Saturday, 6 April 2013

Opening Gambit - Decisive Moment v. Saccadian Rhythm

Ideas and examples of photography. What I like and why I like it, as well as some guidance on how to do it better. Don't feel obliged, but by all means join in.

Whitby Harbour Composite.

The conventional concept of a photograph, as espoused for example by Henri Cartier-Bresson, is of the “decisive moment”, captured and held forever in that single image. This carries with it the implication that a photograph is a record of a single instant of time. This idea holds good even when the photograph is a long time exposure, made to create the impression of movement, for example the smooth, mist-like appearance of waves breaking over seaside rocks. In this case, where an exposure time of seconds or even minutes has been used, the observer of the photograph still accepts the photograph on the basis of the “single instant of time” perception.

John Blakemore, a Midlands-based photographer with a unique and very personal photographic philosophy, developed a technique which rather stands this conventional idea on its head. It involves the production of a single image by a process of building up a series of incremental exposures, each of them insufficient in themselves to give rise to “correct” or adequate exposure on the film, but calculated so that their sum total is equivalent to the net level of exposure necessary to produce a correctly exposed negative. Consequently, the resultant photograph is no longer a single image of a single instant of time, but a composite of a multiplicity of images superimposed upon one another, thus representing a scene as perceived over a period of time. (There are parallels here with the astro photography technique of 'stacking' images).

During the early 1980s, David Hockney developed a new technique for creating photographic collages, which he termed 'joiners'. These works involve assembling large numbers of photos of small portions of the same subject taken from different angles in a single session. Hockney's aim was to inject a visible element of time into photographic images, which normally represent only 'frozen moments'.

In "Eye, Brain, and Vision" (David H. Hubel 1988), Hubel has this to say about the way in which we physically look at a scene:
"First, you might expect that in exploring our visual surroundings, we let our eyes freely rove around in smooth, continuous movement. What our two eyes in fact do is fixate on an object: we first adjust the positions of our eyes so that the images of the object fall on the two foveas; then we hold that position for a brief period, say, half a second; then our eyes suddenly jump to a new position by fixating on a new target whose presence somewhere out in the visual field has asserted itself, either by moving slightly, by contrasting with the background, or by presenting an interesting shape. During the jump, or saccade, which is French for "jolt", or "jerk" (the verb), the eyes move so rapidly that our visual system does not even respond to the resulting movement of the scene across the retina; we are altogether unaware of the violent change. (Vision may also in some sense be turned off during saccades by a complex circuit linking eye-movement centres with the visual path.) Exploring a visual scene, in reading or just looking around, is thus a process of having our eyes jump in rapid succession from one place to another".

The image above, Whitby Harbour Composite, is based on the Hockney idea, in that it shows the harbour over a finite period of time (obviously, a certain period of time had to elapse to photograph all of the individual frames). The presentation of the resultant image(s) is also intended to imitate the physical mechanism of the eye roving around the scene. The above arrangement is obviously only one way in which such a selection of multiple images may be presented - in the future there are several other combination images I may put here.

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