|http://www.sina.com.cn 2006年11月27日18:55 新浪文化|
Origin: Between the Observer and the Observed
Origin: Between the Observer and the Observed.
By Yang Xiaoyan
The academic theme for the Second Lianzhou International Film Festival is “Origin: Between the Observer and the Observed.”
This is the first edition of the festival that revolves around an academic theme that stretches into the rational. The First Lianzhou International Photography Festival’s mission was to explore dualism in images by evoking the veins of history of dualism and that of its representation through various forms of exhibitions. By presenting equally — if not even more — eye-opening exhibitions, this year’s festival aims to discuss the position of the observer, the standpoint (as in mental attitudes towards an object) of the image maker, the function of observation and the significance of the observed, for it is precisely in this web of relationships that one can find the key to interpreting the images that surround us.
Photography is a form of observation that presents the following attributes:
a) Materiality. Photography possesses a form of objective materiality that distinguishes it from previous forms of visual art. Up until the invention of photography, the visual arts were categorized as “crafts” because they required the mastery of a traditional craft to be produced. Photography has no such need for craftsmanship as it is the product of the combination of optics and chemistry. It is and can only be a form of observation that exists independently from craftsmanship. I call this independent existence “materiality”.
b) “Being there”. Unlike artwork that relies heavily on craftsmanship, photography allows for the establishment of a direct relationship with the object. This implies that photographic art cannot be removed from its object: It is the product of the combination of photographer and what or who is being photographed. Hence, photography combines observation and scenic attributes, while making the object a necessary condition for observation to take place. At the same time, by“being there” the observer can in turn be observed.
c) Continuity. Observation can be the result of a fortuitous wink or a continuous process, teasing image workers and influencing their understanding of the object. Although this may appear to be a technical issue, it essentially refers to the position and standpoint of the observer in relation to the object. Photo sequences, photo narratives and other related forms indicate a photographer’s sustained interest in an object. However, such sustained interest can affect the authenticity of his or her interpretation. Whatever the case may be, it is important to remember that continuity constitutes a form of observation that can be expressed in a still frame or in moving images.
d) Attention to detail. Originally used as an optical device used to record visual information, the camera naturally preserves detailed yet important visual content. In this sense, detail is still present even when it isn’t the result of intentional observation and it is to this attribute that photos owe their special place in historical memory. The significance of an image lies mainly in the attention brought to its details, and it is from these that one starts to form his or her observation.
e) Observation and memory. Observation is a form of memory and the history of images, as seen as the history of observation, is therefore the history of memory. As history is recounted through images, it’s the details that tell the story of things, people and events past, and when the details provided by observation become embedded in historical memory, observation itself becomes memory. Hence observation begets its own context for interpretation. This phenomenon reminds us that not only the object, but also the history of previous observations serves a purpose in the act of observation, and that the lingering memory of observations past visually conditions future ones.
f) Observing observation. The relationship between observation and memory hints to the very nature of observation. By using an optical device and applying either a chemical or digital process, the photographer turns his observation into an object for observation. In other words, by undergoing technical processes, observation itself is put up for scrutiny, and thus we obtain the “observation of observation”. The awareness of this fact is very important in warning all observers that in observation there is a kind of systematism which, much like language, influences thought. Observation is like a gene: It is passed on to other observers by the “observation of observation”.
g) The history of images through observation. From a historical perspective, the history of pictures and images is actually the history of how to observe. When contemporaneous observers put their individual observation up for scrutiny, they actually reveal to the public what they observed. The history of images unfolds under the process of observation and at the same time constitutes the motivation for carrying out further observation.
2. Being Observed
Observation implies its counterpart — being observed.
One cannot observe indiscriminately because some things are not meant to be seen and are taboo to the eye. Restrictions on what can and cannot be seen can be found in many cultures. However, it is precisely these restrictions that liberate the observed and lend observation its freedom.
The apparent contradiction of such a statement can be resolved if we take into consideration the fact that observation is conditioned. Idolatry and iconoclasm, as practices present in all cultures, have alternated throughout history, shaping the history of observing and being observed and setting the context within which observation workers operate. The result is a historical context in which “seeing but not noticing” is standard behavior.
This implies that all the previous or present blind spots that have been or are seen but not noticed become liberated through observation, and therefore obtain a means for becoming significant.
Because of this, the observed can be defined as something that exists in real life or as something that is concealed. On one hand it is a vivid, incredible detail, on the other it is an ignored vision removed from history.
Finally and more importantly, as the observed gains significance, it endows observation with meaning.
3. Between the Observer and the Observed
Photography, including moving images, is defined by both the observer and the observed. We cannot understand photography or moving images uniquely from one perspective or the other; they can only be grasped by understanding the relationship between the two, and in this lies the significance of photography.
This implies that the main issue of photography is the treatment of the object. Photography is a result of this treatment and therefore the history of photography can be summed up as the history of the treatment of the object through a lens. It is the history of the observer treating the observed.
Photography cannot escape the issues that arise when taking into consideration the standpoint of the observer.
Treatment of the object, under what conditions observation took place and how the observed is presented are all starting points, or origins in the mathematical sense, from which the viewer can begin to form an interpretation of photography and moving pictures.
“Origin” refers to the uniqueness of photography. In other words, photography is a kind of observation, a visual way of treating the observed. The lens is a writing utensil; pictures and images are the material remnants of the act of writing.
The history of photography and images points to the history of origin.
5. Origin: The Observer and the Observed
The first edition of the Lianzhou International Photo Festival showcased over 80 exhibitions focusing on dualism in images and history. The aim of the festival was to show that the history of images reveals that of dualism, while pointing at the same time to elements of history and the observer. The thematic exhibition “Lianzhou Beginnings” laid out the ancient Cantonese city of Lianzhou and its unique regional culture for the viewer through photography and multi media exhibitions.
In continuity with the previous edition, this year’s exhibition will concentrate on further exploring photography and its relationship with society, and demonstrating the social power of pictures and images. As we all know, it is observation and being observed that make pictures and images realistic and allow us to understand history and its significance.
In summary, we must remember that the standpoint of an image constitutes the starting point for image workers. Secondly, that the standpoint depends on the attitude of the observer towards the observed, and that in this resides one of the main differences that distinguishes photography and moving images from other visual products. Finally, it is through the three — observation, being observed and origin — that we interpret photos and images. It is from these three angles that the Second Lianzhou International Photo Festival proposes to probe the deeper meaning of images.
Guangzhou and Vancouver, January 2006