Rubin’s Vase is a well-known optical illusion developed by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin whose primary research field was figure-ground perception. When you look at the image above, do you see a vase, or a profile that is mirrored? As it happens, the profile is mine!
I was reminded of the Rubin’s Vase phenomenon when I was researching the “Positive and Negative Space” chapter in my forthcoming book Composition & Photography: Working with Photography Using Design Concepts.
To make this image, Phyllis used her iPhone to capture my profile (perhaps I am not at my handsomest in this portrait?!). Portrait with Vase (bottom) shows this profile view, reflected on the vertical axis.
Phyllis emailed my profile to Mitja in Slovenia (via his Etsy store), who used 3-D printing to make a vase that followed the contours of my profile, shown in the center of Portrait with Vase. The vase arrived at our doorstep in a neat international mail package complete with customs declaration.
I photographed the vase with it placed lying down on a light box, to intentionally create a high-contrast image with the camera-facing plane of the vase in deep shadow (see Vase or Profile, immediately below). The L-channel of this image (using LAB color) was inverted to give the Vase or Profile Inversion version shown at the top of this story. Both images were subsequently converted to black and white to make the illusion work better.