As an English teacher for 17 years now, I delight in teaching vocabulary words and literary concepts that have real applications to our daily lives. One of my favorite such terms is “To juxtapose.” Let me teach it to you via a trip around the world… in juxtaposition examples featuring 21 photos from my world travels that illustrate juxtaposition in artwork, nature, life, literature, and more!
Juxtaposition Definition & Synonym
The easiest way to define the noun “juxtaposition” is: CONTRAST. More specifically, juxtaposition is when two very different things are put right next to each other, causing an impact for the viewer, reader, or listener. In the photo example above (taken near Fallingwater in Pennsylvania), the juxtaposition of my magenta outfit against the green background draws your eye.
The word “juxtaposition” is derived from the Latin root iuxta, meaning “close to” or “beside” and the French position: placing. Yes indeed, the word is all about placing two contrasting things next to each other!
A simple synonym for the verb “to juxtapose” would be “to contrast.” A more detailed translation would be: “to put something next to another thing which causes the people looking to notice striking differences.” In the example below, I purposely staged this “influencer photo” to juxtapose my friend Savannah’s formal suit with the ridiculous yellow bathroom context.
To Juxtapose, You Need Similarities, Too
Here is where things get tricky. In order for juxtaposition to have its contrasting effect work — highlighting the differences between the two things — there actually need to be some basic similarities so the viewer knows to compare them.
Here’s an example. In the photo below, I’ve juxtaposed my elegant spouse’s human profile with the fuzzy face of a cute llama! Now, the similarity here — the fact that both are face profiles — is essential for the contrast to pop out and make the reader laugh, “Hey, it’s funny to compare that guy’s expression to the llama’s!”
See how the similarity (faces) makes the contrast and thus juxtaposition possible in this example? If my illustrious husband were just standing next to a pile of pears, there would be no pull to compare any parts of the photo, and thus no contrast or juxtaposition.
Types of Juxtaposition
You’d be shocked to realize the number of things that can be juxtaposed! Wherever you can create contrast, therein lurks juxtaposition. Check out this photo from my time teaching in Ghana in West Africa, where the sun was huge and bright. See how the brightness is juxtaposed juicily with our dark shadows? Such a cool effect.
There are several other juxtaposed elements in that Ghana picture as well. (Yes, this is the beach near where the billboard of me shockingly appeared!) There is a juxtaposition of shape, as the roundness of the sun contrasts with the tall lines of our silhouettes. There is also a texture juxtaposition between the rough sand and the smooth sun.
Juxtaposition in Literature
Juxtaposing is not just for the visual realm — it can also be used in situations and descriptions in writing. For example, the actions of an extremely hyper character in a book can be juxtaposed with a chilled-out character. (An extreme version of this is called a “foil.”)
In literature, speeches, songs, and sayings, any passage that compares two things that have a base similarity in order to contrast their differences is an example of juxtaposition. This list contains some common instances of this, including the adage, “All’s fair in love and war,” which juxtaposes the two states of society.
Now, let’s begin our journey around the world to explore the many forms of juxtaposition examples that exist. Being able to spot them will enhance your appreciation of your surroundings — and can also improve our photography and art!
What is juxtaposition, and what does it mean to juxtapose? See examples and sentences from around the world that show real life examples of how to use this great literary term and English vocabulary word. You're welcome to click through to any article to read more about the destination, or just learn from the photo and blurb explanation.
The magenta beach chairs are juxtaposed here with the white and azure blue of this Caribbean Curacao beach to beautiful effect.
In this picture, my 30-something year old self is juxtaposed with the 1,900-year-old Library at the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey. Small and young(ish) contrasted with tall and ancient!
This photo juxtaposes the softness of my pregnant belly with the rigid architectural lines of Dubai's Burj Khalifa. The similarity of curves highlights the differences in material and scale.
Order vs. Chaos Juxtaposition
This picture contrasts the orderly rows of the quilt pattern with the spontaneous and chaotic angles of a baby swing. I took this photo at the Quilts and Color exhibit at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.
Straight vs. Curved Lines Juxtaposed
The skyline of Minneapolis, MN brilliantly uses juxtaposition by placing the vertical lines of the skyscrapers next to the undulating curves of the Stone Arch Bridge.
