Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Picture World

Each year when I talk about how artists use photographs in my Illusionism class, I’m struck by how our relationship to pictures continues to change. Today it’s natural for people to communicate by sending each other pictures or links to pictures. We’re always showing each other things. It’s efficient, communicating lots of information quickly with all the nuance and subtlety that makes the whole so much bigger than the sum of its parts. Visual imagery is more important than ever before as photos find their way into every aspect of life. The level of immersion in photographic imagery that we experience today is unprecedented. Among the drawbacks are the limits set by the photo, on how much we can see. The choice about which direction to look and what remains hidden is already made and if we didn’t take the picture we don’t know the larger context. Since we’re not really there we can’t look deeper into the situation and because so many of the images were produced by others we’re often being led by second hand perceptions. Other hazards come from advertising, which bombards us with highly crafted images that not only overlay real situations and people, but create a culture aimed at making everyone feel flawed and deficient by comparison. The goal is to create shame and then offer its remedy in the form of products that would have no real value if people weren’t made to feel flawed the way they were. The repetitive homogenizing of what is to be considered beautiful does emotional violence to the majority of the population each of whom has their own version of beauty to offer. The painter, Francis Bacon, emphasized that so much of what we see now has been influenced by the pictures we’ve already seen before, and that it changes the way we see reality. In some cases the repetition of the image replaces our mental record of actual events. Look back at a memorable childhood trip or event and you may find yourself recalling images from photos or videos instead of images from the actual experience. Maybe when you remember a person in your life what you’re seeing is a favorite picture of them or a particular facebook photo. The way the 2d imagery of a place or event takes the place of the actual reality creates a danger. One reason squirrels are smarter than dogs is because they have such elaborate mental maps that include up and down dimensions as well as the movement on the ground that includes hiding places for nuts. Modern life experience includes the world on the screen for a big proportion of most people’s time. When we refer to life experiences we’re as liable to reference a TV show or movie or videogame as to something that actually happened to us. If too much life experience is reduced to two dimensions we risk losing a dimension to our conceptual reasoning. What surfing does is skim across the surface. We’ll be more balanced if we spend more time in the water, exploring beneath the surface. Being aware of the danger offers the opportunity to address it. Being out in nature, playing with children and animals, walking and running outdoors, seeing and navigating the whole physical world around us cultivates our three dimensional intelligence and stimulates the brain chemistry that always accompanies self-improvement. Mindful of the hazards, the enlargement of our right hemisphere thinking releases us from the confinement of categories. Seeing patterns and trajectories we can participate with the world in motion. Whether on a variety of screens, or in print media, surfing a sea of imagery is part of our day-to-day world. This has the positive effect of making it natural to use images to understand and communicate. With the richness of pictorial availability and the wisdom of gestalt reasoning, we can consciously evolve as a species.

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