Gallery visit: The Feminist Avant-garde A Radical Revaluation of Value

Today we went to the Photographers Gallery to visit ‘The Feminist Avant-Garde A Radical Revaluation of Value. The exhibition displays art on everyday life and questions art history which excludes the feminist art movement and female photographers all together.
The work shown challenges how we view gender and domestic life, what is expected of women. Feminism isn’t just about women however but also how men are expected to act towards women, there have been several waves of feminism which each were concerned with different areas. Post-feminsm was mainly focused on how men and women behave towards each other.
Today in our photography classes there are more women than men, but a couple of decades ago this would have been the other way around. I feel that photography is becoming more of a feminine subject to study. There was a time however when women would be discouraged from contributing to any creative media such as painting, photography and film.

Penny Slinger’s work Wedding Invitation shows her dressed as a bride wearing her wedding cake and gradually takes slices away, revealing her naked body. This is to represent the wedding night which is linked to the body and pleasure. It shows the sexualisation of marriage but also the roles which men and women have in domestic life which is mainly presented to you through looking at your parents relationship which is different for everyone. There is also a power balance in a marriage where you have to decide who’s going to have what role in your everyday life.

The exhibition is split in three sections, the second part of the exhibition is about beauty, specifically the female body and performance. The female body can take on many persona’s when dressed up, we can become someone else entirely through make up and different clothing. This can be something to hide behind or to liberate so everyday life.
Today men too are becoming more ridiculed for what they look like and can be expected to have the ‘perfect body’ we see in magazines and movies.
The creation of contraception plays a major part in how women’s bodies are sexualised as sex becomes about pleasure and not just for producing life. In the 50s/60s movies, novels and images became more sexualised as women became sexually liberated.

Identity and gender, the women you see in newspapers, magazines and all over social media are always shown as beautiful, you would never see someone of front of a magazine who does not fit their criteria. Photoshop plays a big part in this as it creates the illusion that they’re perfect. Even wedding photographers now use it to make the bride look perfect.

All of the work shown doesn’t look worn, I found it all very interesting and unfortunately still links with issues we have today. When analysing the work you can use gender and history methods, looking at the context in which it was created. There were videos Letítia Parente and Martha Rosler, this was before digitisation so the videos are quite clunky but using this technology was more of a male domain at the time so it challenges this.
I would describe myself as a feminist and believe that men and women should be equal, I found this exhibition very interesting as it explores this methodology.



Beyond the Frame: Experiment with Ink

For my eye project I began to think more about what the iris looked like and how I could perhaps recreate it in different ways and took the images using my iPhone.
Shown above is my experiment with ink and also watercolour, however watercolour blends in the water too well, the ink works much easier and creates a more interesting pattern.
The image on the left was purely just ink and the one of the right was watercolour and ink mixed together. Unfortunately I only had black and blue coloured inks so watercolour helped to create different colours for the background which the ink would go on top of, but I am planning on getting more colours and carry on experimenting just with ink.
I also tried to see what would happen if I put oil in the water but I only had oil paints so they just sank to the bottom and didn’t work.

As well as working in this way to recreate the patterns in the iris I am also interested in finding elements and object with the same sort of texture/colour pattern. For example, water or fire. This would be juxtaposed next to the original iris images, or even the pictures of the whole eye.

When experimenting again I will use a macro lens to get really close into the detail of the ink, I think then this will look closer to the pattern of the iris, as further away (you can’t get very close with an iPhone) it just looks like ink in water. At the moment I’m really interested in going really close in making it very abstract, I would like to be able to mix the close ups of the iris and the ones which are ink and the viewer not be able to tell which is which. One, a sort of man made creation, and the other created by a divine maker? This is certainly one concept I would like to look into.

Research: Alex Prager

The images above are taken from Alex Prager’s website ( and are of his project Compulsion (2012).
I found the way Prager placed the eye images with landscapes really interesting, they create a narrative around the expression of the eye as though what is in the landscape is what they were looking at when it was taken. The eyes on their own composed together in a collage also work well, they all have different lighting and emotions, some are looking up and some are looking down, some look scared and others look angry or shocked. A lot of Prager’s work looks like film stills and these are the same, it looks as though they have been taken straight from a dramatic scene. Similar to the film Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock after the famous shower stabbing scene when they close in on the eye and pan out until you can see her face. The close up shot on the right hand page on the far right one up from the bottom is the close up image i’m speaking about. As you can see, aside from the fact it’s black and white there is a distinctive relation between the film still and Prager’s images.

Rebello, S. (1990) Alfred Hitchcock and the making of “Psycho.” London: Marion Boyars Publishers.

