Visual Rhetoric/Visual Representations of Time and Space
Space and time are two elements that reflect one another. It is important to understand how the two work in terms of visual rhetoric. Space as an element in visual rhetoric is often derived from narrative framing devices. Such a narrative is one that employs the evolution of time. For example, comics are a narrative through the evolution of time, but it is also being told spatially in the positioning of linear boxes and positioning of the subjects within the boxes.
Static vs. Dynamic Visuals
In a static two-dimensional image, time exists only within the mind of the reader. In comic books, photo albums, images, and similar mediums, readers create an order within the content of the image, creating not only a coherent narrative, but also a sense of the passage of time. This task is performed with a large reliance upon shared cultural assumptions about how a page is read, be it left to right or down to up and so on. For purposes of visual rhetoric, the term time comes to mean an indefinite and continuous duration in which events succeed one another. Time can exist in all types of visual images.
Compiling photo albums is an example of how visual rhetoric is a narrative through space. The layout and design of images on each page helps convey the intended feeling of how a person felt at one particular time and attributes to how the overall story is perceived. How well or how poorly completed the layout and design are can shape the impact of the message.
To further elaborate, photo albums are a preservation of an event or time in place. Memories are made in the brain of the individual being and photo albums are a way to utilize space in a capacity separate from the self. It is important to note that with this visual narrative form of communication, the interpretation of certain events in time vary from viewer to viewer. The events that occurred in the images will naturally evoke a different feeling for the subject than it will for the viewer looking in from the outside. The individual viewer’s feelings are based on his or her own experiences through the times in their lives and the places they have been. These places are spaces where events have occurred, which evidently shows that time and space do indeed reflect one another.
Film & Video
Static images are not the only forms of visual rhetoric that utilize time and space. Time within dynamic visuals like film and video in motion-based mediums, is controlled less by the viewer. Time passes before the viewer with the only thinking taking place when scenes change and they must make a connection between their times and places. The viewer doesn't assemble the narrative, but only observes it. A moment on the motion picture screen is only a moment, while a moment on a page is, to the audience viewing it, eternal. While one may read beyond one section of an image, the previous one is still there and still visible. A viewer sees what they choose to see, not only what they are meant to see. Thus, it is possible to view multiple moments at once, from multiple perspectives, and yet still assemble them into a coherent whole. This is an aspect of the viewing of images that works at a level far beyond day-to-day human perception, which is always from a single perspective.
Like film and video, plays and other theatrical productions are narrative stories told in a space bound by a stage surface. Plays are distinguished from motion pictures through time and space. Plays are a live event happening right in front of the viewer in real-time. Motion pictures are like photo albums in that it is more two-dimensional than three-dimensional. In many cases, theatrical performances transform the audience from the present day into another era. The mentality of the audience is not only affected by the time period of the play, but also by the placement of the actors and as well as the distance between the viewer and the stage. The space between the viewer and the story being told separates reality from fiction, or in some plays, non-fiction.
Linear vs. Nonlinear Visuals
As well as seeing a single perspective, humans also usually view reality in a strictly linear fashion, moment to moment. Viewers will usually assemble an image into a linear narrative, but they can also do it non-linearly if they wish to. Some visuals lend themselves to non-linear readings, as they have no coherent order outside from the overall view they present, while others will only make sense in a straightforward order. The viewer does more work when reading non-linearly, as it is a different way of experiencing reality than we are accustomed to. Of course, the brain is thought to work in a largely non-linear manner, but our senses do not.
This idea of viewing reality in a linear fashion can be depicted in comic strips. Comics flow in a linear fashion telling a story through images and text. Many people do not realize that by reading and viewing comic strips they become a part of visual rhetoric. Each comic is compiled of individual boxes displaying images and when put together they go through time to get to an ending, or tell the story. Although they, unlike film and video, are still images, the idea of time is still depicted.
Some aspects of this reading are more intuitive, as the eye will naturally spend more time on a larger image or better focused object. If something is read first, it is read as first in the series of events assembled by the reader. Also, larger segments of the image seem to last longer as they take longer to read. Thus, when it comes to the reading of static images, space becomes equal to time.
We can now see how elements from a variety of mediums can alter the viewers' perceptions by utilizing time and space. Static and dynamic visuals differ in how a viewer absorbs the content. The message that comes from dynamic visuals is fed to the audience more passively than static visuals. In order to understand static visuals, individuals need to be more active in analyzing its spatial components. While humans experience time linearly, media can show subjects to us in a non-linear fashion, silently altering perceptual time and space.