Written by: Leila Sadeghi

Photo by: Mohsen HaghighatZadeh, in Free Look exhibition, held in Art House



To make sense of the photograph’s world, a viewer should divide its space conceptually into different parts, as humans make sense of the world by dividing it in terms of conceptual categories. There are, in this picture, namely the dome roof-top, the bird and the net, considered as significant participants for interpreting the photo. The relation of these participants to each other and their location in the picture leads to a visual narration of the border between individuality and ideology. The gray skiesare located in the background, although the net, the bird and the dome are inthe foreground to add more meaning through their arrangement.

In simplest terms, the figure may be what is noticed and theground is everything else.The bird as a ‘figure’ is moving above the holly dome as a ‘ground’ in an asymmetric relation with the figure.However, the dome is rendered as the ground in relation with the bird, not the net or sky. Culturally, the holly dome refers to the high value, while the figure, in this photograph, is passing over the ground. Therefore, passing over the dome as schemaof ‘up is valuable’leads toignoring the function of the dome by the bird metaphorically. However, the dome is supposed to be the‘ground’ toward the bird, not the net or sky. To sum up, an element or participant could be a figure as well as a ground simultaneously in a picture toconstruct different layers of interpretation albeit not in the same relation with elements. Furthermore, figure and ground could be considered trajectory and landmark, respectively, to define spatial relations in a frame. Every temporal or spatial relation displays an asymmetry in the prominence given the entities that participate in the interconnections.Trajectoris construed as anentity whose nature or location is being assessed and is analyzed as the figure within the relational profile. The landmark is applied to a salient participant with respect to which the trajector is situated (Langacker, 1990: 76). Not only could consider a figure as a trajectorwhich have a sort of contact (physical, passage, thematic, etc.) with landmark, but also it is possible to read the ground asthe figure of another relationbetween different participants as well. The dome, for instance, is the ‘landmark’ in relation with the bird, considered static and rigidified, while the bird is thetrajector, the dynamic participant who is passing over the dome. So the bird and the dome have some sort of identifiable visual relation with each other with an asymmetric prominence and paradox entities. The bird is something which is not like the dome phenomenologically and functionally.

If the reader/viewer may divide the area of the picture mentally into thirds, with two vertical and two horizontal lines in terms of ROT rule, there will be nine areas and four intersections. The dome which is the symbol of sacredness and ideological beliefs located at the bottom left of the image, while the bird as a symbol of freedom, relief, movement, etc. is situated at the top right, totally in a counter position of the holly dome. In conclusion, all the features of each participant have to be opposed with the other one as well. To be precise, there is not any physical contact between the dynamicand the static signs, but onejust passing over the other. The bird is moving toward the right side of the frame, contrary to the static sign; that is, leaving the dome behind and exiting from the current state.

According to Kress and leeuwen, a common compositional structure of multimodal texts involves a given and new distinction in visual context, where old information ispositioned on the left- side, and new oneon the right (Kress and leeuwen, 2006: 177-201). At the left side, the dome keeps its old nature as its saintliness, fixed entity orits unchangeable social institute, whereas the bird move toward the new information; that is, refer to individuality, the desire of having freedom or going outside the limited area of the frame. The untold new information could be an ideal place of heavenly life or a hellish life, freedom or slavery, etc.

Since the trajectory and landmark are in a counter relation, they are doing counter act as well as having counter reality: the dome is what the bird is not and vice versa. In Islamic countries, typically, people can observea number of flying birds on the dome roof-top which is a cultural presupposition. However, in this picture the bird is going away from the dome which associates the image schema “up is valuable’, while the dome is situated in the bottom of the picture. What is more, the bird or its connotation is linked to the ‘up is valuable’ schema due to being on the top of the photo spatially as well as thematically. As a result, the figure and the ground have paradoxical function and qualities, such as: being static/ dynamic, linking to the top/bottom as valuable/invaluable object, fixed/animated entity, closed/opened item, oldness/freshness and so on.

The net is another participant which was supposed to be a background, but it plays a different salient role by its presence in the foreground.Itstear and tied identity will certainly emphasize on the function of the figure as focalized point. The net and the bird could co-occur in syntagmatic axis while associating being hunted or slavedin theparadigmatic axis. In conclusion, the autonomy of the bird as a participant is in danger in terms of being behind the net. However thetied tear-net opened the viewer’s eyes on the bird’s movement toward the outside, the area far from the fixed, static and rigidified entity, from ideology to individuality, from one I to another I…





Langacker, Ronald (1990)."Nouns and Verbs".From Concept, Image and Symbol. Mouton de Gruyter

Kress, Gunther  andLeeuwen, Theo van(1996).Reading Images.The Grammar of Visual Design. New York:Routledge.



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