In my own project I’m more focussing on the iris and pupil rather than the emotions of the eye. I’m also cropping the images down so that the eyebrow isn’t showing. I think I am however going to display my images in a similar way, in a grid or perhaps dotted randomly so they’re all looking at you when displayed. I’m planning on getting a typography together of the eyes so that I have a wide selection of iris colours and patterns.

Photographing the Invisible

During this lecture we spoke about photographing something that isn’t visible to the human eye.

Tom Gunning

  • 1850s, photography was associated with the supernatural (Felix Nadar- movement, blur = spirit and dead).
  • Ambiguity of how people thought about photography at the time.
  • Radiate something (onion skin) only so much you can give when being photographed.
  • Double of the sitter (ghostly double)

‘At the same time that the daguerreotype recorded the visual reality of material reality it also seemed to dematerialise it, to transform it into a ghostly double’.
Tom Gunning, ‘Phantom Images and Modern Manifestations’, in Patrice Petro (ed), Fugitive Images: From Photography to Video, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995, p.43.

Felix Nadar and his wife Ernestine, Self-portrait in a balloon, 1860s.

The Fox Sisters

  • In 1848 the Fox sisters began to hear ghostly knocks in the night (code).
  • They thought they were making a connection with the people/spirits who were making the noise.
  • Beginning of spirituality.
  • Came to the conclusion someone had dies there.
  • Religion emerged, routed from Christianity (dead come to life) based on main religion.
  • Religious movement.
  • Claimed to be modernity and science combined.
  • Photography provided support for spiritualism.
Anon., Margaret and Kate Fox, ca.1848.

Spirit photography

  • Began 1860s-1861

William Mumler

  • Produced photograph when they were using glass plates which you would clean after each use, but if you didn’t clean it properly there would be part of an image left on the plate. This was known knowledge at the time yet it was ignored and people still believed that what they were seeing was spirits.
  • His wife claimed to be a healer.
  • Spirits found in the photographs were beginning to be recognised, some of the people were still alive.
  • Authorities began to get concerned- Mumler was prosecuted (1809) for fraud but wasn’t convicted, it did however damage his reputation.
  • People tried to destroy spirit photography, condemned by scientists and photographers.
  • Wanted explanations for it but wouldn’t admit they put the ‘spirits’ in the images.
William Mumler, Portrait of Mrs Lincoln, with ‘extra’ of Abraham Lincoln, ca.1860s.
  • Each spirit photographer had their own style.
  • In the 1870’s spirit photography spread to Europe.

Britain (London) Frederick A. Hudson

  • Figures in sheets (iconography)
  • Collaborations began to happen, performance.
Frederick Hudson, Mrs Houghton and spirit of her aunt, 1872; Frederick Hudson, Mrs Houghton, Thomas Guppy and spirit of his grandmother, 1870s.

France spirit photography movement
Edouard Buguet

  • Incantations, very performative.
  • Psychology- why would they believe?
  • Praying on people in a vulnerable position- contacting dead relative.
  • Was taken to court- fined and imprisoned for a year- he admitted what he did.
  • People still insisted they were real, they were seeing what they wanted to.
Edouard Isidore Buguet, “Ketty King”. Florence Cook and Charles Blackburn, on a trip to Paris, 1874; M. Gueret recognises his drowned brother, n.d.
William Crookes, Portraits of ‘Katie King’, 1874.
  • Famous collaboration between scientist William Crookes and medium Katie King.
  • Scientists thought they might find something in spirit photography- still suspicious.
  • Spirit of Katie King in the picture.
  • William Crookes was a very important scientist and this is why people believed in his research and thought it was the best evidence.
  • Crookes never spoke of his earlier work, was knighted Sir William Crookes.

Clément Chéroux observes, ‘spirit photography had two faces’: ‘Like Janus, it was used for both mystification and demystification’.
Clément Chéroux, ‘Ghost Dialectics: spirit photography in entertainment and belief’, in The Perfect Medium, p.46.

  • Private investigators where always trying to catch spiritual photographers out.

John Lobb

  • Claimed in his book Talks with the Dead, 1906 that spirit photography was real.
  • X-rays etc. meant spiritual photography was authentic.

James Coates

  • Photographing the Invisible,
  • Just before WWI, tradition of mesmerism- explained through animal magnetism.
  • Mesmerism- dead and alive give this off- how it happened.

Jacob Von Narkiewicz-Jodko

  • Recording what we can’t see.
Jacob Von Narkiewicz-Jodko, Effluvia from an electrified hand resting on a photographic plate, 1896.

