Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Trials and Tribulations of the Paralyzed Cyclops

How a paralyzed cyclops sees the world:

At his talk a week and a half ago, Alec Soth recounted a well-known anecdote about the painter David Hockney. After trying his hand at photography, he abandoned the medium in disgust, supposedly proclaiming "photography is great if you're a paralyzed cyclops."

Hockney meant this to be a derogatory statement, but with all due respect, he misses the point. Implicit in his statement is the assumption that photography is lacking because it does not match human vision closely enough. Yet, what is the point of art that shows us the world as we already see it? What Hockney hits on is one of photography's greatest assets, not a weakness. How cool is it for just one minute to be able to see like a paralyzed cyclops? It gives you great power- the power to isolate, to direct the viewer's attention, to ask the viewer to stop and ponder something (or more to the point, a relationship of some things) they never would in everyday observation. As the photographer, you have the power to determine the exact point in space (even the exact instant in time) at which the cyclops becomes paralyzed. What's even better, only you a David Hockney know the secret- that what results is not the slice of reality that the viewer immediately assumes it to be, but the results of a mythical and highly malleable creature.

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