I Spy With My Little Eye

by - April 13, 2015

What we see depends mainly on what we look for.

The other day I was reading an article about photography and how this developed throughout the 19th century. They illustrated this by all kinds of different pictures from a private collection. It's funny to see how the material can influence the way it's been used and even the subject matter that's been printed on it. The same naturally goes with painting a picture (which still can bring up the debate if the impressionists for example started painting outside because there were paint tubes or that they started painting outside and then there were paint tubes... Makes a whole other story).

Now my original thought was that this private collection was brought together as an illustration of the development of photography and the usage of it, because that's the story it told me. Although that story can indeed be perfectly held against the collection, it's actually a more themed based assembly than a chronological timeframe. Namely, if you looked with your eyes instead with your brain, you'll noticed that on every picture there was a typewriter depicted. Every typewriter, as every picture, is different depending on when it [the photograph] was taken. The owner of the collection, Dr. Peter Weil from the university of Delaware, is all over the moon about the typewriter. A part of his typewriter-based collection is thus photography of the 19th century (aka old pictures with typewriters on it).

The angle of a collection influences the way a story can be told. Someone's collection of pictures of typewriters from the 19th century can be another's –perfect- example of the development of photography during the 19th century. It takes another view (and maybe another background or thought process or even another set of eyes) to shine a light onto something and to find a different angle. There are so many different stories hidden away within the same collection (or even within a single photograph on its own). Just look at a photo and see how many stories it can tell you based on the surface and depiction. It's very important to take the time and to actually look at something. 

When you look long into the abyss, the abyss looks into you.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Some time ago there was an article in the newspaper whereby people were asked to actually look at a painting. Most people walk by, take a glance for two or three seconds and are off again to the next thing. The 'experiment' that the newspaper (now to think of it, it could also be a magazine...) conducted was to lock someone up with a single artwork for a couple of hours, forcing them to look at it and to actually concentrate on the single work. A woman (it also may have been a man, not sure really) described her experience with it as it being absolutely terrible in the first hour, then after two hours she couldn; t look at it anymore, after three hours she saw something she hadn't seen before, at four hours she was intriguingly studying the artwork, at five hours she was intensively staring at it and after six hours (roughly taken, the timescale may be different from what I've described, but it's more an illustration than an accurate re-telling of the story as you might've guessed) she didn't want to leave the room just yet because she was so taken by the art. Actually looking at something can thus change your (in)sight of the whole thing.

The same sort of principle has been used by the artist Yuri Suzuki when he had a sound installation at the Tate Britain. As he says in the video, nowadays we're used to digital music whereby we can hop around and skip and go back and go forth and go back again with everything we listen to (guilty as charged). But with a jukebox -his installation existed out of jukeboxes- you're forced to listen to the song you've chosen. You'll have to sit there and listen to it for the whole four or so minutes, which brings another experience to it than the (easiness) of digital music. You actually have to listen and dedicate your time to the song you've chosen. The music on its own corresponds naturally to the atmosphere in the room. You, as a visitor, would be responsible for the atmosphere in the room to all the other visitors. So it not only forces you to listen to it for four or so minutes, but it also forces everyone around you to listen to it for four or so minutes. You've got a certain responsibility towards not only yourself, but also the ones with you and the atmosphere and experience they take with them from it.

Sometimes there's more in a moment that can be captured than you can even realize (especially at that moment). I think it's important from time to time to take a step back and just look and listen to the things surrounding you. You often get aware of things you didn't even knew existed.


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  1. So true. Everybody sees different things in a picture.
    That's why there are sometimes heated discussions between people....

    love, Marjan