Techniques of the observer

This book was recommended by my tutor and partway through my first reading, I didn’t get much from it till I had to answer project 2 Barbarous taste. This seemed to resonate with the book and everything became clearer. These observations and notes represent the incredibly long winded second read through.

Chapter 1

The time period discussed in the book is very brief, a lot of views on how we see changed in a very short amount of time.

Current understanding of viewing is changing because the things with which we can view and understand are changing regularly also, ie mapping tools, cameras that detect different frequencies of light etc

Guy Debord ‘society of the spectacle’, power of society over medium used and content and who watches.

History has taken into account the different way the impressionists used to view the world, however the accounts miss the change in thought about how we actually see, the physical process, what affects it. this in turn changes how modern art comes about as a way of looking externally from the self with a regard to the normal still prevalent, which makes it all a bit less surprising.

this period in time was a starting point of cataloging sight, the studies used in these chapters are linked.

it also heralded a break down of class that meant symbology of content became more watered down as everyone could create it (photos) see it Obscura recreate etc.

whilst the camera photos a landscape we recognise, its in a form so vastly different, it has different meaning.

the new technologies created, ostensibly for research (ended up in the realm of entertainment) were made before photography and mass  construction.

Debord relates to 20th century however this is relevant as a starting point for the spectacle.

flaneur – an excess of stimuli and an inability to take it in and act. the process of reacting to what happens because there is so much happening rather than acting before to deal with it.

Chapter 2

we look at seeing through western culture and our history back through to the greeks, renaissance art leads through to the cinema as a link to a natural view of the world.

so the camera obscura is then linked to cinematography as a way of a controlling force by the elite.

the concept of the obscura was known since the Greeks, and was largely used as a piece of entertainment, however, Marx, Bergson, Freud et al thought about it more in terms of what was hidden and what was real.

it was talked about as much as it was used? Deluze “Machines are social before they re technical” [p31]

Used to create paintings, so art historians think of it within that confine.

Thought of by the users as producing a moving image that was more real than the real

Giovanni Battista Porta 1558 mentions obscura. Thought it would be a way to view specifics of nature and then use this knowledge to harness nature. Cassir thought he was referring to a type of magic, the knower and the know.

obscura becomes the way to define observing, as ‘isolated, autonomous’ [p39] sight is removed from the observer and done by the obscura. the experience replaced by machine and this version of the ‘truth’. which was a good thing to nietzche as ‘it is from senses that most misfortunes come’.

Newton and Locke wrote about a version of obscura, both describe a way for an enclosed space with the real coming in a small aperture one side displaying an element of the real on the opposite side and individuals being between the two planes. ‘free-flowing’.

Locke distances us from mechanism by hiding in the dark. this leads to theories on where thought happens, is it linked to sight?

is Vermeer implying the camera obscura in pictures? [p44-45] because they are inside looking at things relevant to the title of the work?

Descartes suggests using a dead eye as a lens, so sight is again separate from the individual, then how do 2 eyes create 1 vision?

Leibniz theorising that obscura was to localised a point to be anything other than fragmented and de-centralised.

flattening the landscape with a single point of view, a cone.

it doesn’t matter which external experience of the view you refer to, its a neat understandable view you are presented with on a wall, the memory is of less importance than the act of looking.

Berekley categorises sight as different from the other senses, not sure his example works independent of touch or because of it? [p58]

however, sight is linked to touch in many of these theories, Dierot theory on touch based on a blindfolded man over someone without sight, so reference to touch or seeing through touch?

end of the chapter is about how touch was bound up in observation. later artists could only have the view they had because of the work earlier in the century to define observation.

Chapter 3

Goethe observed the left vision after the light was taken away, ‘As the eye, such the object’ (p70) meaning we see what we can understand we see potentially over what is actually in front of us.

Now we have investigation into observing and sight, Goethe calls for a dark room or closed eye to help gain knowledge of how the individual being experimented upon perceives light and colour.

Maine de Biran proposed that as we get tired we perceive colours differently, that observing was not the passive act it had previously been thought to be.

Schopenhauer went on to state colour was physical and chemical perception he and Goethe thought secondary (based on how we sense something, see, smell, taste, touch, hear) qualities were more important than primary (things that are actual, the object is a pyramid). Schopenhauer said that given colour was something we perceived when our eyes where shut, that ‘”what occurs on the brain’ is wrongly attributed to what is happening outside of it.

