Labyrinths and patterns

In a description of hyperphotography, (Described in chapter 8 , ‘Toward Hyperphotography’ in Batchen, Geoffrey, et al.  ‘Picturing atrocity: photography in crisis.’ Picturing atrocity: photography in crisis, Reaktion Books, London, 2012, this chapter describes a fascinating angle on the changes taking place from analogue to digital photography) I read that a digital photograph can be read as a map of squares……able to serves a pathway elsewhere……slicing the world into segments. I selected a photograph at random to experiment with along these lines.

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I then drew grids on a piece of acetate and layered these to the photograph.


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Square grid

The square grid looked too regimented for me and so I tried drawing the jigsaw grid onto the original, cutting out the pieces and pasting them onto a white sheet of paper, creating small negative spaces.

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Jigsaw grid

This was much more interesting and has the appearance of ambiguity in that there are two narratives going on simultaneously; the main subject is clearly discernible and the ‘jigsaw ‘ pathway in white presents a different story. It could be that the scene is being looked at through a wrought iron barrier, it could be a stained glass window or a painting. The viewer is kept at a distance and at the same time being invited in. I sketched the negative spaces and wrote in the words that came to mind while doing this.

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What surprised me then is that the resulting sketch looked like a print of tree roots that I had previously done in Printmaking.

Tree root print

Having just read Umberto Eco’s ‘The Name of the Rose’, I could see the labyrinthine patterns emerging and went on to look at similar patterns in Nature, which is the main theme that I want to follow. Spirals were a major source of patterns.


I have previously investigated the Fibonacci sequence but was surprised to discover how many of these patterns conformed. The fingerprint image was so much like a labyrinth that I investigated the subject. There are two major types; the single path, unicursal and the branching, multicursal patterns.  Broadly speaking, the idea of a labyrinth is that as you begin to walk it, you take with you any problems that you want to resolve. When you reach the centre, you are at a meeting point with redemption and on the way back, you apply this resolution and exit refreshed and inspired. This has been used in many different areas, such as prisons, mental health institutions and hospitals, and also taken up by New Agers who have added a variety of mystical interpretations.


Labyrinths in history

My next step was to look more closely at the connection of the fingerprint to the labyrinth.  This resonates with Eco’s semiotic emphasis, the patterns in the print signifying an unending pattern that has no beginning or end and is a mystery.



Study for thumbprint labyrinth
Thumbprint copy
First crop and enlargement
Thumbprint 2copy
Second enlargement
Thumbprint greyscale
Greyscale for tone and clarity

There is a distinct link from here to spiders’ webs, themselves a labyrinth, especially difficult to exit for a fly!

As yet, I have no idea where this is all going. One area seems to lead onto another and I cannot see the direction clearly. I am content just now to reiterate Eco’s statement that ‘I doubt the world has an order. I am consoled to discover, if not an order, at least a series of connections in small areas of the world.’ This also fits well with my desire to investigate Foucault’s ‘little narratives ‘ and to uncover some of the wonders that are here for us to enjoy. Eco also says ‘…the beauty of the cosmos derives not only from unity in variety but also from variety in unity.’ and ‘solving a mystery is not the same as deducing from first principles. Nor does it amount simply to collecting a number of particular data from which to infer a general law. It means, rather, facing one or two or three  particular data apparently with nothing in common, and trying to imagine whether they could represent so many instances of a general law you don’t yet know, and which has never been pronounced.’ I am happy with this journey.


 Eco, U. and Weaver, W. (1984). The name of the rose. Boston, Mass.: G.K. Hall.







Author: Patricia Howe OCA 509589

I am a Level One, mature student living in Devon. While working as a Health Visitor I completed two years of a Fine Art Degree and then moved over to photography working with the OCA because of the remoteness of the area I now live in. I am married with three adult children and work as a Mentor for my local GP surgery covering the whole AONB of Clayhidon. Before moving here, I worked for 7 years managing Emmaus Communities over the UK. My interests are the natural world and how people behave, particularly in relation to the land. I am sure this will be refined over the course of the degree. I have completed Art of Photography and am now doing Context and Narrative. Since then, I have changed direction, having opted for Printmaking 1 and am completing the Creative Arts Mandatory Unit so that I can continue with photography and printing.

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