Life and Photography are all about connections and opposites. Telling stories is only possible when there are different subjects and ideally some twists that don’t make the story very obvious. A Juxtaposition in Photography helps You to tell such a story. Either through humor and opposites or because interesting subjects are next to each other.
Learn what “Juxtaposition” actually means, how You can embrace them in Your Street Photography and why they are so interesting.
What does Juxtaposition mean?
“Juxtaposition” as a term is often used in Street Photography and as a foreign speaker, I heard the word for the first time not really understanding what it means. Even in native vocabulary, I believe “Juxtaposition” is not used very regularly. To have a mutual fundament I want to present the dictionary definition before describing its meaning in Photography from my point of view.
Juxtaposition (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
the act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side often to compare or contrast or to create an interesting effect
an unusual juxtaposition of colors
; also : the state of being so placed
contrasting shapes placed in juxtaposition to each other
The main takeaway from this definition is for our photography is, that it includes multiple “things” that are in contrast or next to each other.
Why are Juxtapositions so interesting?
You might not have thought about the concept of Juxtaposition consciously, but it is omnipresent in arts and media.
I am a huge fan of Sitcoms and comedy shows. If You think about this kind of humor it is almost always based on contrasts.
Rich vs Poor (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)
Smart vs Dull (The Big Bang Theory)
Beautiful vs Hideous (The Honeymooners – starting the trend of an overweight husband and a thin spouse)
Going further, Juxtapositions are almost always an integral part of movies and its subjects.
Think about Social differences in Dramas and the tension it can create to tell a story.
Healthy vs Disabled
Men vs Women
Upper Class vs Lower Class
To add to this, there are countless examples of stories where the contrasts of the main characters are also the most important aspect and what the movie is really about.
The more Juxtapositions a movie can employ while being authentic the more intense and dramatic the story can be.
Think about the movie Intouchables for a second and the numerous Juxtapositions we can find in the two main characters here.
These are just some quick examples, but going more into detail, You could find countless more examples.
The whole movie is basically showing life from two perspectives. The more contrary these two point of views are, the more interesting the story can get.
Try to take away some of the contrasts between the main characters.
Would the movie work, if both would be healthy? No, the protagonists wouldn’t have even met, so it is vital for the story.
What if both came from a rich background and enjoyed art exhibitions more than the party lifestyle?
Of course, the film thrives on Driss introducing his carefree attitude towards life to a man who barely survived a car accident.
The movie received 9 Oscar nominations based on showing life from one of the most extreme opposites.
The Juxtaposition in Photography
If You are doing Street Photography for some time now and try to tell stories, You will have included a lot of juxtapositions already naturally in Your photographs.
Looking at the definition and interpreting it very loosely, a photograph without a juxtaposition would include either only a single subject or multiple subjects that aren’t connected in any way.
While the former can still be a good picture, the latter almost always shows a lack of quality in the photograph. Multiple subjects that aren’t connected, but shown in the same photograph aren’t part of the same story but confuse the viewer who tries to understand the photographer’s narrative.
Hence it is best to follow the basic guideline, to only include subjects that are important to tell a cohesive story.
Based on this very loose view, every photograph with multiple subjects would be a Juxtaposition. This would water down the definition too much and wouldn’t hold much value when describing a great Juxtaposition in Photography.
The second aspect of a Juxtaposition is some kind of contrast or opposites.
Those can be manifold and below are a few examples how Juxtapositions can look like in Street Photography.
Examples in Street Photography
As already shown in Sitcoms and comedy movies, juxtapositions are a great opportunity for humorous scenes.
Street Photography often seems very serious and I feel that there is a lack of “simple” yet fun Street Photos. The world has a lot of funny situations to offer and through Street Photography we are able to show these unique situations.
Context is everything and in the photograph below You can see two group of subjects that are on its own very insignificant.
You can see mannequins in every shop window and they are nothing special anymore, as are bald men.
Combine those both and You have a unique juxtaposition of the “bald” mannequins and both guys in front.
Keep in mind, that the humor doesn’t come from making fun of people, but the situation itself. Without context, the people would be meaningless.
Our cities are plastered with aggressive advertisements and backdrops that try to grab our attention.
Juxtapositions like the one below are very popular as Street Photographs. They don’t require much “street luck” as one subject is already static and You only have to wait for the right person to enter the frame.
As long as You find an interesting backdrop, an ordinary person can already be enough to complete the photograph.
Reminding Yourself of the dictionary definition of Juxtaposition, contrasts or opposites are not mandatory. In most situations, extreme contrasts make the photograph more interesting, but as presented in the picture below, sometimes similar color combinations can create an interesting effect as well.
You can create them similar to the backdrop Juxtapositions in the way, where You see the interesting static object first and wait for the right subject to pass by.
Of course with colors, not any person fits the Juxtaposition, You need either similar or complementary colors
These photographs are not really difficult to create but can require some patience depending on the color palette.
You can find reflections on the street in mirrors like these adverts, puddles or windows.
Normally, this reflection wouldn’t have any connection to the “real” subject, but snapping at the right moment, You can find an interesting contrast in their position.
Although it is very difficult to display some “deeper” meaning in a single image that is Street Photography. I see a lot of approaches that are based on working class differences.
For example, the homeless person in front of an atm is an often displayed scene. A scene that is so widely used, that it has lost all meaning for me and I would describe as far overdone.
Nonetheless, the different lifestyles don’t necessarily need a Documentary style approach, but can also be shown in one simple Juxtaposition.
Tips for creating Juxtapositions in Your Photography
Concentrate on one subject
Despite popular belief, multitasking doesn’t work and if we try to focus on multiple subjects at the same time, we tend to lose focus on both. It is not impossible to follow both, but You don’t have to make life more difficult than it already is.
There are so many distractions on the street and things that try to grab Your attention, that it advisable to simplify Your life by focusing on one interesting subject at the time and see if there is anything nearby that could complete the Juxtaposition.
Have You found a nice backdrop, then take all the time You need to wait for the right person to enter the frame and get Your contrast.
Be observant of Emotions
So far we haven’t talked about different emotions as a form of Juxtaposition, but that is also an option that You might follow.
Try to notice strong emotions of people, if they laugh or cry and that can be the base of Your Juxtaposition.
Triangles and more than two Subjects
Contrasts can be created very well by more than just two subjects. By including three subjects or more, You can also improve Your composition by creating triangles or other geometrical figures.
As seen in the photograph below, there are multiple “opposites”.
First of all, the subjects are on two opposite sides.
On the left, the people are standing, while on the right the subjects are lying down. At the same time, the couple is facing each other, while the sunbather and the dog face in opposite directions.
Don’t Take Life too seriously
Spotting those contrasts gets easier for me when I have an open mind and don’t focus too much on seeing Juxtapositions in Photography. Rather I am curious about everything and try to follow anything that is interesting to me.
Especially, following an approach where I try to find the absurd or humorous on the street makes it easier to actually find contrasts on the street and create Juxtapositions.