Readings, and Related Inspirations

What Does a Picture Want From the New Audience?

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According to Jonathan Crary’s article “Techniques of the Observer”, published in 1988, since the invention of the photograph, the audience is now part of the production of seeing. This involves 3 modes: “a body at once a spectator, a subject of empirical research and observation, and an element of machine production” (20). Audience also, apparently, and according to W.J. Thomas Mitchell’s book What Do Pictures Want?, is an assigner of being to an image. Let me introduce here the key words that I have chosen:

fetishism: ‘the subjectivity of objects’ (30)

I am struggling with how to provide an example of fetishism – perhaps the feeling we get when we watch a film, or hear a song, and it seems like it was made ‘just for us’, even though it was not made even with my individuality in mind.

animism: ‘the personhood of things’ (30)

Animism is easy; I’ve been assigning personhood to inanimate objects since I was old enough to hold a doll – my first was a little monkey that sucked its thumb. We had nightly conversations about… thumb sucking, I imagine.

What I would like to focus on for this post is what does perception entail when we’re thinking about the new audience, when ‘new audience’ consists of those viewers who have lived with photographs as a part of seeing for most or all of their lives. What does perception entail and when do we actively perceive? Below is a picture of the Brewster’s lenticular stereoscope.

Since I found the illustration in our text to be somewhat confusing, I found this image to supplement it, which made it much more simple, especially since my family owns a Holmes stereoscope, which is just a different version of pretty-much the same thing. With Brewster’s stereoscope, the viewer is not given the option of awareness of how exactly the stereoscope works, unlike with the Holmes stereoscope. But as the audience has been increasingly let in on the means of production of images, our notions of perception and viewing have changed.

I’ve been thinking about it in terms of the words “peep show”.

The Oxford English dictionary gives this early example for the use of ‘peep show’:

“1822    J. H. Reynolds Press ii. 58   Whilst Brewster each one’s optic nerves delights By his famed peep-show and its varying sights.”

As you can see, ‘peep show’ did not originally have a sexual connotation. It was merely the act of looking into a box for an image, or ‘peeping’ into an object that may or may not have been a Brewster’s stereoscope. It is only later that a ‘peep show’ began to be thought of in only sexual terms:

“1999    F. Wynne tr. M. Houellebecq Atomised (2001) 184   He started visiting sex shops and peepshows which only served to aggravate his suffering.”

We no longer think about viewing images with the confines of a box, like the original stereoscope was. The idea of ‘peeping’ then becomes something we would only do in secret. As in ‘a peeping Tom’, who looks in the window of a girl to see her undressing.

But as Crary explains, modernization means that the spectator is no longer locked into a fixed, or static location in terms of the object being viewed (22). We are no longer looking into a box. This can mean several things:

  1. We can imagine ourselves in front of a screen (much like the one you are looking at now) and think about all the angles from which we can view images. We are no longer limited to looking at an image through the direction of binoculars.
  2. We now have access to cameras of all sorts that allow us to literally produce the images ourselves, if we should choose. Below is a picture of my very first bought with what I thought of as ‘real creation’.

In this way, modern man (or woman) can now be as much, or as little a part of viewing as he or she pleases. Rarely do I actualize the idea that with the advent of reproduction, I can now ‘see’ a thing without ever going to where that thing exists. Conversely, I can now bring people to places they have never been. Now I, or you, can even examine all sides of an object, or a place, with video, or panoramic photo, or that thing that google maps does where you can rotate on a street (notice how my phrase locates you as on the street in actuality. I thought about revising that, but am choosing not to for obvious reasons). I love ‘that thing’. Crary is absolutely correct in saying that “no other form of representation in the nineteenth century had so conflated the real with the optical, the object with its image” (29), as photography did.

Now, because we are so image saturated, it is likely that Mitchell’s question, posed seventeen years after Crary’s article, is a necessary question. “What do pictures want?” Without going too thoroughly into this topic because of space and the time it takes to read all these posts, I would like to state my total objection to Mitchell’s confidence in answering the question “what do women want?” in relation to pictures. Here, Mitchell succeeds in placing women on the same plane as the object, without ever discussing the problem with this comparison, or the problem with whittling down ‘what women want’ into one notch-hole that is ‘power’. While it is likely that the ‘things this woman wants’ could be argued into this notch of ‘power of some sort’, I do not readily see how needs like ‘acceptance’ or ‘lack of abuse’ or ‘safety and/or constancy’ fit into the power structure the way I am reading Mitchell.

I could go on and on about that – but this last bit was sort of just a tack-on to the post. I needed to say it. Do with my post what you will.


One thought on “What Does a Picture Want From the New Audience?

  1. When I think of a fetish, I imagine a twisted not of hair and cloth and bone tucked into the folds of an aboriginal’s garment. She keeps it there as a defense against the evil spirits, or as a token of her grandmother.

    Fetishes in our world (excluding objects at the perves-r-us) are harder to pin down. I did hear a story, I think on NPR, about how people think qualities of persons are transferred to objects. So, if asked would you rather have a now broken watch that was worn by your grandmother, or the exact same watch that worked, most people want the broken watch that touched their grannie’s arm. Fetishism?

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