"Techniques of the Observer"

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Group definitions and an update

February 15th, 2011 · Uncategorized

Hi all,

Today we’ll discuss Emily Dickinson. (Below is one of the few photographic images of her that exists.)

Daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson, ca. 1847 (Dickinson is about 17)

Before moving ahead to Dickinson’s meditations on the eye and seeing, let’s return to the definitions that your classmates devised during class on Thursday. Do you have questions about these ideas? Do you see aspects of these explanations that should be revised? I’ve bolded a few sections that might need our attention. Your comments are needed to make these definitions as accurate as possible.

1. the stereoscope (beginning with Crary in “Techniques” 83)

 “’When an object is viewed at so great a distance that the optic axes of both eyes are sensibly parallel when directed towards it, the perspective projections of it, seen by each eye separately; and the appearance to the two eyes is precisely the same as when the object is seem by one eye only.’” – Wheatstone
– wasn’t concerned necessarily about the distance of the eye to the object but instead he is concerned about the different angles of the optic axes.

“It’s ‘realism’ presupposes perceptual experience to be essentially an apprehension of differences.  The relation of the observer to the object is not one of identity but an experience of disjunct or divergent images.” – Jonathon Crary
­-looking at the image and expecting the differences between the two images that appears in the stereoscope, which relates to the idea that both eyes see a little differently.

“The stereoscope, on the contrary, provided a form in which “vividness” of effect increased with the apparent proximity of the object to the viewer, and the impression of three-dimensional solidity became greater as the optic axes of each diverged.  Thus the desired effect of the stereoscope was not simply likeness, but immediate, apparent tangibility.” – Jonathon Crary
-the stereoscope forms one vision the closer it is to the differences of the object.  The liveliness of it became easier to see; it made it seem life-like more than a copy.

Our Definition: A tool of strengthening the differences between the two images that our eyes are seeing in order to make one concrete image. 
– i.e.: an example of a stereoscope in the modern world is a view finder; the lenses that you can look through on top of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building are examples of a stereoscope.  Binoculars are another prime example (Jonathon Crary talks about binocular disparity p. 83).  Glasses are another everyday fixture that can have two different visions put together as one (3D glasses). (Jackie Weber, Liza Meyers, Rayshma Arjune)

2. “the image standard” (Cohen and Higonnet 16):

 2. The Image Standard (Margaret Cohen and Anne Higonnet (16))

“New mechanical techniques of visual representation allows the visibility of the impact of a human hand in the manufacturing of imaging to be minimalized.” -Prof. Zino
A good example of the image standard would be the power of lithography and photography to organize textual descriptions in nonfictional panoramic writings on social life around telling images that seem to get closer to “the thing itself,” or the importance of visual appearance in the extensive description which was a hallmark of nineteenth-century French realism’s ambitions to offer a “mirror” or “daguerreotype” of social relations.
In our own present, the effect of the image standard is exacerbated by technological developments that make images increasingly manipulable and transmissible.
The high production values important to mobilizing an “objective” version of the image freed from the trace of its producer are no longer costly, nor do they require any great expense (imagine Walter Benjamin armed with a scanner, Photoshop, and PowerPoint).
– With the use of improving technology, the manual input in terms of physicality is relinquished to a minimum in terms of its impact on the visual.
– These days it is very easy to represent an image objectively by means of modern technologies and other methods.
Getting rid of an image origns or any other traces a photographer would have left, while taking an image of something.
For example, you can photoshop something into a picture or out of a picture for little or no cost or trouble.
– Messy hand written papers can easily be turned into a powerpoint presentation today.
– The standard image can give false accusations of how something or someone actually looks.
What we know for example of how a Native American looks is not exactly how they may have looked because there were no cameras at the time.
(Allison, Kristen, and Tommy)

3. “the culture of the copy” (Schwartz and Przyblyski 11):

The quote we chose that helped us understand the Culture of the Copy was from the Visual Studies Reader on page 11 where Schwartz and Przyblyski quote Benjamin.  “’The desire of contemporary masses to bring things ‘closer’ spatially and humanly… is just as ardent as their bent towards overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction’” (p.11)   We describe Culture of the Copy as relying on images and copies as an account of reality and to bring us close to an experience, when it really is only a replica of the real thing.
An example is photography: taking pictures of your vacation for your collection of memories cannot give a true experience of actually being there to someone who was not. (Cassie, Betty, & Juan)

4. the camera obscura model of vision (Crary in “Modernizing Vision” 32) –*explain both how the device works and Crary’s critique of it as a “model” for the 19th-century experience of vision:

The device is a dark box that has either a concave or convex lens that sucks in light through the lens and projects it unto a mirror and flips the imagine to make it rightside up!  “the camera obscura was a demonstration of how an observer can know the world uniquely by perception of the mind” (32).  Crary’s critique of the model is “the paradigm (camera obscura) collapses in the early 19th century and gives way to a diverse set of fundamentally different models of human vision” (33).  Crary believes that the huuman body is the crucial dimension of this shift.  The camera obscura is a model of vision that shows us truthful inferences about an external world, much like vision.  (Maggie Murphy, Rida Ibrar, Tim Marian)