1800-50 saw the cataloging of our physiology that became the backbone of our understanding of us. 5 senses, separation of sensory/motor nerves, different functions areas of the brain

elitist comment on artists and genii finding sight most important because of its “indifference in regards to the will”

Wave theory on light (p86) Fresnel

Muller (p89) nerves were different and could only process 1 type of sensation eg electricity created a different sensation based on were it was applied, to the eye gave light, you could feel it through skin etc.

“experience of light has no necessary connection with any actual light”.

so, we really can’t trust what we see.

Ruskin gets involved here with the “innocence of the eye” Which I understand, creating pictures for me is about a fascination with the accurate recreation, its a joy and an obsession.

Chapter 4

On dealing with the afterimage, Goethe studied ‘subjective visual phenomena such as afterimages no optical illusion, now optical truth.

sensory perception separate from external referent (smell separate from a real odour?)

Our own personal experience of everything cancels out the objectivity of ‘just’ being an observer.

Ampere stated that any perception/understanding blends with one we’ve already had/remembered.

perception is “un suite de differences successives.”

Herbart we don’t intrinsically get the truth of something, we ‘extracts it from an ongoing process involving the collision and merging of ideas.'(p100-101) He also thought this was all bound up in a way of displaying info into young minds to instil discipline and attentiveness.

Dr John Paris thaumatropes. spinning disk relies on afterimage for effect.

Zootropes, phenakistiscopes, all brought about as studying tools based around the observer, not as ideas to look at actual motion. This changes there value.

Because of this innovation and experimentation, the observer moved on from the restricted view of the camera obscura in a darkened room to a mechanical movement that became acceptable and paved the way for the next

Part of the reason the kaleidoscope was invented as a means to produce art in a mechanical fashion creating  a symmetry of pattern and colour that humans could not create as quickly, this was argued by Marx as a trick with mirrors.

Stereoscope. Wheatstone and Brewster wrote extensively on optical afterimages and subjectivity. Stereoscope was also involved in discussions on space, when we start to perceive space etc. study into binocular vision accurately started at this point. How does split image merge? “An effect of the observer’s experience of the differential between two other images.”

stereoscope pictures, Diderot surmised where enough information to recognise the object/place in real life and not gain anything extra from seeing them in the real.

Brewster believed he was disseminating the techniques of illusions to the common man by creating the kaleidoscope and the stereoscope.

Chapter 5

by 1840, it wasn’t a study of vision, but a study of perception.

Turner as an artist stopped using a single point of light to illuminate his pictures. The camera obscura helped with the study of the sun but Turners paintings still put it at the forefront of some of his pictures as an experience that wasn’t possible with the camera.

Turners painting The Angel standing with the sun. which includes a form that isn’t of this word and is as a result not possible to create with the other form , the camera obscura.

Fechner studied sensation and stimulation deciding that there was an odd relation between them and external causes of them.

vision became relocated in the subjectivity of the observer.


Crary, J(1990)Techniques of the observer. First Edition. MIT Press. Massachusetts.


Pt 2 Project 4 Good Taste?

Read the Dick Hebdige essay The Bottom Line on Planet One on pps 99 – 124 of the course reader making your notes in the usual way

A popular magazine in the 80’s had more readership than another more editorial wordy magazine, likened to the Bible because for 2000  years it has lead the debate on what is and isn’t acceptable as the fashionable ‘bible’ of the decade

Hebdige surmises that Ten.8 has less appeal due to its wordy style and the potential readers ‘knowing’ what they will learn before they open up and read.

The face had a much larger readership and plenty of awards, but both were run on a tight budget, the Face appealed to the streetwise and Ten.8 supported the photographic community with facts.

Hebdige describes the two magazines as 2 worlds, one ordered, where the most respect went to the informed written word, where the picture supported the word within a correct theoretical historical context and the other planet where the image/photo in instant information was more important than the word, the words having equal weight to the image. ‘Looking takes precedence over seeing’.

Language ‘supplements the image  by describing the instant it embodies in order to put the image in play in the here and now. ‘Conversion of the now into the new’.

Does Hebdige make a clear distinction between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture?

Yes. He’s explaining the high culture as being the world of Ten.8 and popular now culture as that of the Face.

Ten.8 represented the learned fact backed up by history and knowledge whereas the Face is old news the moment its written, but as long as you are holding a copy (even if the pages are blank and its just a front cover) you represent the embodiment of street credibility.

Popular culture is more of a reaction than a participation.


Whether he does or not, what are his main arguments against what he calls the ‘people of the post’?

