The Image and Real Life

last year

I heard – a few years back now – a guy who perhaps thought he was being cool ridiculing and denigrating people whom he scorned for them seeing things in the photographs of an event they were present at; but only after the event and in the photos, and things which they had not noted in real life at the time of them actually having been there live in the flesh.

Now photographs themselves have been castigated. People have claimed that a person who is taking photos, say, during his holiday, he is, during and by way of the process of taking the photos, missing out on experiencing the live events themselves. He is said to be putting energy and attention into snapping here and there whilst his kids revel in the sand and plunge into the waves. Like a man who failed to see a lorry coming because he was crossing the street whilst watching TV on his phone!

There is also some interesting psychology behind our watching of movies and TV and such; and also behind our habits surrounding our recording events; as well as behind our personal preferences and our taboos when we are doing these technological and absorbing activities.

For instance, I was walking today in a shopping mall past an electricals store which was displaying in Pole Position in its large plate glass shop window a massive TV with a screen close on 6 feet wide. As I was going past I glanced sideways at the massive screen and the action on screen suddenly called for a camera sweep across a set in a movie or show. I felt my mind instinctively tell me that I was in a slightly unstable motion and my mind was readying me to grasp a handrail or to steady myself and hang in there. I had not seen such a huge screen picture so close up before; I was around two or three feet away from it on the other side of the window glass.

It was like ‘real life’ it was so all absorbing of my field of vision. In addition there is now something being peddled named ‘HD plus’ which is an amplified version of High Definition TV; a next generation of technology upping the ante a little bit higher.

This HD plus when added to the screen size and the camera swing nearly fooled me. I write this anecdote because it brought home to me how ‘gullible’ and ‘supersensitive’ our instincts and our senses can be. Anxiety for instance is sometimes explained as arising from a persistent but thwarted instinctive ‘fight or flight’ reaction to a modern pressure of life. Anxiety then as a response to say debt is nothing more under this interpretation than our body telling us to run away or else to scream and lay on at someone; when there is no-one in the frame who fits the bill. Like bureaucracies debt is faceless, and there is usually no person behind the money burden whom we can bash or run from in modern life. At best it is a big company we are up against calling in a loan or the bailiffs; and our responses are stultified by our hapless and helpless situation, by the size of the mismatch between us and ‘them’.

So I think my response to the giant TV falls into this instinctive category wherein instincts are just outdated by our technology and by our business economy.

As for watching TV I have found during my lifetime in periods when I have been fairly severely depressed, that I would always prefer to watch a TV channel above choosing to watch a DVD or a VHS movie instead. My watching the TV channel was somehow a slender lifeline; a link with and to other people, the total viewing audience. In some uncanny way I was comforted knowing that others in other living rooms across the nation were viewing the same programme and at the same time as me exactly. A virtual audience in my mind; but one sufficiently strong to impress me and influence my sense of well-being

For me to have chosen a DVD or a VHS cassette to watch would have left me cold and feeling very alone; and I sensed this would be the case and never elected to put one on the player and watch instead of ‘live’ TV. Once again I knew inside that I was the only person in the nation watching that movie and watching at that precise juncture in the movie; so that even were the movie a comic and very absorbing one; there remained a residual inkling within me permanently that I was truly ‘virtually’ alone.

Other art forms than movies and photo-images similarly have their psychologies. I have always found there to be two basic ways of looking at paintings in art galleries – at least for myself. One way is to see the composition of a picture as a bunch of colours, or a bunch of brush marks or a bunch of shapes on canvass; as if the painting was nothing more than a physical object; and as if one was not a person but say the painting had ended up in prehistoric times somehow and no human was available to view it. Thus the picture was showing incomprehensibly, when taken from a point of view of it being a composition situated in a world where no comprehension of art was available (yet). In this mode of viewing a person is able to study the colours and brushwork and shapes of a picture as actions made by the artist who painted it; he had to add a bit of black here and had to make a big blob there and so on.

