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on looking for the vanishing point

1 : a point at which receding parallel lines seem to meet when represented in linear perspective
2 : a point at which something disappears or ceases to exist  —Merriam Webster Dictionary

A vanishing point is a point on the image plane of a perspective drawing where the two-dimensional perspective projections (or drawings) of mutually parallel lines in three-dimensional space appear to converge.  —Wikipedia

Mary Berry, an English non-fiction writer, arrived in Paris on Sunday, March 14, 1802. At 1:00 p.m. the next day, she went to the Louvre. “To give any idea of this gallery is quite impossible,” she wrote.

“You ascend to it (at present) by a commodious plain staircase, and first enter a large square room [the Salon Carré] … lined with all the finest Italian pictures, very well placed as to light. Out of this room you enter a gallery [the Grande Galerie]—such a gallery. But such a gallery!!! As the world never before saw, both as to size and furniture! So long that the perspective ends almost in a point [emphasis mine], and so furnished that at every step, tho’ one feels one must go on, yet one’s attention is arrested by all the finest pictures that one has seen before in every other country, besides a thousand new ones.”

If I want to impress someone when I visit a museum, I will mention the vanishing point in a painting. I will choose a painting with a single vanishing point, maybe one with two, and they are often obvious, and ask, “Have you noticed that this artist has used a single point to focus the elements in the painting?”  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Once I did that while visiting a photography exhibit in southern France. A camera crew happened to be there. As I pointed to this and that in the photo, talking away, and without knowing, I was being filmed. When I looked up and back, I saw what was occurring and someone with the camera crew beckoned me to continue.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

One of my most proud academic moments occurred when I gave an oral presentation in a film studies course. I chose to discuss the vanishing points in the documentary “Night and Fog”“Nuit et brouillard”—by the great French film director Alain Resnais(Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

He documented the abandoned grounds of Auschwitz and Majdanek; it was one of the first cinematic reflections on the Holocaust. He had used the images of railroad tracks leading into the camps in the distance.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

In Paris the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Cimetière du Montparnasse are wonderful locations for using a vanishing point when taking pictures. Each must have been laid out with rulers. Whoever designed them created blocks of space.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

The trees in the Jardin are aligned perfectly. The streets in the cemetery do not diverge around corners; they continue straight like roads in corn fields.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Once the vanishing point is recognized, what interests me most are the elements emerging out of that point. What is there to the sides? I cannot see really what exists in the distance at that one point. It is too far away. But the left and right have images that can be seen.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jim O'Connell #

    Thanks for posting this Michael…I have seen this in photography and some paintings, but never really gave it much thought. Your insightful views and selections to go with this made me dive deeper into the images…well done Sir!

    07/01/2022
  2. Thanks for sending this. I especially like the picture with the stairs that go down and reflect green light.

    10/01/2022
    • you’re welcome. i do need to go out at night and try taking pics more often. if you look closely you will see the green light might be the reflection of the color on the sidewalk.

      10/01/2022

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