Saturday, February 28, 2009

Photograph as “Rational Synopsis”

The distances and resulting communication in man and how his sensory receptors react to them, can be evidently noticed and understood through his actions and body language when keenly observed. There is a particular pattern of behavior in man; whether he approaches unfamiliar territory or his own personal space: the casualness, the cautiousness, the love, the fear etc play an imperative role in determining his approach. There are a multitude of emotions that come into play which can be portrayed in an interesting manner.

Every physical feature of man, based on his perception of the surroundings, acts differently and when observed and read carefully, tells us a whole lot about his psychological state and acuity of distances. So being an artist, I want to read the story of the perception of spaces and distances experienced by a man, that are responsible for his state of being at that moment and further, by taking my canvas into the “Public Spaces”; where an assortment of emotions are resulted out of interaction between responsibilities, senses and communicators.

The need is to look at a photograph as main evidence, as a focal informative in order to read the people, their culture, and their identity. To explore how far can a picture be taken into this domain of visual research and documentation. Primarily any picture in any research has been acting as a secondary source complementing the research. A picture can convey so much tangibly and intangibly to be used as the primary source of information, which is in-fact very effortless and uncomplicated document. The potential is surely there to be taken up by the researchers.
Before we even attempt to document the “culture” or “identity” of the society, it is imperative that we understand the role of culture and its origin.

Culture as a communication
Through encouraging culture man attempted to domesticate himself and in the process created a whole new series of worlds, each different from the other. Each world has its own set of sensory in outs; so that factors that crowds people of one culture does not necessarily crowd another. Similarly, an act that releases aggression and would therefore be stressful to one set of people maybe neutral to the next.
Man like other species, has territoriality too, and he has invented many ways of defending what he considers his own land, turf, or spread. The removal of boundary markers and trespassing upon the property of another man are punishable acts in many parts of the world.

“Imaging of the Culture”

Photography/image can be said as the “rational synopsis”; it illustrates not only the object or its trajectory but also the very mind which conceives it. This double movement corresponds to a double reading.
• If you read the plate from bottom to top, you obtain in a sense an experiential reading; you relive the object’s epic trajectory, it’s flowering in the complex world of consumers. You proceed from nature to sociality.
• If you read the image from top to bottom, starting from the vignette, it is the progress of analytical mind that you are reproducing. The world gives you the usual, the evident, you descend gradually to the causes, to substances, to primary elements, you proceed from experiential to the causal, you intellectualize the object.

The totality of the information is thus carried by two different structures. These are cooperative but, since their units are heterogeneous, necessarily remain separate from one another. Here, in this paper, the substance of the message is made up of words; there of lines, surface, shades.
The code of connotation was in all likelihood neither “natural” nor “artificial” but historical, or if it be preferred, “cultural”. It signs are gestures, attitudes, expressions, colors, or effects, endowed with certain meanings by virtue of the practice of a certain society: the link between the signifier and the signified remains, if not unmotivated, at least entirely historical. Hence it is wrong to say that modern man projects into reading photographs feelings and values which are characterial or “eternal”, unless it be firmly specified that signification is always developed by a given society and history. Signification, in short, is the dialectical movement which resolves the contradiction between cultural and natural man. The photographic “copy” is taken as the pure and simple denotation of reality.
Doubtless because photographic connotation, like every well-structured signification, is an institutional activity; in relation to society overall, its function is to integrate man, to reassure him. Every code is at once arbitrary and rational;
The emphasis is very much on the use of the visual materials as one among the several research methods that may be employed by a social researcher during the course of investigation.

“Anthropology has had no lack of interest in the visual; its problem has always been what to do with it.”

Photography in visual research…

While we had a good thorough study upon the language of pictures, we need to understand the intangible factors of the subjects within the picture. When studying society and its correlation to man’s behavior, we come across many “terms “, which have been detailed below. They may look very scientific in order, but it is imminent to understand basic fundamentals requiremtns and characteristics. When we study about the culture and the society, these factors can act as information within the cultures in the name of “micro- culture”.
The perception of space: distance receptors- eyes, ears and nose.

“…we can never be aware of the world as such, but only of… the impingement of physical forces on the sensory preceptors”.

In order to understand man, one must know something about the nature of his receptor systems and how the information received from these receptors is modified by culture. Man’s sensory apparatus falls into two categories, which can be roughly classified as:
1. The distance receptors- those concerned with the examination of the distant objects- the eyes, the ears, and the nose.
2. The immediate receptors- those used to examine the world close up- the world of touch, the sensations we receive from the skin, membranes, and muscles.