Louis Darget

  • Thoughts and dreams transmitting from their head.
Louis Darget, mental photographs and their interpretations. Left, portrait of Beethoven; right. Dream of an eagle.
  • WWI, social justification for spirit photography- when the soldiers returned as spirits.
  • Vulnerable state- nothing left for them, saw what they wanted to see, believe anything due to grief.
  • Spirit photography was affordable.
  • Critics were disgusted by spirit photography, how they pray on the vulnerable.

Raymond, by Sir Oliver J. Lodge

  • Wife convinced him to go.
  • Medium told them they would send them a photograph of their son they had not seen before and they did. This convinced him as the credibility of the photography was strong.
  • Wrote a book about his experience.
  • Judgement was clouded by grief.
  • During the great war there was a boom for spirit photography but it became less popular afterwards.

The Cenotaph

  • A national center for people to grieve- channel it.
The Cenotaph, Whitehall, London, design by Lutyens. Inaugurated in 1920.

Ada Deane

  • Claimed spirits of the dead soldiers returned during the ceremony.
  • Noticed they were soldiers at all but people such as footballers.
Ada Deane, Armistice Day ceremony, 1922.

Roland Barthes Camera Lucida

  • Central source- micro version of death- being photographed.
  • ‘a micro version of death’
  • ‘becoming a specter’
  • ‘The photograph’, says Barthes, ‘is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here …’

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, London: Jonathan Cape, 1982, p.14, 80 and 88.

William Hope

  • One of the best spirit photographers.
  • Shrouded figures.
  • Prayers, alternative form of religion.
  • Target for investigators, especially Harry Price who pretended to be someone else and managed to get a sitting.
  • Price used x-rays to prove he was switching the plates.

Psychic photography

  • Ghost stamp, how they were adding the ‘spirits’ to the photographs.


Essential reading: Sconce, Jeffrey, Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television, Durham and London: Duke University Press (2000) – see ch.1


Beyond the Frame: Third shoot

For my third shoot for my eyes series I used the same camera and lens but I used a ring flash instead of two hard lights. The ring flash worked a lot better to achieve an even light to photograph the eye and it was also a lot easier to edit the light out of the eye so I think this is the light source I am going to use for this project.

I have decided to crop the image even more so that the pupil and iris are the most prominent part of the picture. I have also decided that I want my images to be in colour. I have been enjoying experimenting cropping the images so that all you can see is the iris which is shown in the column to the right. The layout shown above I think is quite interesting as you have the eye on the left and then a close up of that eyes iris in the right. I think that this would make an interesting book so I might make a little one to see what it looks like with a similar layout as shown.

The iris is definitely the part of the eye that is interesting me the most, the patterns and colours are all so individual. They look very abstract when they’re on their own, I think all together you would be able to tell what they were however, especially if they were paired with the full images of the eye.

I’m going to continue taking pictures of eyes using the digital medium format Hasselblad with a macro lens but I’m hopefully going to find a way to make the pictures even more sharp. I want to have a big collection of eyes and will perhaps display many little prints during the exhibition.

Contact Sheet

A Skeptical Approach to Selfhood and Identity in the History of Philosophy

“[P]ostmodernist critics […] insist that postmodernist art be oppositional. This opposition can be conceived in two ways: as counter to the modernist tradition, and/or as counter to the ruling ‘mythologies’ of Western culture, which, the theory goes, led to the creation of the modernist tradition in the first place. These same critics believe that postmodernist art therefore must debunk or ‘deconstruct’ the ‘myths’ of the autonomous individual […] and of the individual subject […]”

(Grundberg, Andy, ‘The Crisis of the Real’, in Wells Liz, [ed.], Photography Reader, London and NY: Routledge, 2003, p.168.)

  • Postmodernist’s deconstruct the western idea of individuality.
  • Made up Western myths to critique to display the one-sidedness of Western.
  • Lecture not designed to absolve Western from economic crimes but to question Western philosophy.

Thomas McEvilley:

  • Analyses and criticises Immanuel Kant without quoting Kant himself at all.
  • Quotes only Alfred Jules Ayer, a 20th-century philosopher, a follower of Hume, a philosopher who did not subscribe to Kantian development of Hume’s ideas.
  • Only makes reference to Kant in his footnotes, doesn’t quote Kant in his critique.

Leads to problems in understanding both Kant and Ayer.


“Some years ago I was struck by the large number of falsehoods that I had accepted as true in my childhood, and the highly doubtful nature of the whole edifice that I had subsequently based on them. I realized that it was necessary, once in the course of my life, to demolish everything completely and start again right from the foundations […]. So today I have expressly rid my mind of all worries and arranged for myself a clear stretch of free time. I am here quite alone, and at last I will devote myself sincerely and without reservation to the general demolition of my opinions.”

(Descartes, ‘First Meditation’ in Meditations on First Philosophy, edited by John Cottingham, NY: Cambridge University Press, p.12.)

