How to look/see

Text by Christopher Young, 2009

That which is imaged exists on more than one plane.

To fully appreciate what you are looking at, you need to be aware that there are multiple threads to that which you are consuming.

First off, the image itself is on a surface(s) and that surface is an object in itself. It is a tactile thing that you can turn in three dimensional space.

On this surface, a medium (silver, mud, graphite, etc) often creates an illusion of three dimensions using tone, colour, texture, shape and contrast.

In particular regards to photography, although broadly applicable, the artist has often rendered something using the tools available to them. They have created an impression of an object using, for example, silver oxides on photographic paper.

The object, whilst no longer an object once rendered, was/is a tactile thing that can be turned in three dimensional space outside the context of the artwork.

The object existed before, during and/or after the image is rendered in some form. It is not limited to its impressions.

The artist, when generating a 'flat' rendering, has chosen a viewpoint (frame) and made a multitude of other creative decisions in regards to how the rendering is realised. What is not in the frame or rendered with disregard can be as important as what is framed and detailed.

The object is a symbol. It is rendered as the artist sees it but it is not exclusive to that view point. The viewer, whilst looking at an image of an apple, likely knows what an apple is and how it appears from other view points than that shown.

There are multiple narratives to an object. There is what that the photographer sees or experiences whilst making the image. ie. what is framed as well as the surrounds. There is what the viewer associates to the resultant image. ie. an apple might remind them of childhood. And there is the real, objective narrative of the object. The latter is a utopian concept and impossible to document.

The object and art object are not islands and, as such, exist within multiple continuums. An image of an apple can be a personal, sociological, psychological, historical and art historical symbol at the same time and without limitation. An art critic and a child will see completely different apples.

How this final art object engages with the world around it is also critical to how the viewer experiences that which they are looking at.

Imagine an image hung on a stark white gallery wall and then that same image in amongst fruit and vegetables in a supermarket. The image can, via context, have a completely variable atmosphere and reading simply by being associated with something. This can also be affected when something is isolated from distraction... an example of this might be a price ticket from a supermarket hung in a gallery rather than associated with its product.

...a picture of an apple is not an apple, it is only a representation of an apple.

The Psychology of Learning and Motivation: Advances in Research and Theory
By Gordon H. Bower (p39)


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