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Lesson Plan: Positive and Negative Space in Photography

“Teaching with Photography,” UMMA Workshop for Educators, November 6, 2013

Photograph of the Singer Building in New York, located at Broadway and Liberty. Open to the public in 1908, it was the tallest building in America for one year. In 1968 it was the world's largest skyscaper to be demolished.
Alfred Stieglitz
The City of Ambition
1910 - 1911
photogravure | paper
Gift of the Marvin Felheim Collection
1983/1.294
A photograph of an oblique view of a plaster mill in Los Angeles, California. 
Edward Weston
Plaster Works, Los Angeles
1925
gelatin silver print | paper
Gift of The Morris and Beverly Baker Foundation, in memory of Morris D. Baker, a graduate of The University of Michigan School of Architecture, 1952
2000/2.145

Objectives

Students will create a paper cut based on a photograph, defining the planes and positive and negative space

National Core Standards

  • Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work 

Grade

4-5

Time Required

One class period

Materials

  • White and black paper
  • Gray paper, newspapers, and other “found” neutral colored papers
  • Different colored square papers
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks
  • About five landscape photographs with interesting shapes and textures. Black and white photographs will allow students to focus on shapes and textures and not be distracted by color. Examples may include Brett Weston and James Valentine, from UMMA collection
  •  

Lesson

  1. Introduce vocabulary: composition, line, positive and negative space, shape, texture, soft and sharp focus

  2. Analyze Stieglitz’s and Weston’s photographs. Ask students to describe the texture of these photos, and how texture and soft/sharp focus are similar/different.

  3. After observing City of Ambition, discuss positive and negative space. Positive spaces are those occupied by the main subject of the work.  The negative spaces are the areas around and behind the positive space; often called the background.  Therefore, the shapes of negative spaces are determined by the shapes of the positive spaces.

  4. Carefully cut a shape out of one side of a piece of paper that resembles The City of Ambition skyline.  Observe both the pieces you cut out and discover what the positive and negative spaces are.            

  5. Trace the skyline again with a different piece of paper. Put them together like a puzzle, so the positive space is one color and the negative space is a different color.

  6. Ask students if they see how the shapes fit together.  Are there any spaces between?  No, because negative space takes up all the gaps made by positive space. The resulting visual images are challenging and stimulate the imagination of students.  Try putting several examples of the combined positive/negative puzzle image together in a quilt-like repeating fashion, as a tessellation.

  7. Now turn to the Plaster Works photograph and observe the clear, sharp lines and detail.

  8. Students can cut shapes from the black, gray and white paper, imitating the shapes from the photograph. Put the shapes together to create a Plaster Works collage. In the history of photography, crisp, clear, sharp focus and texture appealed to photographers who embraced the aesthetic of black, and white photography as separate from painting and equally valuable.

Alternative: younger students could create one tessellation project as a group, each student creating one square.

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Tags
Composition — by John Turner (October 17 2016 @ 10:06 am)
Focus — by John Turner (October 17 2016 @ 10:07 am)
Line — by John Turner (October 17 2016 @ 10:07 am)
Negative space — by John Turner (October 17 2016 @ 10:06 am)
Photograph — by John Turner (October 17 2016 @ 10:06 am)
Photography — by John Turner (October 17 2016 @ 10:06 am)
Positive space — by John Turner (October 17 2016 @ 10:06 am)
Tesselation — by John Turner (October 17 2016 @ 10:07 am)
Texture — by John Turner (October 17 2016 @ 10:07 am)

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March 6, 2017 1:19 a.m.

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