  • Descartes uses a doubting everything method.
  • If you can’t doubt it, it must be true.

“Reason now leads me to think that I should hold back my assent from opinions which are not completely certain and indubitable just as carefully as I do from those which are patently false.” (Ibid.)

  • If you have any distrust towards an idea throw it away.

“From time to time I have found that the senses deceive, and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.”  (Ibid.)

Mistakes in explaining the world around us

Scenographia systematis mvndani Ptolemaici, 1660 (from Andreas Cellarius, Harmonia Macrocosmica).

Sun circles the Earth, the Earth moves. Senses rejected, false.

“I will suppose then, that everything I see is spurious. I will believe that my memory tells me lies, and that none of the things that it reports ever happened. I have no senses. Body, shape, extension, movement and place are chimeras. So what remains true? […] I have convinced myself that there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies. Does it now follow that I too do not exist? No: if I convinced myself of something (or thought anything at all) then I certainly existed. But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case too I undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. […] I must conclude that this proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward in my mind.” (Descartes, ‘Second Meditation’, p. 16)

  • What can give us certain knowledge? Reason and isolation from knowledge, senses untrustworthy.
  • Reason gain real knowledge.
  • God given reason- Hyperbolic doubt- Can’t trust world outside of mind.
  • “I think therefore I am” (Principles of philosophy)
  • If I doubt everything, illusion, reason tricked by devilish God, reason tells lies.
  • Subject doubting has to exist. “I doubt therefore I am”.
  • Light of reason, it is logically impossible that you don’t exist, Thomas Hobbs told Descartes objections, his philosophy was littered with problems.

David Hume 

  • Regards sense and information the only source of information on the world.
  • We are not born with God given knowledge of mathematics, etc. It is gained through experience.

“It must be some one impression, that gives rise to every real idea.”
(Hume, David, ‘Of Personal Identity’ in A Treatise of Human Nature, J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1911, p.238.)

  • If concept of mind is true then objects such as, house, car, etc. must have somehow come to be through senses first.
  • Attraction- sounds like common sense, for example you can’t teach a toddler the colour red without showing it to them.

“[S]etting aside metaphysicians of [the Cartesian] kind, I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement. Our eyes cannot turn in their sockets without varying our perceptions. Our thought is still more variable than our sight; and all our other senses and faculties contribute to this change; nor is there any single power of the soul, which remains unalterably the same, perhaps for one moment. The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearances; pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations. There is properly no simplicity in it at one time, nor identity in different; whatever natural propensity we may have to imagine that simplicity and identity.”
(Hume, David, Ibid., p. 239.)


  • Under continuous change (morning and leaving)
  • Constant identical self- changing impressions attack.
  • Which impression of yourself? (happy, mad, sad ect.)
  • Objects outside ourselves and our identity.
  • Loads of objects that change all the time, how to describe- change is cognitive.

“In order to justify ourselves this absurdity, we often feign some new and unintelligible principle, that connects the objects together, and prevents their interruption and variation. Thus we feign the continu’d existence of the perceptions of our senses, to remove the interruption; and run into the notion of a soul, and self, and substance, to disguise the variation.”
(Hume, Ibid., p.241.)

  • Something substantially, they are the same- doesn’t make sense.
  • Planting a tree- don’t see anything for a while, in ten years there is a tree. Nothing similar between acorn and oak tree, how do we know it’s the same tree?
  • Spatial relations doesn’t mean they are related.

Selfhood and identity (continued existence of an identical self) is not a real idea but something we construct out of our imagination and memory – from previous experience.

Where memory is missing, the question whether there is any continuation to one’s identity remains unanswered.

Cindy Sherman

  • Costume changing

“Since she uses herself as her subject in all her photographs, we might want to call these self-portraits, but in essence they deny the self. […] Hers are perfectly poststructuralist portraits, for they admit to the ultimate unknowable-ness of the ‘I’.”
(Grundberg, Andy, ‘The Crisis of the Real’, in Wells, Liz [ed.], The Photography Reader, London and NY: Routledge, 2003, p. 170.)

Gerhard Richter

  • Creates multiple kinds of art- minimalist, expressionist, classical structure and minimalist, semi-scientific, experiments.
  • Refused to form a signature style.
  • His exhibitions look like group shows, there are many Richter’s.

“I like everything that has no style: dictionaries, photographs, nature, myself and my paintings. (Because style is violence, and I am not violent).”
(Gerhard Richter, ‘Notes 1964-1965’, in The Daily Practice of Painting, London: Anthony D’Offay Gallery/Thames & Hudson, 1995, p.35.)

