ON SEEING

David, Florence, Italy

In April 1965, Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson published a stunning photographic essay in LIFE magazine featuring the beginnings of life. Nilsson’s cover image of an 18-week-old human fetus used revolutionary image technology to capture a moment “that allowed the world to see what it had never before witnessed.

In 1958, Frederick Franck went to Central Africa to work as a medical missionary for Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer, a theologian and physician. Before leaving for Lambaréné, Gabon, Franck, a native of the Netherlands, purchased new cameras to document his experiences. After just a few weeks of making pictures, however, Franck put down his camera and started to draw.  What the surgeon, philosopher, and artist had discovered was that using a camera actually prevents us from really experience what we see;  truly appreciating what we are pointing the camera at.  Photography is an act of appropriation and  exploitation that encourages organizing and selecting out parts of our worldly experience that suits our needs.  It is hard to argue with Franck who believes, “The glaring contrast between seeing and looking-at the world around us is immense; it is fateful. Everything in our society seems to conspire against our inborn human gift of seeing” (Zen and the Art of Seeing).

Franck adds, “We have become addicted to merely looking-at things and beings. The more we regress from seeing to looking-at the world—through the ever-more-perfected machinery of viewfinders, TV tubes, VCRs, microscopes, stereoscopes—the less we see, the more numbed we become to the joy and the pain of being alive, and the further estranged we become from ourselves and all others.”

For Rudolf Arnheim, seeing requires “an interplay between properties supplied by the object and the nature of the observing subject. This objective element in experience justifies attempts to distinguish between adequate and inadequate conceptions of reality” (1954, 1972. p 5).

Complex interactions between external visual stimulus and prior knowledge, goals, and expectations are brought into play through visual perception. Even so, looking at something and really understanding its full meaning are different issues.

What we call reality begins with our senses ––  seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching.  The physical environment we experience with our senses is one dimension of living, but we create the outside world our minds.

We cannot separate the mental processes that accompany what our eyes take in. In fact, images are not created in the eye at all, but rather are constructed in different areas of the brain.

Visual perception is a way of explaining the complex interactions between the eye and brain. What we know about the visual system today   

about the act of seeing that . There is no escaping that the visual experience is mix of physiological, biological, cognitive, and mental processes –– all of which occur in milliseconds. The dictionary defines visual perception as the ability to interpret the surrounding environment by processing information that is contained in visible light.

However, before interpretation visual messages, we have to understand how the visual system works. First and foremost, “seeing is not always believing” as the adage goes. For David Minger, “Visual perception is easily tricked, and in the legal system eyewitness accounts are notoriously untrustworthy.” **

For Ira Hyman,  “People are horrible eyewitnesses. We misperceive things. Our memories are limited. We create false memories in response to misleading suggestions. We reconstruct our memories. People frequently choose somebody in a police line-up even when the culprit isn’t there. We are victims of social pressure from friends, family, and authority figures.” **

According to the Innocence Project, “Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions proven by DNA testing, playing a role in more than 70 percent of convictions overturned through DNA testing nationwide.”

 

 

 

 

 

ESSAY ON SEEING II.

Salisbury Mills, New York (1978), Easter Sunday
Photo Dennis Dunleavy

Acknowledging the disembodied nature of past acquaintances,
all those missed opportunities blown. The camera as mistress revealing secrets of my ambitions. I have always struggled when someone asks me
to explain the meaning of a photograph. How do you describe a dream?
There are the things we recognize and are familiar with, but the missing dimension is the immutable truth of what enters the lens and is fixed in space.

Is there a difference you know. Looking and seeing are not the same.

Between looking and seeing?

Artist and philosopher Frederick Franck thinks there is. For Franck, “We have become addicted to merely looking-at things and beings. The more we regress from seeing to looking-at the world—through the ever-more-perfected machinery of viewfinders, TV tubes, VCRs, microscopes, stereoscopes—the less we see, the more numbed we become to the joy and the pain of being alive, and the further estranged we become from ourselves and all others.”

Photographers must learn to see the world in unique ways through framing, timing, focus, and vantage point. In addition, we must learn to see the world so that the viewer feels invited to participate in the seeing. The viewer’s mind, according to Jonathan Bayer (1977), is stimulated, amused, intrigued, and even assaulted by what the photograph can offer up, real or imagined. As Caroline Brothers (1977) contends, “Meaning inheres not in the photograph itself, but in the relationship between the photograph and the matrix of culturally specific beliefs and assumptions to which it refers to” (p.23).

The photograph is a social and cultural artifact. All photographs convey meaning by informing and entertaining us. However, meaning does not reside in the image itself but in human interactions and communicative processes by which it becomes embedded within our culture. Images appeal to both our intellect as well as our emotions (Robert Coles). The power of the image is in the meaning it has for us through the context in which it is made and presented to us. For Bill Jay (2000), “A photograph is the end product of someone caring about something “out there.” The best photographs exude this caring attitude in a manner which is not definable but which is very evident.” Context is the value and significance of the elements as they relate to the informational needs and cultural tastes of an audience at a given time in history.

