Paste written assignment here
Paste written assignment here
Paste written assignment here
The Hidden Visible
Having everything about us completely available to another is an impossibility. The book Varieties of Presence by Alva Noë investigates the ideas of presence and perception. He discusses presence as the knowing and understanding of the existence of something. He then brings in a conversation about the amount of availability we have for others and how that might affect our perceptions. The analysis of access to ourselves and to others, and its effect on our perception is what informs the ways I have created my images. As individuals, “we only have access to what there is. But not everything is accessible…the meaning of the writing on the wall is available to [us] if [we] can read the language in which it is written…” (Noë 32). Trying to know all there is about a person is much like trying to read something in a foreign language. My works are about the limited accessibility and knowledge we have of others, as well as of ourselves, and the difficulty to understand and accept the impossibility of perfect understanding.
What does it mean to know each other? What does it mean to have full access to another? Is it to know full truths? What is a truth? These are the questions of knowledge I am exploring. I believe that complete knowledge is full visibility: readable, open, understood, unmasked or unveiled. Is obtaining that visibility an impossibility? I believe so.
Noë also says, “if we wish to understand the nature of our human experience really, we need to turn our attention inward, to the mind (or the brain), for this is where we, our individual selves, stage reality” (Noë 6). The relationship you share with another only exists in your interaction and experience with them. Even though what we experience in every day life is indeed reality, it is filtered through one’s perception, which makes it a staged reality. Staged reality can also be characterized as a perceived or an observed reality. The notion of an observed reality makes the saying, ‘ignorance is bliss’ come to mind. We live in a place we perceive as reality but actually are ‘ignorant’ or unaware of so much.
After exploring the expression of these ideas through multiple media, I decided on the use of photography. “Truth” and photography have gone hand in hand since its creation and the specificity photography provides becomes another aspect of the work. In a collection of essays called On Photography, Susan Sontag compares photography to quotations saying they “seem, because they are taken to be pieces of reality, more authentic than extended literary narratives” (Sontag). Photography has the same indexical quality as a quotation would, because they are imprints from a specific source. The way in which a photo is made “creates a visual likeness with a degree of accuracy and ‘truthfulness’ unattainable in purely iconic signs such as painting, drawing or sculpture” (Sadowski 1)
An article titled “Which Came First, The Chicken or The Egg?” by Errol Morris discusses the validity of photos by using an image taken by Roger Fenton as an example. Fenton was a wartime photographer and took a picture he titled “Valley of the Shadow of Death,” a place in Ukraine where many cannonballs fired by Russians ended up during the Crimean War in 1855. In the 1980s it was discovered there were two versions of his famous image of the valley. The image was of a road in the valley spread with cannonballs. However, one image had some on the road and the other did not, leading to the two photos being called “On” and “Off.” Morris decided to investigate these photos after reading Sontag’s book, Regarding the Pain of Others. She believes, as do many others, that Fenton staged the photo “On” to make it seem like he was in more danger then he truly was. Yet there are many other questions that need to be entertained. Did he move them to the road? Could he have moved them from the road for the sake of practicality, so that he could travel down the road unimpeded? Did soldiers come by to clear the road, and he had no part in it at all? It will never be known which photo came first and how the cannon balls moved; all we can say is that one is real and the other staged without defining which is which. This brings up an important aspect in photography: that we are able to stage a reality and present it as a whole truth.
Artists immediately took advantage of photography’s assumption of reality to create work. Much like when people first saw the video of a train and ran away because they thought it was coming for them, artists could now create something and make it look true, something that could never be done in painting.
Less than a century after the first sharp image was taken, Henry Peach Robinson began to try and figure out ways of manipulating photography to create an image he desired. He created a piece titled Fading Away; this was a staged depiction of a young girl, surrounded by family, dying of tuberculosis. The piece created outrage despite the fact that “far more painful subjects were painted in those days. But the very fact it was a photograph implied that it was a truthful representation, and so the scene was viewed literally” (Newhall 76). With photography having not been around very long and having mostly been used as proof that something that existed, this staging shocked many because it was a false presentation that was believed, and it betrayed what photography was thought to be.
Duane Michals, a contemporary photographer, uses his series of photographs Things are Queer to undermine the understanding of what we have seen. In this series of nine images, the next image always contradicts the previous image. He does so by turning what we are presented into something completely different and the piece makes us “question the perception of photographed reality and simply tricks the viewer’s mind making him wander through different layers of representation.”(Fabrizi) Limiting our knowledge, presenting it as true, then disproving it right after makes us question what we are actually seeing, or not seeing.
Another artist that plays with perception and reality in his work is René Magritte. He “…was a man who thought, and who communicated his thought by means of painting…”(Gablik 9). One of his most well known paintings, The Son of Man is the image of a man with an apple directly over his face. This painting is intended to be a self-portrait and he describes the painting’s purpose in an interview from 1965:
At least it hides the face partly well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It’s something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing; we always want to see what is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present. (Torczyer)
Here Magritte talks about the visible literally and as a representation of existence. The previously mentioned Alva Noë uses the act of looking at a tomato as a metaphor in his book. You are looking at a tomato and you see what we will call the front of it. Does the back of the tomato exist? Yes. Can you see the back of the tomato? No. Based on what is shown to you does the tomato have a back? No. All that is available to you becomes all there is of the tomato. This is a representation of the difference of perception when not given full access. Much like a photograph, what is presented to you is all you have; does the tomato have a back; could there be more to the photo than what is being represented? Absolutely. Much like another person, can you have full access to everything that they are; will you ever see the back of the tomato? No you will not, the perception you have of another is always incomplete.
