December 19, 2008

The Simple and Straightforward Design of Photo Essays Online

It wouldn’t surprise me if photographers felt frustrated by the dilemma of how to best present their work online. It can’t be easy transforming their take of the widescreen world to a site that requires viewing at a fixed resolution. How photographers present their work online fascinates me, like the way in which designers, architects or artists use the web as a gallery for their portfolios. The diversity of photography and the approaches taken to share such work online are astounding. Many are spare in layout, letting the images be the centerpieces, and most opt for a white background. I think of the small art galleries, generally painted in a version of white. A white background highlights the color and sharpens the edges of images in an unobtrusive manner. The same can be said about images placed on a black background. While white surroundings suggest a physical art installation, unwound with a rolling pin to spread like a single space, a black background suggests the cool backdrop of a documentary.

The black background of photographer Jan Sochor’s site helps imbue his images with a filmic quality. Designer and author Paul Rand wrote, “Black is the color of death, but by virtue of this very psychological fact it is the color of life it defines, contrasts, and enhances life, light, and color. It is through the artist’s awareness of black as a polar element and consequently of its paradoxical nature that black as a color can be appreciated and effectively used. Nor must he forget that the neutrality of black makes it the common denominator of a multicolored world.”

From the background to the foreground, Jan Sochor’s site—featuring photo essays of images and the words he matches with them—demonstrates how a simply designed presentation can serve the content of a photographer. Sochor’s topics are arranged in a modular layout, like a dresser of mini-drawers. The home screen welcomes you with an arrangement of picture blocks, which are small but meaningfully packed with a lead image and a caption. Not a groundbreaking visual design solution but a sound convention. The lead image by itself would satisfy drawing a deeper look but the caption provides a concise summary to advance the interest. When you click on the picture block, the orientation changes to a horizontal direction and the content is displayed larger, still sustaining the modular format. What’s written fits the format. To contrast with horizontal scrolling, there is a set of controls—Backward, Pause, Forward—to “auto-scroll” the images as a moving strip.

As they pertain to design and designing, beyond web interfaces, Sochor’s photography and its presentation reinforce that simplicity isn’t a safeguard. It’s a decisive means to letting the content get settled as naturally as possible, keeping the surroundings (be they black or white, virtual or physical) in mind.