Perception: Shadowed and Illuminated


“For me the noise of Time is not sad: I love bells, clocks, watches — and I recall that at first photographic implements were related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision: cameras, in short, were clocks for seeing, and perhaps in me someone very old still hears in the photographic mechanism the living sound of the wood.” Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

The lucid text of La Jetée says so many things at once because these questions of memory and time are embedded in every aspect of life because as far as I know, all things are subject to the passage of time. The question of perception is rooted in memory–our perception of the present influenced by memories of the past and curbed by our imagination of the future. This relates to our image making because we are communicating a perception to an audience. We are learning of earlier artists and learning how to root our work in the context of the past. This allows our work to be understood in a common visual language. Without the past or as the narrator says of how the experiment was carried forth: “First the present and all its supports must be stripped away.” When a photo or image has no context of time or location, you can do this, you can remove it from the supports of the present as with abstract work but if you are trying to communicate a present concept, you will need memory, collective memory, the past in some form.

In his essay about La Jetée (La Jetée: Unchained Melody) for the Criterion Collection, Jonathan Romney says, “Time moves differently in this extraordinary essay on cinematic tense, and from the start, our perceptions of past, present, and future undergo strange mutations. The tense of the narrative shifts between past and present, the latter used predominantly to narrate the hero’s return to a lost past.“ Our sense of time in the modern age has mutated in ways that I don’t think we will understand for a while. The bright screens, proliferation of images and sensory input from the technology embedded in our lives poses new ways to perceive and understand time and to communicate it.





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