‘The Face is not so much as read, as wondered through’ this shows a lack of engagement on the viewer to the text? He also implies a ‘finished’ human with a good education can see through the text and come to the arguments underneath the ‘appearance’. Meanwhile, the distinction between the people of the 2 worlds appears to be that World 2 has a less informed rounded education and as such people of world 1 are as a result, thought of as having an outdated view and education.

The ‘people of the post’ set out to challenge any given view that cannot see itself as grounded in a history of learned knowledge, this results in ‘undermining’ such fundamentals as right and wrong etc. This promotes a world view were different is better than the tried and tested, even if the tried and tested results in less people dying.

This second world of people watch life, it happens around them without them taking part. I think Hebdige sees it more as a dipping a toe into life than experiencing it and questioning it based on a solid education.


Explain what you see as the difference between high and popular culture today.

Popular culture today to me is the Big Brother, X factor reality TV, where we watch what happens on the telly and makes popular the people with nothing attached to a skill, I admire the ones who grasp their 15 minutes and wring it out enough to fund a change of life, but they are few and far between.

Popular culture is promoting a lifestyle attained from doing nothing, when in reality, the You tubers with their own channels are probably pedalling franticly to go not very far and the quick drop from popularity for the latest winner in whatever reality show isn’t spotted by the children thinking they can have it all for no effort.

High culture is the BBC4’s, the long articles backed up by facts not showing in the Daily Mail. It explores and asks questions and you learn from your involvement with it. its the book clubs the talks and exhibitions you have to go to.

Given most of popular culture is found on the pages of our mainstream owned press, I’d have to ask if popular culture is self sustaining or owned by the manufacturers pedalling goods. Damnit I’m turning into a Marxist.

The difference between the two is probably best described by editing, the snappy short clip that doesn’t complete a sentence but looks great, over the full script of dialogue that answers all the questions, even if you have to filter out the bits you don’t want.

In the light of developments in the media and other branches of the arts and culture, which is ascendent today, the First or the Second world? is it flat or round?

I think you can pick which earth you choose to live on, I also think that your education level and those around you decide which one you tune into. I think both worlds exist, one is shallow and unsubstantial and will become distant the moment you start to ask questions, however I agree with Hebdige, over the years education has found its way to many more people, so the prevalence of flat earth is more down to the constant drip drip of advertising telling us how we should be living and feeling, the arrival of Instagram and Facebook as momentary snapshots that completely disregard what’s happening around the edges of a status update. In any given argument, its the one with the most financial backing to shout loudest with the most spin that wins.

Find four or five examples of contemporary culture, the same of ‘high’ round world culture and the same of high referencing popular culture. You might like to see if you can find examples of popular culture referencing high culture.

Contemporary culture this year would include:-

  • An unbelievable number of celebrities dying,  (David Bowie, who has since had an impact on what we listen to and talk about throughout the year)
  • Brexit and immigrants (mass fear and fake statistics people believed),
  • Trump et al(much the same as Brexit).
  • Music includes a load of pop, referencing exes (Taylor swift got in there many times before Little Mix).

High culture referencing popular culture (these are also my high culture suggestions):-

  • I’m not sure were to fit Banksy, he’s popular culture, but there’s thought there, not least in the locations he chooses and the messages he puts out, however we are talking about a graffitti artist, which is anarchic from the start. (which Hebdige mentions as a trait of second world).We can’t look at his education level as its unknown.
  • Jeff Koons is high culture referencing popular culture, he uses the objects we all recognise to make us think, that helps achieving the widest audience. Like the ballon animals (balloon Venus (Magenta) 2010-12 a steel shining statue of a twisted ballon shape reminiscent of a human form).
  • Annie Leibovitz, as a technically knowledgable photographer with the eye for creating an image, I’m placing her as high culture, referencing popular culture, especially with the series of photos based on Disney princes and princesses Disney photos.
  • Sky arts Landscape artist of the year, I was a wildcard this year and it was a really good experience, landscapes aren’t something you generally fight time over when creating (except light)and I had some good conversations with my fellow wildcards. However, is this simple concept of bringing art into an accessible place high art referencing popular culture because its reaching more people in a less wordy way, or is it popular culture referencing high culture because its goal is to elevate someone into the ranks of a well paid commissioned artist?

Popular culture referencing high culture

  • War and peace on BBC1 was popular culture referencing high culture, they shrunk a tome into a series fit for a Sunday night post 9pm audience and slaughtered the competition.