This classification can be broken even further. The skin for example, is the chief organ of touch and is also sensitive to heat gain and loss; both radiant and conducted heat is detected by the skin.
The extensive use of deodorants and the suppression of odor in public spaces results in a land of olfactory blandness and sameness that would be difficult to duplicate anywhere else in the world.

“Society is made by individuals who communicate with each other”.

Distances within the Humans
Other than the receptors within the man, there is an imaginary bubble around every human being in this world, while he/she is in communication with his surroundings. This bubble has been drawn by himself according to the level comfort he/she has with the surroundings and circumstances. It differs from person to person, which in turn defines his position within the culture and the micro cultures.

Visual space
In man the eyes perform many functions; they enable him to:
1. Identify foods, friends, and the physical state of many materials at a distance.
2. Navigate in every conceivable terrain, avoiding obstacles and danger.
3. Make tools, groom him and others, assess displays, and gather information as to emotional state of others…
The eyes are usually considered to be the principal means by which man gathers information. However important their function as “information gatherers” we should not overlook their usefulness in conveying the information. For example, a look can punish, encourage, or establish dominance. The size of pupils can indicate interest or distaste.
As one moves through space, man depends on the messages received from his body to stabilize his visual world. Without such body feedback, a great many people lose contact with reality and hallucinate.

Anyone who finds himself in the midst of people speaking a totally unfamiliar language knows that at first he hears an undifferentiated blur of sounds. Only later do the first crude outlines of a pattern begin to emerge. Yet once he has learned the language well, he is synthesizing so successfully that he can interpret an extraordinarily wide range of events.
The concept is that no two people see exactly the same thing when actively using their eyes in a natural situation is shocking to some people because it implies that not all men relate to the world around them in the same way. The distance between the perceptual worlds of two people of different culture is certainly less than that between two people of different cultures, but it can still present problems.

Art as a clue to perception
Here after we had a good look at the personal space and the distances that apply for anyone present in any culture, we need to explore the ways of representing them through the art called “photography” as our main foreword suggests. In the present world, the camera has become the most powerful and affordable tool, present in anyone hand. To look ahead after 50 years, these pictures of today are going to act as great tools of support and indication of what culture meant to the people now, and how much the evolution has happened to this human civilization till date.
Art has been used a medium from ages gone-by to decode how a man perceives the surroundings. Learning from the artist himself, as to how he “sees” his subject and uses his medium to convey this perception would be very rewarding.

Artist is not only a commentator on the larger values of the culture but also on the micro cultural events that go to make up the larger values.

We can take some cases as given below, to testify how a photograph can act as the commentator, in reading the image and converting into useful bits of information.

Reading a picture:
A photograph in which eight people are sitting in a proper formal and already set line, cross-legged, on the chairs posing in front of the camera. Behind them are some shamiana set-up, some people moving around and on the left of the picture some sort of small logo or a symbol is visible. The people are attired very formally and all of them have some white creamish cloth draped across their shoulders and also otherwise appear very much ready for an occasion for getting rewarded. The faces of some are waiting with anxiety; they are all properly groomed and some appear to be very happy about the whole occasion. Some of them are looking at the camera, and some are trying to show attention towards the happening in the front.

So far, assessing the content of the image has been a matter of applying labels- ‘people’, ‘formal’, ‘a set-up’- which lie within most people’s perceptual and cognitive repertoire, as does the assessment of spatial arrangement: ‘in a line’, ‘to the left of’, ‘behind’. To go much further in a reading of the image requires more precise information. The logo or symbol, for example, indicates that the scene is probably about an organization or institution, while anyone with the familiarity with them will probably guess what and where is this all about. More specifically, they seem to be scholars to be convocated. Clearly it is not merely a question of looking closely but a question of bringing knowledge to bear upon the image.
While such a reading may help us towards the understanding what the image is of, it still tells us nothing about why the image exists. To do that, we must go beyond the content and consider the image as an object. Within any particular socio cultural environment, we may learn to associate certain visual images with certain meanings, and these are highly context dependent and often transient. ‘Reading’ to some extent implies that the ‘message’ being read lies within the visual image, that it is speaking to us and that all we need to listen.
On the contrary, it is human beings who speak to one another, literally and metaphorically through their social relations.

Barthes explained that a picture is not so much a solid representation of ‘what is’ as ‘what was’ and therefore ‘what has ceased to be’. It does not make reality solid but serves as a reminder of the world’s inconstant and ever changing state.
• Images come to be more real than reality, for nature is reduced to the appearance of an appearance.
• This obsessive duplication drives us away from referents, purifying any experience of its material counterpart.
• Images are metamorphoses, pure metaphors of reality that can present whatever is beyond corporeality, thanks to new techniques of composition.
• The logic of photography no longer restricts itself to physical permanence, identity, and record.
• Images can insinuate incorporeal processes and even legitimize reality.