For a while I had been working with collage to create pieces that dealt with the concept of access and identity. The work you see here stems from a project I created sophomore year. I took whole faces or parts of faces from magazines and collaged them onto a person’s face. I then photographed them in a real environment. Having a different face with different features on a real person makes it challenging to decipher of what is their real face and what is not. The breakdown and compression of the information presented to us is what relates to many of my images in this current body of work. I began to break up an image not with pieces of paper but with other objects. I also learned the value of specific installation choices; I discovered how placing two images in proximity with one another alters meaning through collage alters meaning.
In the pairing of photos titled Hello, there is a dark image of a man’s profile. He is looking toward the second image, which is an empty bench. The concept of the “hidden visible” is what my pieces revolve around, as well as the seeking of that which is hidden from you. The man, although barely seen himself, is searching for something. He is trying to see someone he missed, that is no longer there, or never was. The two images are paired but separate, illustrating the lack of access he has, trying to communicate, but unable to connect. His task is futile.
The photo “Impenetrable” shows two people. One figure’s head is blocking the other’s face. Therefore, all we see is the torso of one person and the back of another’s head. Similar to Magritte’s The Son of Man, in which we can see an eye behind the apple, here we can see the ear of another person. The rest of the face is being blocked, but the one visible ear lets us know that this is a person. The limited knowledge in the photo doesn’t stop at their faces. There is a disorientation of the figure coming in from the side and the image coming from an unknown point of view that makes you out of touch with what they are doing and where they are. There is much information in this photo that is left unknown and we are forced to interact with only what is given to us.
Although complete understanding cannot be obtained, different levels of it exist. The more time spent with something or someone will result in an increased level of access to “who they are,” changing our knowledge and perception.
The piece Figure it out appears to be an image of a bench, but after spending more time with it, a figure beings to appear that is sitting on the bench. This everyday bench is an example of something we have a full understanding of. It is clear, we can see what it is made of, how large it is, and if we wanted, it is possible to see all sides. The differentiation of the figure to its environment is indicative of levels of information we can have. The viewer’s understanding of the bench is much more clear than his or her understanding of the person that is sitting on it.
Many of my pieces deal with the idea of doubles through often only one person is represented. The world holon means something that is simultaneously a whole and a part. The duality relates to the different points of view other have toward an individual. A piece of the same name, Holon, is the image of the back of a figure’s head. The concept of something being both a part and a whole expresses the same ideas as a staged reality and the tomato. The view we have of the figure is only showing, what we assume, is only part of a person. Without assumptions, we must create a reality with the information given, when making the image a whole. The two heads appear to be of the same person, but it is impossible to really tell. If they are the same person only one of them can be real, this is also impossible tell. Many unanswered questions form when we are only given bits and pieces of knowledge
My final concern with properly expressing the concepts of this project is the way in which they are installed. The importance of the relationships between photos lies not only in specific pairings, but in the set-up as a whole, where placement and size build a dialogue between my images. For example, my choice to print the piece Impenetrable on a larger scale results in a pixilated and fuzzy image, in which the information is blurred – I am interested in this contradictory nature of photography, in which enlarging does not improve our ability to see, but rather emphasizes the impossibility that we will understand the image. The piece that follows shows the image of a face printed on a small scale, creating the opposite feeling. Because it is a face, we feel that we ought to understand it – human beings are, after all, wired to identify faces. However, the small scale slows our read of the image. The size of a photograph is just as important as its content in dictating our interaction with the piece.
I have expressed my concepts of limited accessibility and knowledge between one another and ourselves by creating images that disrupt the expectation of what is to be seen. These images also entertain the questions of what is complete truth and what is just a perception. Creating these pieces though staged photography leant to the feeling that there is information that exists but we purposefully not given a full understanding. Bringing all the pieces together and installing them in a way that embodies my concepts while also another space of unknowingness and contradiction.
- Fabrizi, Mariabruna. “’Things are Queer’ by Duane Michals.” Web log post. Socks-Studio. N.p., 23 Apr. 2015. Web. Apr.2016
- Fenton, Roger. Valley of the Shadow of Death. 1855. Getty Museum, Los Angeles
- Gablik, Suzi. Magritte. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Socirty, 1970. Print
- Magritte, Rene. The Son of Man. 1964. Private Collection
- Michals, Duane. Things are Queer. 1972. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.
- Morris, Errol. “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg (Part One).” The New York Times. N.p., 25 Sept. 2007. Web Apr. 2016
- More Joy of Photography, Reading, MA: Addison – Wesley Pub. 1981. Print
- Newhall, Beaumont. The History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1982. Print.
- Noe, Alva. Varieties of Presence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2012. Print
10. Reeve, Catharine. “Echoes Of Reality In The Inner Exploratinos Of Duane Michals.”
11. Chicago Tribune, 04 May 1988. Web. 02 Apr. 2016
12. Robinson, Henry Peach. Fading Away. 1858. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
13. Sadowski, Piotr, “The Iconic Indexicality of Photography.” Semioticon. N.p., June 2009. Web. Apr. 2016.
14. Sontag, Susan. On Photography. NewYork: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977. Print.
15. Torczyner, Harry. Magritte, Ideas and Images. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1977. Print