Dr Irene Leake,
Research Fellow in Fine Art.
The Centre for Research in Art and Design,
The Robert Gordon University,
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A Morphology of Visual Representation of Human Movement .

Dr Irene Leake

Research Fellow in Fine Art at The Centre for Research in Art and Design,

Gray's School of Art, The Robert Gordon University,

Garthdee Road, Aberdeen AB9 2QD, UK

Tel 01224 263639 Fax 01224 263636


A dynamics-based Morphology of Visual Representation of Human Movement is presented. It has been formulated in order to adjust notions of the contemporary working context for creating visual representations, so that connections may more easily be made between old and new technology. Whilst the human figure is of prime concern here, the morphology could also be applied to representation of other animate subject matter. The morphological chart provides an overview, to enhance awareness of the variables and choices which are involved when making a representation, and to aid cross-disciplinary communication.


In the wake of technological developments of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, notably first the motion picture camera, which enabled the recording of apparently moving images, and now computer processing, which provides many opportunities to structure and explore representation in areas intermediate to `potentially moving' static representation (e.g. painting, sculpture) and `actually moving' kinetic representation (e.g. dance, theatre), there is a need to arrive at a contemporary understanding of the relationship between the `static' and the `kinetic'.

The morphological chart of visual representation of human movement presented here [fig 1] sets the attitudes, interactions and dynamic approaches of a maker into a wider dynamic context. It defines the structure of movement representations in terms of dynamics and the interrelationship of static and kinetic factors. For the basis of the morphology I have transferred (from its usage in physics) the notion of dynamics in which both statics and kinetics are subsumed. This allows the dynamic nature of even a `static' representation to be acknowledged. The more familiar use of the term `dynamic' is derived from opposition of dynamics to statics (Oxford English Dictionary).

The morphology is concerned with the spectrum of relationships which may be forged and manipulated in the process of visual representation. Its purpose is to give an overview, to increase awareness of the choices which are involved when making and viewing a representation, and to provide a means of discussing the variables of movement representation. Consideration of Twyman's [1987] schema and models concerning graphic language, although concerned primarily with `static' forms of representation, aided me in refining the morphological chart. The chart encompasses the spectrum of visual representation of movement of the human figure: representations produced conventionally and by computational means are encompassed by the morphology, and `potentially', `apparently' and actually moving forms are all related. It is inclusive of the gamut of media, two- and three-dimensional and time-based, which may be used to present representations of movement, from drawings to performance. However, the intention is to facilitate fresh perspectives, by offering an alternative to the definition of visual representation according to specific media forms.

The morphology is one outcome of my research into the drawing process and human gesture, conducted primarily by investigating Rapid Drawing of dance, a type of drawing which I had developed in my sculpture practice [Leake 1993]. (The most characteristic feature of Rapid Drawing, simultaneous notation of the observed figure in motion, is that the drawing surface is not viewed during the drawing process.)

My doctoral enquiry into Rapid Drawings and the Rapid Drawing process led to the formulation of the morphological chart, which is primarily intended for use by a wide variety of makers, and also people from other disciplines. However, on a personal level in my post-doctoral work in progress (fig 2, `Aberdeen Tank Exercises' - movement study of off-shore personnel undergoing water-based survival training), I am beginning to use as a resource the overview gained by means of the morphological chart, as I cross media and interact with a variety of people.

Fig 1 A morphological chart of visual representation of human movement

Fig 2 (= example 8) A B-dominant example. Rapid Drawing of survival course participants in Aberdeen, Irene Leake, 1995

The work thus far involves developing two-handed Rapid Drawing, digital photography, and video, and I will be seeking to explore collaborative work, and experiment with aural as well as visual factors throughout the project.

Parameters of the morphological chart

Definition of Pole a and Pole b

The polar extremes of the chart act as a broad reminder of the chart's dynamic foundation, extending from the `static' weighting of Pole a (which would be more likely to produce a representation depicting movement potentially), then on through apparently moving representation, to the `kinetic' weighting of Pole b (more likely to result in actually moving representation). The pole acts as a broad indicator of the dominant tendency of the options which have been taken at the various levels and stages of making a representation.

These options concern the choice and treatment of the subject matter (see vertical axis of the chart), and the choice and treatment of the materials of the representation (see horizontal axis of the chart). In order to read the chart effectively, it is important to always bear in mind the main headings of the vertical and horizontal axes. The divisions 1-4 serve to separate the characteristics of the form of presentation of the representation from, expressed through the tendencies A and B, characteristics of the imagery embodied within the presenting form. The chart thus distinguishes how the movement is imaged by the representer (A/B) from properties of the medium being used to transmit the representation (1 - 4).

