From “Attention and Design” in The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew B. Crawford:
“When viewing two-dimensional representations, whether photographs, paintings, or screens, we are not able to move around and gain different perspectives on the scene depicted…. [We] normally orient ourselves in our physical environment according to an axis of proximity and distance, and this basic orientation is not available when the world appears through mediating representations.
“According to Alfred Schutz, the spatial categories we employ in everyday life arise from our embodiment. A person is ‘interested above all in that sector of his everyday world which lies within his reach and which arranges itself spatially and temporally around him as its center.’ Relative to this center, one carves up the surrounding world at its egocentric joints: right, left, above, below, in front of, behind, near, far. The world within ‘actual reach’ is basically oriented according to proximity and distance. This reachable world ’embraces not only actually perceived objects but also objects that can be perceived through [attention].’ Thus it includes, for example, things behind you that are close but currently out of sight. The content of this sector is subject to constant change, due to the fact that we move around.
“This idea of orientation around a bodily center helps us to see how the attentional environment that has emerged in contemporary culture is novel and somehow centerless. Recall that the basic concept at the root of attention is selection: we pick something out from the flux of the available. But as our experience comes to be ever more mediated by representations, which remove us from whatever situation we inhabit directly, as embodied beings who do things, it is hard to say what the principle of selection is. I can take a virtual tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing, or of the deepest underwater caverns, nearly as easily as I glance across the room. Every foreign wonder, hidden place, and obscure subculture is immediately available to my idle curiosity; they are lumped together into a uniform distancelessness that revolves around me.
“But where am I? … Is the mouse-click a kind of agency? This gesture, emblematic of contemporary life, might be seen as a fulfillment of the thinned-out notion of human agency we have signed on to when we conceive action as the autonomous movements of an isolated person who is essentially disengaged from the world.”
Think what you like, but
It really is the same. Oh,
You can walk around on it
All right and, watching the speed
With which it falls back, fool
Yourself into thinking it changes,
Or, standing with your head
On it, think it above you
With all the grass of summer
Hanging down, mindless
Birds at your feet, your blood
Rushing up to greet your shadow.
But move, and only the angle
It is regarded from changes.
Turn up the stones and they
Reveal what has always been
Uppermost. Put them back?
And you are where you started.
This is the first of five posts (yikes!) where I’ve taken the daylily, lily-lily, and amaryllis photographs that I’ve been posting over the past few weeks, and re-rendered some of them on black backgrounds. I wasn’t originally planning to do that because it can be so time-consuming (imagine spending about an hour on each one of these images, and doing that for 76 of them) — but with this long streak of temperatures seeping above 100 degrees every day, I’ve been keeping the outdoors outdoors and myself indoors more than usual.
For these five posts, instead of searching for quotations or verses about the flower families as I usually do, I decided I would look for quotations about photography that are not from books about photography, and poems about the summer season. The excerpt from the poem “You and It” by Mark Strand above seemed to capture, coincidentally, my experience of photographing flowers — as I often photograph each one from many different angles and positions, and most of them don’t survive the “cutting room” where I try to eliminate all but the ones I’m most technically satisfied with that represent what I saw, when I saw it.
And the poem echoes the rather obtuse selection from Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head, in that both describe actual experience in the world, and the way we position our physical bodies to capture variations on that experience. Crawford, of course, is contrasting our worldly experiences with our virtual experiences, raising questions about the latter — something I also did when I quoted him in one of my earlier posts on using AI image generators: Irises on Black / Notes On Experiences (2 of 2) and its companion post Irises on Black / Notes On Experiences (1 of 2).
I think it may mean something that after spending a lot of time with Adobe Firefly for those two posts, I subsequently lost interest in it, feeling mostly the kind of digital angst Crawford implies above. I’ll probably try again once its capabilities are incorporated into a Photoshop update (it’s currently available in a beta version of Photoshop, which I’ve decided not to install) because I’d like to see what happens if I apply some other creative styles to my own photographs. It might be interesting, for example, to render my own images as watercolor paintings, or in a Hudson River School style, or perhaps as antique botanical illustrations. I’ve tried each of these with Firefly, but since I can’t yet do any of that with pictures I’ve taken, the results lack meaning and just seem like a flood of randomly generate images of no personal significance. So, for now, I’ll stick with my black backgrounds — which I can do with the tools at hand, and (hopefully!) result in images that you find compelling.
Thanks for reading and taking a look!