Monday 6 April 2020

Picture Post #53 The Courage to Stand Alone

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Tessa den Uyl

Florence Airport, January 2020

How we perceive images depends on how much we ‘cut out’ of them, or ‘cut in’ to them. When things get isolated in an image, the reading we attribute to it, changes. Still, we may want to make a distinction between an image that has a so-called ‘life of its own’ and images that purely illustrate. What is the difference?

In these current weeks, in regard to the quarantine of the COVID-19 virus, we can clearly see that the interpretation of images depends on what our mind perpetuates. We read images in regard to a situation and laugh, cry, or skip intrepidly to the next one. They serve as a momentum to a specific state of mind.

The above image of the lonely girl with a suitcase at a big airport might illustrate many situations. If we would write COVID-19 below the photo, we would grasp it. Alike the slogan: stop child-abuse, or ‘we do not leave anyone behind’, serving as a slogan for an air company. The picture of the little girl is therefore adapting to our purposes.

If we see and understand solely what we want to see, do we mostly fail to see, or understand? Maybe, for pictures and videos whose purposes cannot be exchanged, are rare. With a vast cybernetic landscape to attain to, how come the illustrative production is so high, while images that take a life of their own seem to lack?

Then are we ourselves merely illustrative, rather than unique to situations?


Keith said...

‘If we see and understand solely what we want to see, do we mostly fail to see or understand?’ The point goes to the heart of ‘confirmation bias’, a powerful force. Information that affirms our mindset (our prior beliefs) is what we give credence to; what disaffirms our mindset is what we dismiss. A cognitive bias — a feedback loop — that leads to blinkered thinking. Prior opinions endure.

As to the ‘cutting in’ and ‘cutting out’ mentioned here, my first focal point was the child-sized yellow suitcase, whose bright canary yellow popped out of the otherwise largely monochromatically grayish scene. As the post puts it, for me the suitcase was the ‘thing [that first] got isolated in the image’.

The little girl clutching onto her yellow suitcase was next to quickly enter my focus. She appeared either bemused or enthralled by her circumstances, or at the very least curious; the turned-away face can’t confirm. The carousel, and the sole suitcase on it, appeared only later, as tertiary players.

What I fail to see is the link to covid-19 the post makes. The image of the girl, surely with family nearby, could represent anytime prior to the pandemic having become obvious. The empty carousel likely reflects the plane not yet having unloaded the passengers’ luggage. The timeline (Florence, January 2020) matters: Whether the photo was taken before Italy fully recognised the fermenting pandemic. The answer bears on ‘the reading we attribute to [the image] changing’.

Meanwhile, the yellow suitcase’s prominence, clutched by the girl, brought to mind the 1956 short film ‘Le Ballon Rouge’ (‘The Red Balloon’). Famously it was of a young boy Pascal — his name befits Pi — being trailed around Paris by a helium-filled, bright-red balloon. As the yellow suitcase trails the girl, the red balloon dominated the sometimes-monochromatic film, as seen in this screen shot:

Cognitive bias aside, might the title of this ‘picture post’ also have been ‘La Valise Jaune’ (‘The Yellow Suitcase’)?

Martin Cohen said...

I was struck by the images for the virus - how much 'emotion' or 'avlue judgment' is wrapped up with the images. The electron microscope images of the actual virus, for example, become very sinster - "alien life forms". The medics in protective outfits become soldiers in a germ warfare nightmare - even though in the same shot may be ordinary people standing by and watching.

To the point though of the post, yes, the context affects the way we read the image. But many times the image decides the context.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

I find this a disturbing piece, which means it is a good one. The punch lies in the last line.

It reminds me of something George Steiner wrote, 'It is language that speaks, not, or not primordially, man.' To what extent are we a product of the times and places which interpret us, not, or not primarily, ourselves. In spite of the apparent, photo-like objectivity we imagine we portray.

Tessa den Uyl said...

Thank you for your comments gentlemen, there is not much to add. We go with words and visions society has put together for us, this post wanted to allude to this. Steiner's phrase is to the point.

Post a Comment