Definition of A and B

The manner in which the maker structures the image of movement of the human figure is incorporated by the division of the vertical axis of the chart into A and B. The tendencies A and B are differentiations of the way the maker represents the moving human figure. These divisions have been formulated in an attempt to indicate differences of attitude which may contribute significantly to constructing a representation of change. It must be emphasised, however, that A and B serve to separate out tendencies that are likely to be synthesised to varying degrees in any visual representation. That is, although a representation may be `weighted' towards the A or B tendency, it may also incorporate characteristics of the other tendency. Representations are usually combinations of both A and B factors.

With the A tendency, movement of the human figure is represented in the form of an image of the whole figure at one moment in time, and as incremental change of such an image. The base element of the A tendency is the `freezeframe' observation of the figure, to obtain a complete image of the configuration of the `constant' body of the figure at one instant in time (it could also be thought of as `position in the moment' oriented). A therefore involves a sectioning across time, a recording of a configuration of the figure at a particular moment. (See list of examples at the end of the paper: example 5 is A-dominant. This shows the early use of electronic flash and stroboscopic lighting to `freeze' one moment of a dance.) An A tendency representation conveying movement over an extended period of time would concentrate upon the change from one shape to the next: a succession of views of arrested movement (as in the series of photographs in example 1).

With the B tendency, movement of the human figure is represented as an amalgam of change over time. The whole form of the figure is not depicted as it appears at any one point in time. With the B tendency there is an attempt in the representation process to stay with the flow of movement events. The movement representation emerges through cumulative observations (example 8 is B-dominant, see fig 2). The base element of the B tendency is harder to define. It could be a point in space. B involves a dominance of an emergence of the configuration over time, rather than across time as in A. (The time referred to here relates to the duration of the movement event, rather than the time that it takes to make the representation.) The maker seeks to proceed with, not arrest as in A, the flux of events. (Paradoxically, it could be that the base of B is in fact the whole, not the part or the section.)

A and B thus deal with the design of the image of the active human form. The intention is not to imply any preference for either the A or B tendency, but rather to expose the differentiation between the two, so that more overt knowledge of this may be exercised in conjunction with new technological means of interaction. There is value in being able to detect and contemplate the influence of measures of both tendencies within a representation. However, I think it is easier to describe and therefore to discuss (and as a result, be more consciously aware of) the A tendency. Similar recognition needs to be afforded the B tendency, in part because of the enhanced potential I believe there is for exploring this tendency by new technological means.

Definition of 1 - 4

The divisions 1 - 4 of the horizontal axis of the chart are concerned with attributes of the presenting form of the completed representation. They refer to the structure and form of the physical manifestation of the representation. They are not ascribed to the form of the human figure depicted. Neither do they refer to the effect of the art work upon the viewer, nor to how the viewer sees the work (but inasmuch as they describe what the viewer is presented with they do form a basis for then studying the manner in which the representation may be viewed). It should be noted that it is possible for a representation (for instance an installation, a performance, an electronic representation) to incorporate several of these presentational divisions. The divisions encompass two- and three-dimensional and time-based work.

The presentation of the whole work (the representation) is categorised in the morphological chart by means of arranging two pairs of factors (simultaneous/not simultaneous, and discrete/continuous) in various combinations. `Simultaneous' denotes that the entire work is on display at the same time - that which is presented to the viewer as the representation is simultaneously present. This does not indicate, however, that the viewer can necessarily see the representation in its entirety from one viewpoint. For example, a sculpture could not normally be viewed simultaneously by the viewer, but it would be present simultaneously. `Not simultaneous' denotes that the work unfolds itself over time, that is, it is time-based. `Discrete' denotes that the work is presented over a series of discrete units. `Continuous' denotes that the work is presented in a continuous form, as a single unit. (See examples 1 - 14.)

The chart has been founded intentionally upon evidence verifiable in the representations themselves, as to how the material of the subject matter and of the medium is presented. Whilst the chart is representation-based, this does not mean that it is medium biased. Several different media may be incorporated by a single division of the chart, although certain media are excluded from some categories, mainly by virtue of whether they are time-based or not. The divisions 1 - 4 should be viewed in terms of the type of movement inherent within the presenting form of representation: potential movement (MC1 and MC2), apparent movement (MC3), and actual movement (MC4).


The morphological chart was devised to provide a clearer working perspective for movement representation, in the light of possibilities for representing which are emerging from the development of computing. The morphological chart grew from my identification of the need for makers to be able to approach the development of interaction with computer technology from the base of a broader perspective than that of viewing any specific form of computer representation in relationship to a similar traditional form of representation alone (for example, computer animation and `classical' animation). The chart enables connections to be made from a wider range of perspectives. The point of providing such an overview is to enhance awareness of the choices which are involved when making and viewing a representation, and to aid cross-disciplinary communication.


Examples relating to the cells of the morphological chart

Please note: illustrations referred to were presented at the conference. Only example 8 is illustrated in the printed paper format.