  • Violence to oneself and viewers.
  • Art concerned unidentifiable, uncertainty.

My profound distaste for all claims to possess the truth, and for all ideologies – a distaste which I have often expressed, with varying degrees of skill (and which has shown itself so clearly in my pictures, in my way of working, in my whole attitude, that I myself have repeatedly ascribed it to an innate lack of structural capacity, or of courage, or of strength, or of the formal impulse, or of potency, or of creativity) – this now receives confirmation from such people as the physicist Dürr, the evolutionary scientist Riedland, and Konrad Lorenz, who say that our sole hope of survival lies in the ‘gropings of human self-doubt.’
(Richter, ‘Notes 1988’, Ibid., pp.170-171.)

  • Strong sense of uncertainty, virtue of it.

Roni Horn

  • Current self-juxtaposed with child self.
  • Gender theory – male and female name.
Roni Horn, You Are the Weather, 1994-1995.

Roni Horn, You Are the Weather (details), 1994-1995.

  • Same Icelandic girl photographed lots of times from different angles.

Her sitter’s face is a perfect façade, a kind of barometer that registers the subtle changes of the water below and the sky above. […] these images, though repeated, reveal little about the sitter. […] This treatment of the face smudges the distinction between object and subject. Just who is the “you”?
(Salvo, Donna de, in Roni Horn aka Roni Horn, London, 2009, p.195.)

  • Enigmatic title of the project- who is it relating to?
  • We are all the weather- thermometer change, interaction with the environment.
  • We are constantly changing physically and psychologically.
  • Doesn’t follow one specific style ‘doubt block’ – similar questions.
Roni Horn, Doubt Block, 2005.

Thomas Keenan

Thomas Keenan, Eyal Weiman, Mengle’s Skull, 2012.
  • Mengle, the person in the images performed violent experiments during holocaust, this project was about identifying him.
  • How can we be certain the skull is him? Identification not easy.

 Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff, Porträt, [Portrait], 1984.
  • Deadpan photography.

“Every detail of their faces right down to the quality of their skin could be read almost as though under a microscope. And yet the viewer could never get beyond the surface of the image, because so little was revealed of the figures themselves as to their character, individuality or personality. The sitters dis-appeared behind their likenesses and left only a precise record of their external appearance, which in turn served as a reflective surface for the viewer. With this series, which was concluded in 1991, Ruff memorably demonstrated his belief ‘that photography can only depict the surface of things’.”
(Liebermann, Valeria, ‘Photography as Proving Ground’, in Thomas Ruff [exhibition catalogue], London: Essor Gallery, 2001, [unpaginated])

  • Can’t penetrate the surface- nothing to penetrate? Don’t know what substance means.

After break discussion:

What is post-structuralism?
Was a philosophical movement emerged in France late 20th century.

  • Roland Barthes
  • Wanted to theorise beyond structuralism


  • Interpreting structural texts- can mean anything.
  • Despite surface different of myths underline structure repeated.
  • Hollywood- very simple basis structure- keep repeating.


  • Wanted to go beyond this, never got deeper meaning.
  • Different ways of looking at things.
  • Different readers see different things- reader is essential.


Essential Reading: David Hume: Of Personal Identity (in A Treatise of Human Nature)


History as a Field and Method of Photographic Research

Historical research can be interpreted in many different ways, specifically in this lecture we focussed of history as a field and a method of photographic research.

As a field, history can be looked upon as its own collection of people, peers, when and where and the material used. It can also be looked at through the period in which it was created in. How the styles interacted with one another and also how different movements came and went, how did they effect each other?

When looking at history as a field of study you can also ask different kinds of questions:

What exactly happened in a period x–y? (Descriptive account – say, the order of events in the early days of photography: who really achieved what results and when?)

Why did it happen? (Seeking the objective causal background of some event/s – say, the forces and events that ultimately led to the announcement of the daguerreotype in the way it was done in 1839.)

How was it possible that it did happen? (Seeking to explain the occurrence of what might superficially seem like an unlikely event – say, the importance of women practitioners in photography.)

Why an individual/set of individuals acted in a certain way. (Seeking to explain individuals’ intentions, motivations, influences etc. – say, why exactly did Stieglitz allow Strand to publish a basically anti-pictorialist article in Camera Work?)

We were however only given these questions as examples of the principles we could use when doing our own research into history as a field. These are starting points to get us thinking on how we can view images in this way in our own research.
This form of research can help discover hidden aspects in an image that without the knowledge of the history, the time it was taken can create a whole other meaning to the image itself when viewing it.

As a method 

All photographs are produced within a context. A photographer works with materials (camera, computer, prints etc.) within a definite social place and time. These materials and the choices the photographer exercises over them, whether conscious or not (i.e., not ‘thinking about it’) organizes the look of the picture.

