Part Two – Exercise 2.4: Point of View

For a picture of your own choice say how the image indicates a point of view for
the spectator and say why you think the effect is rare in the cinema but common in photography. Does the painting or photograph represent eye-contact between someone in the picture and ourselves. What films have you seen where characters treat the camera as another person.


Seeing is first a sensorial process of light entering the naked eye and being processed by the brain as a kind of image processing. The human eyes are bifold and the resulting two (stereo) images from slightly different angles are ambiguous for the brain processed into one image only (kind of in between image). This one is been perceived and recognized as the image of the field of view. The capability of the brain to resolve ambiguous images is a physiological effect that ‘improves’ through learned patterns.

The rules of perspective as I explored in assignment 1 (Schaffeld, 2017) are based on the viewer’s, observer’s single point perspective. The representation of the scenes and objects are therefore ‘true’ only from that one point alone, and one can tell vice versa from the depiction the position or place of the observer.

Visual technologies: The extension of the naked eye with visual devices, either to look closely at small (microsope) or at far distant objects (telescope) was and is the aim for scientists as well for artists to present or represent a different view on the world. One example is the camera obscura where through a tiny hole light beams are projecting an inverted image on the opposite wall of the box or chamber. Interestingly, does the camera obscura in the shape of a room provide the obserer with a view inside of a projection i.e. the embodied visual perception is quite differently to the forwards looking sight onto a scenery. This device changes according to Jonathan Crary the relation of a viewer to images as he/she becomes an  ‘interiorized observer to an exterior world.’ (Sturken and Cartwright, 2009, p.162). Therefore it is phenomenological different from the system of perspective (invented by Alberti, Brunelleschi, Descartes etc.).

Various artists have played with the relationship between object and subject (observer). One of them is  James Turrell (b. 1943). In conceptutal work ‘Afrum (White), 1966, builds on the perception of a cube that is constructed merely through light projection. The cube is perceived differently depending on the standpoint of the observer. Only in proximity to the wall one does perceive the cube as a projection on the wall.

Point of view in painting

I have chosen a painting by Gustave Caillebotte (my second after exercise 2.1 – perhaps much is written about him recently and by Michael Fried) as it shows an ambiguous situation with different viewpoints.

Gustave Caillebotte ‘Jeune homme à la fenêtre (Man at the Window)’, 1875

sketching-in:

Stefan513593 - annotation Caillebotte - Man at the Window

Stefan513593 – annotation Caillebotte – Man at the Window

Aspects of viewpoints:

  • The depicted man looks through the window down onto the streets of Paris
  • The viewer or spectator, or better to say the beholder of the painting, looks at the painting, the depicted man, and through the illusionary depiction of window onto the streets. The eyes of the man are on eye level of the beholder.
  • The painting is built on an expansive visual spatial depth reaching from the foreground chair, along the man towards the end to the street where the view is being blocked be the front of a building in the middle ground.
  • The painting does not show a direct eye contact of a depicted figure and the beholder.
  • The painting shows therefore two different viewpoints:
    – one for the in itself absorbed man the window and
    – one for the beholder of the painting who acts as a kind of intruder, a spectator, alienated fromt the serenity of the scene.
  • The chair has two visual effects:
    – a visual barrier, distancing the spectator from the depicted man, and
    – an embodied perspective of the room from the spectator’s position (outside of the picture). By that the spectator’s gaze is becoming more obvious, intimate. I would like to refer this double viewpoint perspective as a meta perspective and Caillebotte’s painting as a meta picture as it reflects on is own presentation as picture. I refer here loosely to Mitchell’s approach to media theory (Mitchell, 2005, p.210).
  • M. Fried noted in his essay 1999 that the depiction of the scenery on the streets add a sense of motion  to the otherwise still image. One can say therefore that the duration of the man’s looking at the scene is mirrored by the duration of the spectator looking at the picture. The point of view becomes thus a temporal element. A temporal element that I can see in context of Fried’s connection of minimalistic art and  ‘theatricality’.(Fried, 1998, p.166)

Point of view in movies: 

In movies the ‘direct eye contact’ of the actor with the camera (and subsequently with the viewer of the movie) is called ‘breaking the fourth wall’ i.e. the imaginary, invisible wall between the play on stage and the audience. A concept created in the 19th century with the rise of realism in theatre.

This ‘wall’ was a subject matter in modern drama and theatre. The dramatist Bertold Brecht established the term  ‘alienation effect’ (german: Verfremdungseffekt). In order to overcome the illusionary and artificial perception of the play where the audience get absorbed into, Brecht interrupted the play and let the actors to step out of their role and at times to interact directly with the audience. By that the audience could reflect on what they have seen and the two sets of realities – a kind of meta position. Examples of movies that explicitly work with that effect are available on the internet [all accessed 10 May 2017]:

In the movie ‘Goodfellas  by Martin Scorsese (1990) the role of the camera as another person i.e. the viewer of the film itself, became obvious and the fourth wall broken down temporarily when the actor of Henry Hill is addressing directly the imaginary viewer (the camera) in a direct speech saying the words “And now it it is all over”.

Another movie that I came across reading Mitchell’s book ‘What do picture want?’ (p.205) is ‘Annie Hall’ by Woody Allan (1977). A scene that refers to and includes Marshall McLuhan and his concepts on media (this sequence is available at YouTube, (rhizomicomm, 2016). In this scene W.Allan is arguing with a professor while waiting in a line. After a short while he steps out of the line and addresses the camera (the audience) with a direct speech followed by the professor who talks to the camera shortly afterwards. For me fascinating as it addresses the of cinema in various perspectives: breaking the fourth wall, referring to McLuhan media concepts and being itself a movie.

Not in a sense of characters treating the camera as another person but rather the camera is placed such that the viewer, the audience is positioned in the place (viewpoint) of a character, what is perhaps more often recorded. Examples are ‘Psycho‘ by Alfred Hitchcook (1960) where in the ‘famous’ scence under the shower the camera’s viewpoint is changing between the view of the secretary and the motel owner. By that the viewer gets a similar perspective as the characters. Another example is the movie ‘The Man with the Movie Camera‘ by Dziga Vertov (1929) that shows fragments of Russian life seen and recorded by a ‘spinning’ film camera. At the beginning and in between the viewer sees a cinema theatre that shows the movie,  flipping chairs and reverse view toward the camera inside the theatre enable the viewer of the movie to feel as if been situated in the depicted theatre. By that cinematic effects the movie seen by the viewer and the movie shown in the theatre in the movie are coming closer together in a sense of overlapping realities.

Images: 

References:

  • Fried, M. (1998) ‘Art and Objecthood’, in  Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews, 2015 ed.,  pp. 148-172.
  • Fried, M. (1999) ‘Caillebotte’s Impressionism’, in: Representations. [Online]. (66),  pp. 1-51,  Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2902878 [accessed 18 April 2017].
  • Mitchell, W. J. T. (2005) What do Pictures want?: The Lives and Loves of Images. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press.
  • rhizomicomm (2009) Annie Hall (1977) scene with Marshall McLuhan by Woody Allan,  [YouTube video], Available from: https://youtu.be/9wWUc8BZgWE [accessed 12 May 2017].
  • Schaffeld, S (2017) ‘Assignment One: The innocent Eye or Perspective‘ [Online] 10 March 2017. Available from: https://ocauvc.stefanschaffeld.com/?p=182  [accessed 12 May 2017]
  • Sturken, M. and Cartwright, L. (2009) Practices of Looking : An Introduction to Visual Culture, 2nd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.
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