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Balance of Direction





This photo of Front and Wellington Streets in Toronto, Canada was taken by an unknown photographer in the late 1800’s. The symmetrical nature of the subject could have made the image static and predictable, but because of the counterbalancing effect of the varying diagonals the subject is animated and engaging.


The two, almost parallel streets of equal importance cause the eye to jump confusingly from one to the other. However, the dominant central building and figures are strong enough to keep drawing attention back to this focal area.

The image is dominated by four strong diagonal lines, punctuated by a series of, not quiet parallel, verticals. It is the variation in the verticals, plus their chaotic collection of horizontal caps that give this photograph its wonderful quirky character.


The fact that the small boy in the foreground appears in three different locations further adds to the “double take” feeling generated by the photograph.

Corner of Front and Wellington circa 1888  Unknown Photographer [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photographer Unknown “Corner of Front and Wellington” (circa 1888)

William Turners painting of Calais Pier uses a number of conflicting diagonals to guide the viewers eye along the pier, across the three main boats and up into the patch of blue sky above the two dominant masts.


By almost completely loosing the stabilising effect of the horizon line and fracturing the painting with the variety of opposing diagonals, a turbulent, dramatic composition is established.


The uneasy drama of the painting is amplified by the placement of the viewer to the extreme right of the painting evidenced by the perspective of the pier.


Notice the importance of the boat on the extreme left of the painting. Not only does its mast act as a counterbalance to the two main masts, but it also stops the eye running out the left hand side of the painting.

J. M. W. Turner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

J. M. W. Turner (1775 – 1851)  “Calais Pier” (1803)

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