(Bate, D. 2009, p.16.)

Every photographer and artist, conscious or not is interwoven with the history’s context. You can only take an image in your own time, and it reflects this in it whether we recognise it or not.
History as a method can be linked closely to the previous question ‘Why did it happen? (Seeking the objective casual background of some event/s/)’ This method of research photographic work can take a long time as it takes a lot of reading and visual research, making connections in timelines and concepts.
It may take a long time to do the research but by doing this we can get a very detailed analyse of why the image was taken the way it was. Being thorough could also lead to a unique perspective of the photographic image that others had not considered, changing the understanding of the image for others.

Introduction to alternative processes

During this workshop we were shown different processes we can use in the in the art studio, which is located in Area E on the third floor.

Shown above are cyanotypes printed on different types of media showing the diversity of the different objects you can print on using it. Also on the far right shows the digital negative you need to use in order to do the cyanotype and also the different ways in which you can paint the paper to get different effects.

This one which is shown above is photo etching, the process is similar to normal etching where you do it by hand. This has a lot more detail that cyanotype as you can see from the difference between the two. Cyanotype also only comes out blue, whereas with photo etching you can use different colours. Salt prints are also very similar to cyanotypes but they turn out black and white and also have more detail than than cyanotypes.

Along with these processes we can also do screen prints and also make our own fabric patterns.

Crary and the ‘New’ Sensation of 19th Century

Art’s historical position was driven by a re-assessment of how human vision functions, during the mid-late 19th Century where a rapture of how we understand visuality.
Crary discusses how art jumped from such renaissance paintings such as Pietro Perugino to Wassily Kandinsky and Jackson Pollock, this sudden change in how we understand art and this change can’t be explained in discussion of materials and experiments, we must look into the historical context such as the development in cognitive science and psychology.

“[W]hen, and because of what events, [was there] a rupture with Renaissance, or classical, models of vision and of the observer[?] How and where one situates such a break has an enormous bearing on the intelligibility of visuality within nineteenth- and twentieth-century modernity. Most existing answers to this question suffer from an exclusive preoccupation with problems of visual representation; the break with classical models of vision in the early nineteenth century was far more than simply a shift in the appearance of images and art works, or in systems of representational conventions. Instead, it was inseparable from a massive reorganization of knowledge and social practices that modified in myriad ways the productive, cognitive, and desiring capacities of the human subject”

(Crary, 1992, p.5).

Discussion of Jonathan Crary’s book Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle and Modern Culture.

Crary discusses 19th Century painting, specifically looking at Georges Seurat, Cirque, 1890-91 and Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Plaster Cupid, 1894/5 however he does not look at Edouard Manet to which he puts to keeping the book at a reasonable size; however, he could have another motivation.

In Crary’s view the rupture happens exclusively in the latter half of the 19th Century (1850’s onwards) where vision is ‘subjectivized’

“The idea of subjective vision—the notion that our perceptual and sensory experience depends less on the nature of an external stimulus than on the composition and functioning of our sensory apparatus—was one of the conditions for the historical emergence of notions of autonomous vision, that is, for a severing (or liberation) of perceptual experience from a necessary relation to an exterior world. […] This was the decisive achievement of the science of psychophysics in the mid-nineteenth century, which, by apparently rendering sensation measurable, embedded human perception in the domain of the quantifiable and the abstract. […] These developments are part of a critical historical turning point in the second half of the nineteenth century at which any significant qualitative difference between life and technics begins to evaporate. The disintegration of an indisputable distinction between the interior and exterior becomes a condition for the emergence of spectacular modernizing culture and for a dramatic expansion of the possibilities of aesthetic experience” (Crary, 1999, pp.12–13).

From 1850’s onwards we begin to get scientific theories which depend less on the exterior view on the world and visual sense on it becomes different.

Attention concept radically rethought from 18th century to 19th century:

“Attention, as it was conceived of in the later nineteenth century, is radically alien to eighteenth century notion of mental activity as a stamp or a mold that will somehow fix or preserve the constancy of objects. In historical discussions of the problem of attention, one often encounters the claim that the modern psychological category of attention is continuous with notions of apperception that were important in different ways for Leibniz and Kant. But in fact what is crucial is the unmistakable historical discontinuity between the problem of attention in the second half of the nineteenth century and its place in European thought in previous centuries” (Crary, 1999, p.18–19).