Then there is another and an aesthetic mode of viewing paintings when one as it were attempts living in the picture as an imaginative being. One does one’s best to engage with the subject and the arrangements of persons and objects painted, so as to bring to life in one’s mind the emotional and spiritual aspects of the painting as an artwork.

These two ways of seeing are perhaps like taking part in a mind game of the self. Try this if you have not tried it already. I live on a steep hill and I find climbing it as a pedestrian to be demanding physically. I do find that when I am able to absorb my attention in the grasses and blooms and bushes, trees hedgerows and other botany which grows valiantly in the street gutters and in cracks in walls and bricks along the way; and so take enormous pleasure from a nature which is beautiful and delightful, and also very tenacious of survival and flourishing; when I succeed in engaging thus and forgetting I am climbing a steep hill, then the way is far less arduous and the time taken to ascend the hill passes much more swiftly.

Failing this, and when my joy in nature is less fixated, I might deliberately avoid thinking about the strain and the aches and pains of ascending the hill. I think of positive things or of things I find interesting or else pleasant; and it is absolutely fatal for me to surrender and acknowledge the work effort and weariness of climbing to my home. Should I tap into this fatigue and arduousness my task straightaway becomes very much more laborious and irksome than before; so I never tap into that.

I recall seeing in a hospital some years back a poster on a wall saying ‘If you feel well – you are well’. Of course this dictum is not always true; I have known a man active, happy, full of energy who went to his doctor who told him he had advanced bowel cancer and that he should ‘put his affairs in order’. The man lived on another ten months and was free of pain active and busy until very near the end; playing golf with friends and hosting dinner parties.

Yet although not watertight the dictum seems to me to entail that when one is positive, and are a person who is tending towards optimism rather than defeat; the glass half full person; and I would add the Christian, or believer in God, who is assured life has happy ending; all this makes a difference; in fact it IS the difference; and it buoys one up marvellously.

The city, its urban sprawl, is much celebrated by its aficionados, who revel in its excitements and busyness, its variety and pace; but I am going to write in another article about how the city is a dupe, a robber of lives and of life, a place where what seems has taken over from what is. More on this later. Suffice it to say for now it is another article on perceptions and on how our preconceptions and expectations shape them.

Back to photos a while. In defence of those people who spot things in photos which they never spotted in real life in places where the photos were taken; I would say that photos, whether good or bad photos, are always compositions made consciously or otherwise by the photographer. They have a border and usually a very distinctive border; and so thus are self-contained within a context; which life for the most part never is. Nature and real life are free of human constraints and from our attempts to put them in a box. They both always escape any attempted summing-up or categorisation; just like bacteria are rising up quite successfully in a counter-offensive against our antibiotics; and just like those plants we call ‘weeds’ and those animals we call ‘vermin’ are hardy and determined not to be extinguished and wiped from the earth by our predilections.

When one is in a place where photos are being taken we are free agents and the world is before us in toto and splendour. For us to pare it down into ‘compositions’ using our eyes or brains is not in our natures to do. We absorb and train ourselves upon whatever is present or arises; this is the adventure of living. This is why a thousand persons can be on one beach yet no person there is thinking about the same things and seeing the same beach or things on the beach; and this is what makes people so varied and intriguing encounters to meet. The academics say ‘context is everything’ but the ordinary joe and joanne say ‘bring on what happens.’

So photos that tell you things you failed to see at the time are not necessarily an indictment of you; one is entitled to ‘be elsewhere’ and ‘going to California in my mind’. Living inside the human social ‘cloud’; and among persons some of whom seek to impose and to dominate as a way of life; some of whom are and have been denied in fact the promises of The Bill of Rights, and of The Constitution; and who are unable to represent themselves in law; or are unable to get free because of having been disallowed opportunity; for these a resort to nature and to those parts of life which are free like the air and the wind, is their inalienable right and their actual means of escape and survival.

So, all is not as it seems; we see as we see, and others see as they see, and our seeing alters as we are affected by our backgrounds, environments, fears and desires.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

The original article is located at our anomalist design blog: http://blog.anomalistdesign.com/the-image-and-real-life/

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