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What is Art? Environment Identity Designing Spaces and Places
Jane Tuckerman
Jane Tuckerman, Untitled Click to larger image
Jane Tuckerman
Untitled, 1980
black and white photograph
18 5/16 x 12 5/8 in.

About the Art

Jane Tuckerman's black-and-white photograph Untitled was taken on the coast of South Carolina. The photograph is mysterious and dreamlike. It challenges the viewer to think about the scene and ask questions about exactly what is happening in the photograph: from where was it taken? When it was taken? Is it day or night? Winter or summer? Reality or fantasy? There are signs of human life, but why are no people in sight? It is easy to recognize parts of this expansive scene: neat clusters of plump, feathery trees, a running fence that boldly casts its shadow across the landscape, and a wedge of sea with its waves lapping against the shore. However, the way light hits the trees and the earth makes it appear as though there is a snowy covering.

At first glance, it appears that the photograph is of seagulls flying over a shore. However, the forms of the seagulls are difficult to see. Tuckerman captured the gulls in many phases of flight; some soar gracefully on outstretched wings, while others are shown in awkward, strange positions. Some forms are only shadows or are blurred and difficult to identify. The large, dark gull form looming above the horizon line seems much too large when compared to the other birds. Is it a bird or a shadow? Is it flying or falling from the sky? More clearly shown is the gull on the right edge of the photograph that seems to be suspended, hovering in midair.

The birds seem oddly close to the camera, causing questions about how this photograph was taken. Tuckerman photographed the scene from a bird's-eye view. Her decision to use a bird's-eye view makes it more dramatic than if she had photographed it from the ground. Tuckerman was in a hot-air balloon when she took this photograph. Her aerial view shows us more than we could see from the ground. It reveals the limitless stretches of land, sea, and sky, as well the soft, curving forms, and complex patterns of the landscape. The bands of sky, water, and earth meet at the horizon and appear to stretch forever into the distance beyond the edges of the photograph. These elements create a diagonal movement, charging the photograph with energy.

Strong contrasts of light and dark also contribute to the photograph's sense of mystery. The rich blacks of the shadows are deepened when cast against the glowing white of the trees and ground. A thin band of soft light separates the dark sky from the murky black water. The shapes of the gull wings are repeated in the cloud forms. The blurred effects also help create a sensation of movement.

Jane Tuckerman used special film and photography techniques to acheive the mysterious effects in this photograph. Tuckerman used infrared film, which gives the photograph unusual effects and contributes to the fantastic mood of the image. With infrared film, trees and grass appear white, while sky and water look dark. Infared film gives the photograph a soft, grainy appearance as well, which strengthens its dreamlike quality. Infrared film was first used for scientific purposes in the 1930s. It has a wide range of uses today, including use in criminology as an investigative tool, in medicine, in the exploration of space, and in movies, where it has been used to create special effects.

The appearance of this photograph is also affected by the shutter speed, which controls the amount of time that film in the camera is exposed to light. A fast shutter speed has the ability to "stop action," freezing things in motion at the moment the photographer takes the picture. A slower shutter speed increases blurring and emphasizes motion, as shown in the bird images.

Vocabulary Terms

aerial view--A view from the sky of the landscape or objects below, same as birds-eye-view.

bird's-eye view--Seen from above as if by a flying bird, same as aerial view.

contrast--The use of opposing elements such as light and dark, large and small, smooth and rough. Shows differences between elements such as the light and dark parts of a picture.

horizon line--The line created where the sky and earth appear to meet.

infrared film--A special kind of film which is sensitive to infrared radiation, which is in the spectrum of light but is not visible to the human eye. Common photographic film records the light and dark tones of a scene as they would ordinarily be seen by the human eye. Infrared film records a scene with a shift in tones, which can suggest an unreal, fantasylike state.

shutter speed--Control on a camera which regulates the amount of time the film is exposed to light.

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Inner Worlds | What Is Art? | Environment | Designing Spaces and Places | Identity
About the Art | About the Artist | Discussion Questions/Activities | Teacher Lessons