Sensation reconceptualised

“The model of attentive human observer that dominated the empirical sciences from the late 1880s on was also inseparable from a radically transformed notion of what constitutes sensation for a human subject. Within the increasingly sophisticated laboratory environment, sensation became an effect or a set of effects that were technologically produced and were used to describe a subject who was compatible with those technical conditions. That is, its significance as an “interior” faculty disappeared and it became a quantity or set of effects that could be measured or observed externally. […] Within this vast project, an older model of sensation as something belonging to a subject became irrelevant. Sensation now had empirical significance only in terms of magnitudes that corresponded to specific quantities of energy (e.g., light) on one hand and to measurable reaction times and other forms of performative behavior on the other. It cannot be emphasised too strongly how, by the 1880s, the classical idea of sensation ceases to be a significant component in the cognitive picture of nature” (Crary, 1999, pp. 26-27).

Before 1850s cognitive science were more thoughtful of how the interior had an impact on the senses.

Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884.

“La Grande Jatte, in particular, can be seen as an ambiguous puzzle, in Durkheimian terms, of the problematic nature of social association. Is the assemblage pictured here an image of harmony, the near-equilibrium state of solidarity, of individuals transformed into ‘social beings’? Or is it a statistical distribution of isolated and categorized units, the result of a merely additive principle of formal adjacency, in which depleted, anomic relations predominate beneath the spurious appearance of social concord?”

Durkheimian theory – is it a picture of late 19th century Parisian harmony of society all together or a critical work reacting to the increasing bourgeoisie Napoleon 3rd working class of Paris. At ease or competition between classes?


Georges Seurat, Cirque, 1890–91, is a picture “not […] of a circus but […] a frozen interval of a moving image that happens to be of circus performers. The image becomes like a fragment or section, detached from a continuum of images, that declares its remoteness from the conditions of ‘natural’ perception. The acrobat, the horse, and its rider are all immobilized as if through the exercise of nonhuman perception, in a simulation of a practice Reynaud effectively inaugurated, the freeze frame or stop action” (Crary, 1999, p.273).

Increasing technology, subject matter looking at emerging technology and film.

“As much as Reynaud, Muybridge, or Fuhrmann, Seurat too was a producer of what Jean-Louis Comolli calls ‘machines of the visible’; his work is also lodged amid the shift from artisanal practices to the repetitive and standardizing industrial modes of image making” (ibid.).
Machine matters more than subject matter.


  1. “Subjective vision” is the exclusive achievement of 19th-century psychophysics?
    (Made explicity in 1770 for the first time by immanuel Kant)

Kant: the forms of perception (space and time) are subjective in terms of their relation to the existent external world. I.e., the external world does not contain them – they are not ‘given’ with the stimuli coming to us from the external world. They are ‘added’ to the stimuli by our minds. Without these subjective “conditions of possibility” of perception, we could not perceive things of the world at all – or would at least perceive them extremely differently.

  1. “The disintegration of an indisputable distinction between the interior and exterior” is also something that belongs to the 19th century?

Kant: the forms that enable us to perceive what we think of as the external world are in fact ‘internal’ to our minds. Although space and time seem very much like attributes of the external world, in fact they are but subjective/internal forms of human perception.

  1. Attention has nothing to do with Kant’s theories?

Kant: Attention is the same as our self-affectation in acts of  perceiving ourselves inwardly: when I ask myself what am I seeing/feeling/thinking, I ask what kinds of sensory presentations are ‘in me’ right now. This Is the same as paying attention. (See CPR, B156, n.292.)


Sensation is radically reconceptualised in the 19th century. Instead of “an interior faculty”, instead of something that belongs to a subject, it now becomes an external effect or set thereof, which can be simulated in a laboratory.

Is this right?

Kant in CPR, A19–20/B34: “The effect of an object on our capacity for presentation, insofar as we are affected by the object, is sensation.”

I.e., in 1781/89 Kant defines sensation as the effect of an object (external in particular) on our senses (or, as he calls it, on sensibility, our capacity to represent objects given through sense stimuli).

In Critique of Judgement (1791) §VII/Ak. 189: “Sensation […] in its proper meaning […] stands for what is material (real) in presentations (that through which something existent is given) […]; sensation is also required for cognition of objects outside us” (emphasis added).

I.e., Kant even sees the external function of sensation as the ‘proper’ meaning of the term despite later widening his theory of sensation to include also ‘internal’ sensations, namely, feelings.

One crucial implication of Kants theory is that sensations are not given outside our spacial relations doesn’t come to you as a stimulus package but you have to do the work to put it together. For example; if you see two planes in the sky just seeing them doesn’t register the distance in your head, you have to have the knowledge to put it together yourself.

Going back to Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884 –
Readable social theory, making commentary of Parisian middle class, looking at the size difference of the people depicted in the image.


The spacial relations in the image are not correct, if they were he man in the top hat would be a tiny compared to the man lying down giving him more emphasis in the painting. This is a recurring theme in the image.


