Spring 2019: the eyes

In spite of this I constantly feel as if I have something in the eye. I rub them, my vision becomes blurry, and I often try to walk with my eyes closed in order to rest them. On occasions my eyes have been so blurry that I have been unable to focus the lens to make a photo. Objects in the world dissolve.

seaweed, Petrel Cove

My visual experience was one of a world that has become a blurry, impressionistic one of light, colour and shadow, rather than one composed of discrete objects with different textures and colours in various relationships. The world becomes very subjective and atmospheric— just like that of the Impressionists at the turn of the 20th century. The emphasis is on the sensibility of the visual artist, rather than with the object and a preference for colour over form.

This visual experience made me realise just how much photography is dependent on vision –on being able to see. The eye is central to photography in that the pictorial art of photography is dependent on what is visible –surface appearances—premised on the hegemonic autonomy of sight, or more generally on vision.

Dep’s Beach

Vision is culturally constructed in that it is a system of perception that, through an array of habituated conventions, organises reality in particular ways. This visual habit is also a way of thinking and traditionally, it consists of a knowing/seeing from which the observer is separated from the object of the gaze.

Traditionally it refers to the eye of a distant spectator who is able to see objects in a perspectival space from afar. This presupposes a distance between viewer and viewed, with a window glass separating beholder from the scene on the other side. Central to model of vision is the framed picture plane as a transparent surface (like glass) that we look through as if it were a window at a space or scene. The pyramid or cone of vision had one of the apexes the receding or vanishing point of the picture and the other apex the artist’s or viewer’s singular eye.

This, the received visual order in photography, presupposes a disembodied rational subject, and a binary gaze that divides reality into the empowered viewer and the disempowered viewed. The philosophical name for this scopic regime (model of vision) is Cartesian perspectivalism, and the other attributes of this regime are that reality is quantifiable and measurable and a belief in linear causality. It connects Cartesian subjective rationality with Albertian conceptualisations of single point perspective. Central to this model is a disembodied vision with its one point of view.

crab +seaweed, Petrel Cove

I am not sure that photography can represent objects that are present to all the senses at once–to make visible how the world actually touches us. This is the perspective of the lived body–how we actually perceive– rather than the photographic perspective premised on the dualism of subject and object. However, photography can refuse the model of vision in Cartesian perspectivalism in favour of an attentive eye on the fragmentary, detailed and richly textured material surfaces of discrete particularity.

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