Hebdige, D(1985) The bottom line on planet one: squaring up to the face In: Visual culture reader, Jessica Evans, Stuart Hall. London. Visual culture reader. pp. 99-124

Leibovitz, A(2011)Disney dream portraits [Accessed 7th December 2016]

Pt 2 Project 3 The society of the spectacle

Read the Guy Debord chapter, Separation Perfected on pps 95 – 98 in the course reader, making your notes in the usual way

1 In modern consumer/production society, everything that has happened becomes a thing that represents it, that party is associated to the photo that reminds you of it, or is he saying a memory?

2 These memories or objects that reconstruct the memories are not linked together so they recreate a portion of what happened rather than a united whole. These objects have a prior life that is the history linked to them. and this is more important than the object, this is the lie. disjointed like this the memories would be different to the reality though?

4 The actual images aren’t the important thing, the reactions and memories of the people surrounding the images are merely curated by the images.

5 I like ‘materially translated’.

an image that has become a world view as a physical  unemotional thing, an actual event in itself to be interpreted on its own merits without the information that went around it?

Weltanschauung- world view

6 this object that personifies a memory is an unreal representation constructed by society for a purpose of furthering current social ideals, its made with socially acceptable mediums to socially acceptable ideals.

8 you cannot see how the object differs from reality because it has been made within the confines of the current society, both in the method and philosophy it is created and in what it portrays.

12 because the object exists and it can’t be changed in its existence, it is a fact and original I think this paragraph is merely showing the paradox of a fact being accepted?

15 society is an object based thing that self perpetuates based on its objects, this I think links in quite nicely with reality tv making stars without effort based on the spectacle of their lives and this being acceptable in the current time.

16 we are slaves to materialism based on these socially self-perpetuating visions. we all try to keep up with the joneses because the tv advertises things that we buy?

18 the object doesn’t answer back, its a monologue.

19 its a dumbing down of society because it doesn’t allow debate.

20 its not that these objects have killed off religion, its more that they’ve embodied themselves with this power, instead of using belief as the get out clause as to why things happen, the object has taken on this role? (not convinced of this argument)

24 the object hides the fact that all the faults within the society are observable within the object (until the object is viewed as history, look at 1970’s tv shows us that) the object proves the class system because it separates the people who watch from the people who direct content.

34 The background noise about a thing becomes the thing as its all you can hear.

Weltanschauung – a comprehensive philosophy or world view?

In his writing I think Debord is suggesting that Weltanschauung is a philosophy whereby society is responsible for the medium and content and the content is reflecting a part of society?

What do you think Debord means by the spectacle?

I think he is referring to what is seen rather than how it is seen, the photos, tv programmes, films. The newspaper stories, internet content and adverts. the social constructs around this object/event are what and how it will be interpreted, however the spectacle is the selection of memories that are open for interpretation.

The book was written in 1967. Has the passage of time confirmed or contradicted Debord’s view?

I’d say confirmed, as I pointed out in my notes, looking back at what we have created previously shows that society decides what is acceptable much like the generation after will point at our history and pull it apart (operation yew tree is the current example for this).

Does his view that we “see the world by means of various specialised mediations” mean that we are having our view of the world controlled or that we simply don’t know what is propaganda and what is not? 

After the US elections we have just had and our very own Brexit, I’d say that we don’t know what is propaganda and what is not. We get to tune into so many streams of information yet we tend to only aim ourselves at the ones we identify with to start with, so the amount we read into this info is limited from the start. However, in the 1960’s we had the cold war, communism as a threat and general post-war paranoia that probably means Debord was more likely to be meaning controlled over confusion.

Although modern day propaganda as the spewing forth of heavily edited recordings of past events (even reality TV) relies heavily on hearing as well as sight. Touch being well and truly removed.

Reification is the process of viewing the abstract as real (have a look at what Marx has to say on the subject); is the spectacle viewing the real as abstract or an extreme reification?

I looked up the Marxist view of reification at the  Marxist International Archive Encyclopedia, it has two elements to focus on, the part where the product of a worker is in effect strengthening certain ways society functions, sort of like a self fulfilling prophecy(?) the second is that after creation, the product of the work is separate from the worker but elements of society are so firmly embedded into the product that we don’t see them.

I’d have to say by either of these views that the spectacle is an extreme reification, it is a product of man and we don’t view objectively often enough, it reflects were our society is at now in a historical context. this includes a lack of abstract thought.

Unless our lack of distance as we view is the abstract with which we are viewing the real?

Debord, G(1967)Separation Perfected In: Visual culture reader, Jessica Evans, Stuart Hall. London. Visual culture reader. pp. 95-98

Blunden, A. The encyclopaedia of Marxism: reification [accessed 3rd Dec 2016]