Saturday, April 12

visual visible visualized

have I mentioned this?

is it worth mentioning?

well at any rate it has now been mentioned. there it is: another little collection (reversely chronological, and filtered, and captioned) of Things I Decided to Photograph.

it is not the only one of its kind. there is also this one. and these.

photos are only one way we catalogue the world as we experience it. we come across things, we take notice, we document them, we point them out to others. we file away our notes, our memories, our bookmarks, our reflections or sketches or sloppy descriptions. sometimes we go back. sometimes the trail of our attention just keeps going, letting the previously-attended to fall deeper and deeper into the past.

this week I came across this kind of dramatic kickstarter page as I searched for interesting examples of promotional rhetoric to use in class. we didn't end up looking at it, but the ideas there, and the idea of Magritte's pipe-but-not-a-pipe, have been bumping up against other ideas, all rubbing off on each other in my head for the past few days. this universe of stimuli--so much of it visual and lit up with sunshine... what is it really? what is it we think we're looking at? what if it isn't what we think it is?

a colleague of mine was in the newspaper a week or so ago, and when I passed him on the stairs recently I nearly took the chance to say, "hey I saw you in the newspaper the other day," but then the moment crawled out from under me, moving much faster than the two of us on the stairs walking in opposite directions, so I didn't, and as more and more stairs came between me and him, I immediately began thinking that really, it wasn't Kamal I saw in the newspaper. he was there walking up the stairs; it had been only photographs of him in the newspaper. only a bit of colored ink and carefully arranged shapes all combining to evoke this person's name, to represent a few things he said, to show us something of his likeness.

an online snippet exists, too. but beware--that is not a newspaper. this is not a photograph, even. what is it you're looking at? light and pixels, arranged on a screen. not quite a set of pages, despite all our cyber-metaphors.

and that isn't your colleague who knows five languages.

those things are not what they might look like or act like.
but is anything?

all these realizations, far from so spelled out at the time, followed me down the stairs and I kept wondering. I cannot say I saw Kamal in the newspaper, not literally.

a photograph is only a representation.

what people look like is not what people are.

what anything looks like is not what it is. existence is a lot of other things on top of a visual presence. seeing is a wonderful thing to be able to do, but it could never be enough by itself.

I can say I see Kamal in the hallways and elsewhere on campus every once in a while. it's easier to say that and swallow the literal-ness of the statement. I see plenty of people at the office, on the streets, in my classes.

what makes all those prepositional phrases more immediate than "in the newspaper"? "on facebook"? "on skype" or "in my email"?

a newspaper photograph can't quite walk up or down stairs or respond if you say "hey, how are you?" I realize. but are these really any less superficial--the visible images of humans that get transported into my brain by the light reflecting off their actual skin and hair and clothes--even if they can look right back at me and smile or nod or shake their heads? is that picture, the one my brain puts together, really any more complete or accurate or accessible than the one made of light from a screen or a printed photograph?

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