Juxtaposing Tall and Short
As a very tall woman, I often have people stop and laugh when I'm standing next to someone who's much shorter than me. Here is a cartoon I drew to dramatize this contrast, which is frequently used in movies and TV for comical effect.
This photo from a Woods Hole restaurant in Falmouth, MA shows how the chef artfully contrasted color, texture and shape for this dish. See how the soft curves of the raw pink salmon are juxtaposed with the shiny, sharp green mint leaves?
In this picture, my 6-foot-tall self is juxtaposed with India's 300-foot "Little Taj Mahal:" Humayun's Tomb. Normally I tower above things around me, but here I look tiny because of the contrast.
This photo I took in Charleston, SC is a good example of how understanding juxtaposition helps with home decor: Whoever designed this exterior knew how to contrast the round shape of the bushes and wall decorations with the rectangular lines of the doorways and windows.
To get this photo at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, I juxtaposed jaunty diagonal lines and sharp angles of my arms and hips with the straight, parallel lines and perpendicular angles of the rock face.
Juxtaposition in Art
MASS MoCA, the modern art museum in Western Massachusetts, shows the ways in which visual artists leverage juxtaposition: both within a piece, and in the contrast that arises between the viewer and the work of art. Notice how my little guy is juxtaposed here with the giant mural painting.
See the teeny, tiny people walking in St. John the Divine in New York City? The 124-foot ceilings make anyone feel like an ant. This is the largest church in New York, and the sixth largest in the world.
Juxtaposition of Energy and Materials
In this photo, the sizzling energy of that glass Chihuly sculpture in Montreal, Canada is juxtaposed with my human energy -- and wild hair. If I really wanted to highlight the contrast, I could pose in a relaxed and calm way, which would be a marked difference from the zinging tendrils of the yellow piece.
In this picture I took in Belize, the sharp sky is juxtaposed with its hazier and more ripply water reflection version. The white rounded clouds are also contrasted with the round circular tree, causing a material juxtaposition.
Light and Dark Juxtaposition
Lanterns are lovely because their luminous light juxtaposes with the black of night! Great joy and art can come from juxtaposition.
White Dress Wedding Juxtapositions
Brides in white dresses are meant to stand out, thanks to the powers of juxtaposition. At a wedding, the woman getting married is supposed to be the only one in a white gown, thus ensuring that her hue will draw the eye at all times.
Movement vs. Stillness Juxtaposition
In this photo, the blurred movement of my jump roping is juxtaposed with the still drapery of the background cloth. I also purposely chose a bright outfit to contrast with the white wall. Juxtaposition magic!
Juxtaposition in Artwork and Photos
Can you see from this wide-ranging list of photography examples how juxtaposition helps improve photography and visual art? It does the same for spicing up text, speech, poetry, and literature — and even everyday life! I hope you see now why this literary concept is one of my favorites.
Juxtaposition Examples, in Sum
Did you enjoy this journey of juxtaposition examples around the world? What were your favorite photos and realizations? Are you noticing juxtaposition in artwork and the world around you more now? Do you still have remaining questions about this fascinating word? Do share!
Want more English vocabulary lessons? Check out these posts on a liminal space, hubris, inclusiveness, apart vs. a part, and performativity,
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!
Wednesday 3rd of February 2021
Wow, you're teaching me so much about the word! All those examples of seeing it in your travel photos, I didn't even think about previously!
Friday 5th of February 2021
Yay! This is the beauty of learning these vocabulary words and literary concepts: once you can see them in everyday life, everything you look at gets more interesting and profound!
Monday 1st of February 2021
Your photos show you've always been the queen of juxtaposition!
Monday 1st of February 2021
Hehe, it's true. I've been running this travel and life blog since 2009 and juxtaposition is the name of the game for me in terms of highlighting interesting contrasts, both visually and in terms of situations and thinking.
Monday 1st of February 2021
So this is not something I keep in mind with my food photography, but boy will I ever from now on! I never thought about the contrasting components and how to make them work with each other - thank you for the tips and many examples!
Monday 1st of February 2021
You're so welcome! Thoughtful juxtaposition has the power to improve photos in any genre: travel, food, fashion, fitness, parenting, art -- all!