5. Goethe’s model of vision (Crary 34):

Goethe focused on how we create the world that we see; it does not pertain to anything external, but it is what we actually construct ourselves. Turners paintings support what Goethe is seeing because Turner is more concerned with the “after image.” Supporting quote: In Goethe we find an image of a newly productive observer whose body [to be continued…]  (Mary, Josephine, Samantha, and Raymond)

Remember that when we talk about “seeing” we could be discussing a number of possible ideas. That said, when we speak and when we write, we always need to identify a context for our discussion of vision.

What we mean when we talk about “seeing” (slightly amended from Thursday’s board notes)

  • the way the physiological eye works and the images it creates (usually these images can be confirmed and shared by others as most of us process visualize cues according to the same perceptual rules– see Donald Hoffman on this)
  • pictures we imagine (“dreaming,” “reading” –see James Richardson)
  • analogies for how vision works (the camera obscura)–these reflect and become part of broader “scopic traditions” observed by critics and historians, continuous narratives that explain how people have thought about vision within a culture (see Crary, “Modernizing Vision” 29)
  • the way that seeing, as well as analogies for seeing, produces knowledge (the “epistemological aims” of vision). Another way to phrase this is to ask, “in what sense does perception produce ‘truth’?” Remember that the kind of knowledge about the world and our position in it that a Turner painting gives us is not the same type of knowledge that using the camera obscura would produce. Across and within cultures, we’ve already started to see that there is disagreement (think of the strong and diverse reactions to Turner’s work) about whether visual representation should confirm, verify, or defamiliarize what we “know.” Different epistemological aims accompany different cultural and historical moments in time.  

Finally, there has been an amendment to the homework for Thursday. Here’s the update: We will NOT be reading the chapters from Turner. Instead, we will only read James Richardson’s “The Dream of Reading” and then do some writing. After reading Richardson, I’d like you to return to the selection of Dickinson poems you completed for Tuesday. Re-read some of them, choose one, and conduct a close reading of a single poem. You need not draft an entire argument but your close reading should end on a thesis that argues how Dickinson is discussing “seeing” in this poem, in line with one of the ways defined above. Please come prepared on Thursday with a hard copy of your 1-page close reading (you can post it on your blog, too, even though this is not one of the seven scheduled “blog posts”).

Excited to see you today,

Professor Zino

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Unsure of what to address in your first blog? Here are a couple of ideas…

February 6th, 2011 · Uncategorized

Your blog posts for this seminar may deal with any issue that appears in the readings for the upcoming session (and may make connections between those texts–or images–and previous ones from earlier in the semester). The best blogs will quote sparingly but will have a lot to say about the phrases and sentences that are quoted (usually by showing why such an excerpt is relevant to a class conversation, image, or aspect of another text–either primary or secondary). Please consult the grading system for the blogs listed on the syllabus for more details. There is no specific word count for blogs, though it is unlikely that you can accomplish what is necessary for the full four points in a single paragraph. Please try your best to have your blog post up on your blog by this Tuesday at noon (the same will go for future posts–by noon on the day they are due, if not before…).

Once you have done the reading, if you are unsure of how to start your post, here are a few questions that will get you thinking:

1. Look back to Turner’s paintings (see the online archives under the “Images” page or the PowerPoint presentation from last class).  If “modernization,” according to Jonathan Crary, “entail[s] a decoding and deterritorialization of vision,” explain why Turner’s images might be called “modern” paintings (“Modernizing Vision” 42). 

2. Try to describe what you understand about what Crary calls the “camera obscura” model of vision. Then, consider how Emerson writes about vision (choose a couple of short quotations as evidence). Can you discuss the kind of “model” he seems to be following when he thinks about the eye, hiw it works, and the way people see?

3. When you read Crary’s description of his approach or “method” of visual cultural analysis (“Modernizing Vision,” 45-49), what aspects of his approach do you recognize from the discussions of visual culture in chapters 2 and 3 of The Nineteenth Century Visual Culture Reader?

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Welcome to your Senior Seminar: “Techniques of the Observer”

February 1st, 2011 · Uncategorized

Hi all,

I really enjoyed meeting you today (or seeing you again). I can already tell that you’ll be an enthusiastic and engaged group. Hold on to that attitude; it will be a wonderful asset to our experience together this semester!

What you need for Thursday is listed under the “course readings” and “images” pages. I’ll also look forward to hearing from each of you (via email, at Dominique.Zino@qc.cuny.edu) with the web address for your blog; please create it and contact me by tomorrow night.

I’ll see you Thursday…with your completed commitment form in hand (don’t worry, you’re not signing your life away, just a little brain power). 

Stay warm!

Professor Zino

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