1 MCA1 example. (MC = morphological chart)

Consecutive photographs of human movement. A few frames from a sequence depicting a woman climbing over a saw horse, by Muybridge [1955, plate 145]. (NB: the example is the series of photographs.) This is the most A-dominant of the MCA1 examples given.

2 MCA1 example.

A set of three small plaster bas-reliefs, preparatory studies for a life-size plaster bas-relief, Irene Leake, c.1981. Although the life model (at the left of each relief) is depicted in a static pose in the first and second relief (top and centre), in the third she tilts her head backwards. (NB: the example is the set of reliefs.)

3 MCA1 example.

Part of a computer-composed dance script programmed by Lansdown (1990), for Chaos, performed by The One Extra Group. The frames represent `snapshots' at particular moments of the dance. The dancer is required to compose (not improvise) movements to connect the snapshots. Generally, the dancer should think of the snapshots not as poses, but simply as positions that must be passed through or reached. (NB: the example is the series of frames.)

4 MCB1 example.

Rapid Drawings displayed en masse. See example 8 for an illustration of a single Rapid Drawing.

5 MCA2 example.

An extremely A-dominant example. Photograph: Lindy hop improv, Gjon Mili, 1943. (NB: the example is the photograph, not the dance performance.)

6 MCA2 example.

Chronophotography on a fixed plate, depicting successive phases of a long jump. Photograph: Marey (1895). (NB: the example is the photograph.)

7 MCB2 examples.

A translation of paths of motion into the form of wire constructions (Gilbreth and Gilbreth 1919). The models represent the paths of the left hand of a manager on a drill press. Later stages of such models represent the speeds and directions, as well as the path, of the motion studies. (NB: the example is any one of the actual constructions, not the constructions as a series.)

8 MCB2. A single Rapid Drawing is a B-dominant example. Survival training course participants, RGIT, Aberdeen, Irene Leake, 1995.

9 MCB2 example.

a. Paths of motion of a walking figure, recorded photographically by making a time exposure in a dark room of the person fitted with lights at his principal joints, Johansson (1975). (The Gilbreths used a similar method to obtain information for constructing the motion representations in example 7.)

b. The location of the lights.

(NB: the example is the photograph in figure: a.)

10 MCA3 examples.

A live action film of human figures; an animated film using silhouette figures, as in Reiniger's work (1926) - the illustration shows Reiniger's (1973 p 32) instructions for animating such a figure. (NB: the example is the film not the illustration); computer animated films of the human figure created through use of a predominance of position-oriented techniques.

11 MCB3 examples.

Len Lye's animated film Free radicals, 1958 (revised 1979). Two short sequences of frames from the film are illustrated. Although the subject matter of the film may not necessarily actually be the human figure, the film gives strong impressions of the rhythms of movement or dance. (NB: the example is the film when projected.)

12 MCB3 example.

Computer animated sequences derived from Rapid Drawings, Irene Leake, c.1990 (single frames from the sequences are illustrated. NB: the example is the computer animated sequences).

13 MCA4 example.

In general terms, a classical ballet performance is likely overall to tend towards A-dominance.

14 MC4B example.

Contact improvisation performance, which is characterised by a predominance of focus upon the flow of movement. In 1972, Steve Paxton (Contact Quarterly 1981 p. 33) described contact improvisation as `spontaneous mutual investigation of the energy and inertia paths created when two people engage actively - dancing freely, with their sensitivity to guide and safeguard them'. The performers in the photograph are Steve Paxton and Daniel Lepkoff. (NB: the example is the actual performance, not the photograph.)


Gilbreth F, and L Gilbreth (1919) Applied motion study: a collection of papers on the efficient method to industrial preparedness, Routledge

Johansson G (1975) `Visual motion perception', in R Held and W Richards (intros.) (1976) Recent progress in perception: readings from Scientific American, Freeman, 67-75

Lansdown J (1990) A/C/S/H/O: a computer-composed dance (scripts, and instructions for dancers)

Leake I (1993) Apprehending movement of the human figure through the medium of drawing, with comments on its possible relationship to computer mediated interaction (unpublished PhD), University of Brighton

Lye L (1958; revised 1979) Free radicals (an animated film), Direct Film Company

Marey E (1895) Movement, Heinemann

Muybridge E (1955) The human figure in motion (1st pub. 1887), R Taft (intro.), Dover

Reiniger L (1926) The adventures of Prince Achmed (a film), Germany

Reiniger L (1973) `Wie macht man einen Silhouettenfilm?' in M Downar, A Happ, G Huber and K Schwendner (eds) (1979) Silhouettenfilm und Schattentheater: Lotte Reiniger (catalogue of an exhibition at Munich Stadtmuseum), Lipp 27 - 34

Twyman M (1987) `A schema for the study of graphic language', in O Boyd-Barrett and P Braham (eds) Media, knowledge and power, Croom Helm, 201-25



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