to either the mood or message of the image resulting from the flip.
In my view, the same goes for the following two:-
How did the above two variations appear to you? Image A is flipped, image B is the original.
What about the two below?
A is flipped, B is the original. This is the only pair in the blog in which the original is definitively my preferred choice.
Finally, let us now consider the pair below - one of which is the original, the other a flipped version. This time, I will leave it to you to decide which is the visually more compelling, or natural, or comfortable image of the two:
Which one do you think is a representation of the scene as it appeared before me and which is the flipped version? More importantly, to your eye, which of the two (if at all) makes the more natural progression through the frame?*
Why do some of us prefer one version and others among us choose the alternative? Is it really because, as westerners, we are brain-trained from childhood and we have had the left to right progression principle drummed into us and, consequently, implied or described movement in that direction will always be our preference?
And vice-versa for easterners?
Or is it because we know it's one of those rules (well.. actually... one of those guidelines)?
Or are some of us, despite all of the education in our former years but because of how our cognitive-visual awareness works (perhaps because of some graphic or artistic discipline that has informed our views over time) just naturally content with going in either direction?
Or, maybe (and I think this has a bearing on my perception of some of my images) if we acquired the original shot, we know how the scene appeared when we actually fired the shutter and we cannot remove the memory from our heads and, in that knowledge, we cannot therefore transpose all the elements of the scene into an alternate reality and remain 100% comfortable with it.
I think it's time to consult Mister Google.
*Image A is flipped, image B is the original.