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The Tyranny of Optics

Vision from the camera obscura to digital photography

There is a certain monocularity of vision in place through our instruments of vision, that places us (the human viewer) at the center of and separate from what is being observed – out there.  This monocularity reflects a long standing – tyranny of optics – heralded by the optical inventions following the camera obscura & the technologies of single point perspective and realized with the explosion of technological inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The crucial aspect of the camera obscura is, that it produces a monocular perspective, and in doing so, it is differing from all other aesthetic and visual systems and perspectives, from Ancient classic to Medieval or Asian visual art.  [ ? ]

Cloudy Horizon - Schillig Watt, March 3, 2009 - ©Hung/Sturgeon 2009

Cloudy Horizon - Schillig Watt, March 3, 2009 - ©Hung/Sturgeon 2009

These instruments of vision (camera, video/film, etc.) provide unprecedented ocular realism and a reliable and familiar narrative framework for reading a subject.  While not diminishing these profound and obvious contributions, they also limit the way we envision, imagine, by lending to the construction of a rational narrative of hierarchy, reaffirming separation of subject and viewer, as we perceive a situation, place, nature and in this case the environment and landscape of the Wattenmeer (Wadden Sea).

(…) the camera is the culminating realization (…); the images it furnishes become, precisely, the currency of that vision, that space (…).  Insofar as it is grounded in the photograph, (…) will contribute to the circulation of this currency, will bring with it monocular perspective, the positioning of the spectator/subject in an identification with the camera as the point of a sure and centrally embracing view. [Stephan Neale, Narrative Space]

So, how to counter, or subvert this monocularity – from within the panopticon, using the same tool kit, camera, or video?  The computer is opening new possibilities for expanding these options, challenging the dominant methods of imaging.  The current array of Panorama software for stitching together multiple single point images into perspectives beyond human vision, offers some potential for this quest.  But, perhaps even more so, would be to subvert these panoramas by attempting to stitch together multiple images each taken from a unique perspective – as if one were to “scan” a space – section by section, such as the surface of the Watt.  This kind of view might offer a way of envisioning that alludes to or perhaps simulates to the way the brain “stitches”, or collages its collection of visual experience of space and subject.

Stitching programs can construct images beyond the scope of vision.  Images obtained from the electronic microscope can construct accessible images from the micro level and expands our concept of landscape, implying different levels of realism and memory construction.

C. N. Hung's 'micro-panorama' - from watt sample - ©Hung/Sturgeon 2009

Christina N. Hung's 'micro-panorama' - from watt sample - ©Hung/Sturgeon 2009

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