 

INVISIBLE

 

12 October 2014, Florence, Italy

 

There’s a gaggle of Japanese tourists marching in unison out in front of the Duomo today as a guide waves a plastic flower wand about like a baton so that the group doesn’t get lost in a pothole. A tourist’s neck bends like a swan before breaking to gaze at the more than 4 million bricks holding together Brunelleschi’s teapot. There are no Italians here really; a couple of police officers and some mad cyclists dodging tourists at break-neck speed.

Like the lens of a camera, singular and bionic, we are obsessed with acquiring memories we will only faintly recall even with the thousands of images we make.

Pictures are like maps:  we look at them when we need to remember where we are.

In  “The Power of Maps”, Denis Wood believes that “maps give us reality, a reality that exceeds our vision, our reach, the span of our days, a reality we achieve no other way.” Picture have the same effect only in many ways more so.

They take out our garbage

Sweep our floors

Fix our food

Make our beds

Pour us drinks

Play music we don’t listen to.

They are beggars

gypsies

petty thieves

low rollers

immigrants

selling stuff we don’t need

They get in our way

We pass them by

not knowing

who they are

why they are there

They are

invisible

 

 

Ultimately, a camera, if pointed in the right direction, in the right light, and focused just so, can capture the very nature of what it means to be human – the doorway to the afterworld – the élan vital – the human soul. In this spirit, what is even more remarkable, is that this box of metal and glass, when given instructions can make the invisible, visible. Yet, we remain visually ambivalent to anything other than the objects of desire or the presence of danger.

Frederick Franck observes, “The glaring contrast between seeing and looking-at the world around us is immense; it is fateful. Everything in our society seems to conspire against our inborn human gift of seeing.” Memory is stitched together by a millions of moments. Discrimination is an act of memory and past experience combined. Pictures, our surrogate memory, reveal relationships – subject and photographer, light and camera, what is seen and what we fix in time. Thomas Merton said, “In modern life our senses are so constantly bombarded with stimulation from every side that unless we developed a hind of protective insensibility we would go crazy….”

Invisible people, made visible through the exchange of light and life conceal secrets. What could she be saying? One dog knows, the other does not seem to care.

Frame by Frame Image Editing

The world’s fastest camera can take 36.7 million frames per second, 350 million new photos are posted on Facebook each day, and the average number of shots in a movie is 1,045. Everyday we are bombarded with more than 34 gigbytes of information, enough data that would burn out the average computer within a week.

A great deal of attention is paid to the technical and artistic production of images in photography and film, while the importance of editing seems to be noticed when it is poorly done. The truth is, that is the way it should be since an editor’s job is to take inconceivable amounts of information and turn it into a coherent whole.

Editing is a process of arranging, revising, and preparing images for the screen or print.  In this instance, editing still and moving images means to  turn our attention on the  individual elements, which create an larger impression of a  whole scene. As in Gestalt psychology, the whole is always greater than the  individual elements that are contained within the frame.

For example, although antiquated, the practice of making contact sheets, small thumbnail images of a shoot, is still quite relevant in learning how to edit images – frame by frame.  Not so long ago, film was inspected with a lupe, a small magnifying glass used to examine the qualities of an image or frame.

 

 

The greatest benefit of the lupe, however, is not just close inspection – frame by frame- but how the tool  forces the photographer or cinematographer to slow down. Digital technologies provide many advantages over analog/linear processes

, but they also make us misread image by settling on the first thing we think is good. The prudent  selection of an image is determined by the  ability to recognize subtle nuisances –  light, lines, textures, tones – that 

reveal something about who we are, what we believe or value.  Editing is a refinement of reconstiting a vision of the world that conforms to time, memory and the subjective experience we encounter every waking moment of the day.

 

Alhough we love watching movies, shows on TV, or thumbing through National Geographic, but unfortunately we mostly just look or watch a incessant stream of representations without realizing how  the visual experience influences the complex conditions of knowing the world.

If we were to explore a common thread between editing different types of images, it would have to be the emotional impact pictures, still or in movies, have on the viewer or audience. Research reveals how emotional responses to what we see not only captures our attention but also draws us toward simliar objects. Emotions have both physical and behavioral components that can either be negative visual experiences or positive ones.  In order words emotions affect how people perceive the world around them (Ling & Carrasco, 2006). When we speak of editing we are really referring to the editor’s intent to motivate others through representing the world according to aesthetic conventions, cultural tastes, or personal values.

Human beings respond to visual stimuli instinctually. Ravé  Metha (2013), author of a series of graphic novels on Nicola Tesla, believes that we are living  in a hyper-visual culture  — a time in which a tsunami of more than 500 million images are produced and shared across social media and the Internet daily. 

For Metha, “Kids today are growing up with apps like Snapchat and Instagram where all they see are pictures wih few little words beneath them. But these pictures tell a thousand words to these kids, it tells them a story. Then they will scroll tens of these pictures in less than a minute and essentially have just digested 10,000 words of information in a short amount of time.”