Self as Spectator

During this lecture we discussed what we do with cameras and the relationship between the eye and the rest of our bodies and the way we relate to the world.

Subjectivity- talking about us. Sense of self.
Nature- gender, race, physical appearance, religion. All have a different experience, shapes the way we experience life.

Vision and eye, self and world
We began by discussing Alberti’s perspective construction (c.1435)

This was used to determine where the horizon would be in the painting. It meant that the paintings all looked the same as the other.







picture2Albrecht Durer, Draughtsman Using a Net, c. 1525

The image above shows a Net being used, this was used in order to get the correct proportions of whatever was being drawn. He lines up his eye the object in front of it to get an accurate visualisation. Albrecht Durer was a Renaissance painter.

Graphic Telescope c. 1812

The beginnings of lens based technology.






Model for human subject. Mediating (acts between two things) our vision; camera between you and your subject, changes your relationship with the world.

How does it act as the model for the subject?
Duccio de Buoninsegna, Christ Entering Jerusalem, 1308-11

Image is disproportionate, Christ and the others in the foreground are larger than the door. The whole image looks quite flat as though they’re all too close together.





Duccio de Buoninsegna, The Last Supper, 1308-11

The same as Christ Entering Jerusalem, this image too is very disproportionate and looks very flat.
Giotto, Christ Driving the Demons out of Arezzo, 1308-11

You can tell that this painting is more observational and was based more on experience – moves through space.





Distance and closeness

The image
shows the first photograph of the earth taken from space.
Telescopes proved how far away the moon is, before it was common to believe that it wasn’t very far away.


Alberti’s Perspective Construction c. 1435

 Coming back to Alberti’s Perspective Construction: the canvas size was up to the painter, this method allowed it to work no matter the size, then you would choose where you wanted the horizon to be, depending on where you placed the horizon would change the way the spectator viewed the image. The horizon would be measured by using the size of the man. Choose a vanishing point, in the top left image you can see this being done, the space past the picture has to be equal to that of the original image size and finally you would end up with a grid.
It was believed that with paintings using this construction the viewer would experience disembodiment, so the physical body would not be a part of their experience.
Link between eye and vanishing point: shared space or ‘stage’

Raphael, Betrothal of The Virgin, 1504

In this painting the horizon line is higher up, this makes the viewer more elevated and as though they are looking down on the scene.


picture14Diane Arbus, Retired Man and His Wife at Home in a Nudist Camp, 1963
This image by Diane Arbus has been taken as though you could walk into the space. This combined with the naked subjects in the image is contrasted. It is as though we are being invited in to a private experience.

This is further contradicted by the fact we cannot enter this space; it is unreachable to us as viewers.

Candida Hofer, from Libraries, 2005

Candida Hofer’s images of libraries feel quite imposing, they’re inviting and repellent- institutionalized. She has used the camera to create a specific type of space.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, View from Berlin Radio Tower, 1928

Photographed straight down, makes the image look very abstract. At first glance it is hard to tell that it is actually a downwards view.

Rut Blees Luxemberg, ‘Vertiginous Exhilaration’, from the series A Modern Project, 1996

Creates a feeling of discomfort, playing on the feeling of vertigo.


Monosensory – how we experience images using only sight.

“[Linear perspective] establishes … a formal separation between a subject who sees the world and the world that is seen, and in so doing it sets the stage, as it were, for that retreat or withdrawal of the self from the world which characterizes the dawn of the modern age. Ensconced behind the window the self becomes an observing subject, a spectator, as against a world which becomes a spectacle, an object of vision.” (Romanyshyn, p42)

Distance: visually involved the scene, but physically apart from it.
Carleton Watkins, View of the campus, UC Berkeley, 1874

Gives the sense of looking at your own land, looking over it.




“Perspective creates distance between human beings and things … but then in turn it abolishes this distance by, in a sense, drawing this world of things … into the eye.” (Panofsky, p67)

“In a sense, perspective transforms [real] space into mathematical space. … It forgets that we see not with a single fixed eye but with two constantly moving eyes … It takes no account of the enormous difference between the psychologically conditioned ‘visual image’ through which the visible world is brought to our consciousness, and the mechanically conditioned ‘retinal image’ which paints itself upon our physical eye.” (Panofsky, p31)

 Descartes: ‘I think therefore I am’ (1619)

  • “therefore” is the nature of the subject.
  • Exercises doubt- reflecting nature of existence.
  • Discounts objects- thinking only guarantees existence “I am”.

Descartes model of self is conceptually linked to Alberti’s model of vision.
“Almost two centuries before Descartes will establish the philosophical grounds of a … self, separated from the world, the … eye of the artist has already prepared the space for that achievement.” (Romanyshyn p42)
“When [Descartes] says ‘I think therefore I am,’ he simply articulates in philosophical language that distance from the body which the geometry of linear perspective vision has already created.” (Romanyshyn p48)

Perspectival or ‘Cartesian’ arguments state that body and world belong to matter, while self belongs to mind.
‘I see therefore I am’
Camera vision implies a similarly distanced, disembodied self.
“The camera is the technological incarnation of the linear perspective eye.” (Romanyshyn p57)

We can see, but we can’t touch…
“It [is] possible to be a voyeur before an image and yet to be deaf to its reality.”
(Kevin Robins, Into the Image, 1996)

Images such as this are displayed so often on the internet, in newspapers and on TV that we have become desensitised to it. The reality just doesn’t register.



Camera Obscura
Athanasius Kircher, camera obscura, 1649

The camera obscura “defines an observer as isolated, enclosed, and autonomous within its dark confines. It [implies] a … withdrawal from the world … it is a figure for both the observer who is  … a free sovereign individual and a privatized subject … cut off from a public exterior world.” (Crary p39)

The camera obscura- a metaphor for consciousness.

Mind-body dualism – the mind as ‘Cartesian theatre’

The Cartesian theatre as mind was considered that the world was seen through the eyes and then projected into closed chamber of the mind which was a place to analyse the information.
Our brain doesn’t work this way, we do not always process things this way, our body can do things without us telling it to. For example, goose bumps aren’t something we tell our body do to or something we think about, it just happens.

Knowledge is acquired not by immersion in the world of material things, but secondarily, by means of representations…
Perspectival vision is an “analytical vision which decomposes the whole into parts, a vision whose power lies in its ability to isolate, decontextualize and anatomize the world.” (Romanyshyn p77)


Eadweard Muybridge, Galloping Horse, 1878

Before Muybridge it was common belief that the moment when all four of the horses legs while running was when they were all stretched apart, when in fact it’s when they’re feet are curled in on itself.


Jean Louis Géricault. The Derby at Epson, 1821

Géricault’s painting is an example of how they thought horses looked when they galloped. Here photography has shown the reality that we cannot necessarily see with our own eyes and has created a photographic truth.

“The photograph reduplicates the world and in time even comes to displace it, taking on the character of what is true and what is real. Seeing is believing, we say, a maxim which was unimaginable prior to the invention of linear perspective vision. And with the camera we have further qualified this vision: not any seeing is believing, but only that seeing which duplicates the neutrality and impartiality of the camera eye.” Romanyshyn63

I, as a photographer feel disconnected to my subject when looking through the camera. Specifically, when I think of my own series Canary Wharf, because I felt this disconnection to the world I think that it gave me the courage to step out and take the pictures I wanted to. I wasn’t seeing the world through my own eyes but the camera’s eye.











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