Edward Twitchell Hall, Jr. was an American anthropologist that greatly advanced our understanding of nonverbal communication and behavior. While his book titles, such as “The Hidden Dimension” and “The Silent Language” may seem to offer no value to fellow photographers, there is a hidden treasure-trove of insight all artists can benefit from.
Photography, a purely visual medium, does not rely on words or a language to communicate with an audience. So why is it that some photos resonate so well with viewers? Why do some photos make us feel so much emotion or understand the theme so well? Why do some photos make us literally feel the ocean breeze or the sizzle of heat or the roughness of rock?
Simply put, it’s because of the nonverbal communication going on.
Photography, you see, relies solely on nonverbal communication. If you’ve experimented with composition space, you know how impactful a slight change in space has on the image. Additionally, you’ve likely seen images depicting temperatures (mist, fog, water, heat) that clearly communicate.
Learning and understand this unseen communication will both strengthen your nonverbal photo communication and personal understanding of why you do the things you do.
It’s what E.T. Hall calls “Proximetics”
Proximetics are the temporal and spatial dimensions that surround each of us and are used as tools for communicating messages with one another.
We are so accustomed to relying solely on words and language to communicate that we forget that there is an entire system of nonverbal communication happening right in front of us.
Texture, Space, and Other Hidden Languages
While ET Hall’s writing is not made for photographers, it covers a variety of topics that us visual artists work with on a daily basis and analyzes why we respond to certain images.
What’s most useful, in my opinion, is his clear description of space and how it dominates our life and social behavior. How close we stand to strangers in a bus line, how far we drive from other cars on the freeway, and a variety of other situations we are blind to reveal how unconsciously “in-tune” we are to space.
By becoming aware of space and the edges that define it, you will better understand why certain composition “rules” have the emotional impact they do.
“Spatial changes give a tone to a communication, accent it, and at times even override the spoken word.”
ET Hall, The Silent Language
Art As Communication
The fact is that written communication has only been around for a few thousand years. Art, however, has been flowing out of human hands since humans have existed.
Hidden in art from the past is the essence of this human experience.
Through looking at various cultures and differences in nonverbal communication as well as visual art over the centuries, ET Hall’s writing guides you to a deeper understanding of this hidden, nonverbal language.
“No matter what happens in the world of human beings, it happens in a spatial setting, and the design of that setting has a deep and persisting influence on the people in that setting.”
Understand What Goes On Behind the Scenes of Your Viewers
If you are looking to get a more in-depth understanding of visual space, texture, color and its influence on viewers, I completely recommend reading any of E.T. Hall’s writings.
One word of warning though…
Unlike most photography courses or books, this book has no transition directing concepts to actionable photo techniques. It’s a scholarly work and as such, solely provides findings and insight.
These findings, however, are startling. I challenge you to find the dots and connect them yourself. You’ll be a better photographer – and artist – from it.
“…designers and engineers have failed to grasp the deep significance of touch, particularly active touch. They have not understood how important it is to keep the person related to the world in which he lives.”
How can you inject a stronger feeling of “touch” in your photos visually?