It is in this section of the image, this triangle of people that the sizing of the people is the most obvious as you can see how unstable the spacial relations are. The man in the top hat is much smaller than the young girl in the foreground and also the couple in the background.

Kant’s project is based on the claim that we need to process sensory stimuli by both sensuous forms of intuitions and conceptual forms of thought.

“Without sensibility no object would be given to us, without understanding no object would be thought. Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind”
(CPR, A51/B75).
We can see things without actually understanding what we are seeing. We need to be able to see, sense and also add the concept to it.

Discussing Claude Monet
“I remember his [Claude Monet’s] once saying this to me: ‘When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue,here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you a naïve impression of the scene before you.’ He said he wished he had been born blind and then had suddenly gained his sight so that he could have begun to paint in this way without knowing what the objects were that he saw before him”

(Cabot Perry, 1927/1990, p.116).
Cabot Perry was one of Monet’s student – only getting the statement through her.

Monet’s paintings are quite photographic, as his career progresses you can see how his work becomes more and more spacially ambiguous. Don’t think about space conceptually – which relates to Kant’s theory on sensation.

Discussing Paul Cézanne

Throughout Paul Cézanne’s career he has seemingly had an issue with space, which has become more defined over time as you can see in the images shown.

“Painting from nature is not copying the object, it is realizing one’s sensations” (Kendall, 2004, p.203).

–Emile Bernard: “So you understand art to be a union of the world and the individual?”

–Cézanne: “I understand it as personal apperception. This apperception I locate in sensation, and I require of the intellect that it should organize these sensations into a work of art.”

–Bernard: “But what sensations are you referring to? Those of your feelings or of your retina?

–Cézanne: I don’t think you can distinguish between the two; however, as a painter, I believe in the visual sensation above all else (ibid. p.193).

“There are two things in the painter, the eye and the mind; each of them should aid the other. It is necessary to work at their mutual development, in the eye by looking at nature, in the mind by the logic of organized sensations which provides the means of expression” (ibid p.203).

What Cézanne is discussing is a very Kantian theory on sensation.   

 László Moholy-Nagy


László Moholy-Nagy, Marseille, Port View, 1929.

In many of Moholy-Nagy’s images without context it could be difficult to be able to tell that we are actually looking at.
With Port View I knew straight away what I was looking at but with Untitled shown below it was a little unclear, especially as there is no clue in the title.
When I first looked at it I assumed that it was a roof terrace with the grass and tree below it but after a discussion on what we each saw it became very unclear and I was no longer sure what I was looking at. This completely goes against the idea of photographs being depictions of truth if we do not even know what it is we’re looking at.

László Moholy-Nagy, Untitled, 1940-44

There is evidence in the two images above that Moholy-Nagy was interested in Monet’s work as they have a close resemblance in how Moholy-Nagy has composed his image of the same place Monet painted.

Aleksandr Rodchenko, Lumber, 1929/30

In Rodchenko’s work he is disrupting our visual perception also, without the knowledge of the title I think it would take me a long time to figure out what I was looking at. The lines almost make it look like I’m looking down on a field.




Bridget Riley, Fall, 1963

In Riley’s work they are tricking your mind into placing spatial structures in the image where there aren’t any. This creates the illusion that it’s moving.




Patrick Hughes, Vanishing Venice (date uncertain)

Lastly we looked at Patrick Hughes whose image Vanishing Venice creates the visual illusion that the closest part of the image actually looks the furthest away. This confuses our sense’s as we can see what is wrong with the image but can’t put it right. I have found this image the hardest to get my head around.


Beyond the Frame: Second shoot

For my second shoot of eyes for my beyond the frame project I used two hard lights again, I had forgotten that I wanted to try using the ring flash and was too late taking it out to use.

I didn’t want the model to wear any make up for the shoot but I didn’t bring any make up wipes so she had to keep it on, I will shoot the same eye again without make up in a future shoot.
I think that I am beginning to prefer using colour rather than black and white because I’m finding the colours in the eyes very interesting because they’re so different.
I cropped the images to different sizes to see what they look like. I quite like when the iris and the sclera are the only parts showing along with the veins and eyelashes as they all have quite different textures.

The iris is definitely the part of the eye that people are most interested in seeing, as you obviously can’t see this much detail just by looking in the mirror. Seeing a part of yourself you’ve never noticed before is also very intriguing as it look completely different in the picture to how it does just looking at someones eye, the flash seems to reveal all the different colours and shapes.

I’m still not sure what sort of direction I’m going in with this project but I’m going to continue photographing peoples eye in the way and see what happens, I think when I get more I will have a better idea of what I want to do with them.

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