Skip to Content.
Sympa Menu

percy-l - Re: [percy-l] Hockney and images

percy-l AT

Subject: Percy-L: Literary, Religious, Scientific, and Philosophical Discussion on Walker Percy

List archive

Chronological Thread  
  • From: "Tommy Armstrong" <tfa AT>
  • To: "'Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion'" <percy-l AT>
  • Subject: Re: [percy-l] Hockney and images
  • Date: Sat, 29 Mar 2008 13:07:29 -0400

I actually took a philosophy course under the head of philosophy at NCSU
that about 15 years ago addressed this very problem. Back then the only way
to really alter an image, a Kodachrome transparency, for example was a
million dollar scanning machine. Today one can achieve those results with a
mere $1000 worth of equipment.

But the thrust of the course was that the camera image was "real" and
carried weight as a true depiction of reality. This is of course a very
flawed concept and one of the main reasons is that a camera or optical
projection is taken from a single point of perspective. A great way for a
scientist to perhaps analyze a specific time-place event from a specific
viewpoint, but inherently is a flawed view of true reality. At least the
reality in which human conscious beings exist.

And why is it not such a great view of reality--it is because not only the
instrument used to "depict it" has inherent limitations, but also the
operator of that instrument makes both conscious and unconscious decisions
about his image that bring an enormous bias (if we are thinking
scientifically) or an enormous artistic vision (if we are not thinking
scientifically). The operator decides all kinds of things not the least
among which are:
1 The single point from which to take the picture
2 The subject of the picture
3 What should be excluded from the picture--that is the context of the
picture is solely up to the photographer
4 The exact time down to 1/1000 second or more of when his "slice of
reality" is to be captured
5 And in many, many, situations not only the point of perspective from which
to capture the image but the actual placement of the subject (and
elimination of non-subject matter) from the constructed scene.

And this does not even get into all the other subjective decisions about
quality of light, printing, etc that come into play in a photograph.

Today-- a photographer not only controls the above at the time of capture,
but can go back and modify it post capture with inexpensive tools of the

This is exactly what say Matisse was reacting against as he saw the inherent
inadequacies of a photograph to depict "reality".

" The world of images claims a relationship to visual reality - television
and cinema - but this claim cannot now be sustained."
cannot be achieved through a camera. I am not sure whether it can be
achieved through any means.

But despite all these biases, we still give a photographic image a great
deal of weight


Tommy Armstrong
PO Box 484
Lillington, NC 27546
(910) 893-5508

"If you are a big enough fool to climb a tree and like a cat refuse to come
down, then someone who loves you has to make as big a fool of himself to
rescue you"
Walker Percy

-----Original Message-----
From: percy-l-bounces AT
[mailto:percy-l-bounces AT] On Behalf Of marcus AT
Sent: Saturday, March 29, 2008 8:31 AM
To: Percy list
Subject: [percy-l] Hockney and images

I think the recent posting about Prof, Greene's theories of
perspective and the linear imagination were interesting.
Perhaps those arguments need to be adjusted by David
Hockney's discussions of images?

Marcus Smith

Pictures and power

Whoever controls images has great social influence. Did the
camera damage the church's popularity?

* David Hockney
* The Guardian,
* Thursday March 27 2008
* Article history

This article appeared in the Guardian on Thursday March 27
2008 on p35 of the Comment & debate section. It was last
updated at 07:26 on March 27 2008.

Michael Curtis, one of the founders of Hollywood and
director of Casablanca and many swashbuckling Erroll Flynn
movies, tells a story about seeing his first bit of cinema
in about 1908, in the Cafe New York in Budapest. He recalls
what fascinated him: it wasn't the film itself but the fact
that everybody watched it. He realised not everyone goes to
the theatre, not everyone goes to the opera, but the cinema
will attract the masses. By 1920 he was in Hollywood - which
was the sticks then, compared with Budapest - but California
had the money, the light, and the technology. He was right.

Now let's go back 350 years, to Neopolitan scholar
Giambattista Della Porta, who published a book, Natural
Magick, about optical projections of nature. He was a
renaissance man: scientist, playwright and showman. He put
on shows using optical projections (simple to do) and was
hauled before the Inquisition by the church.

The church at that time was the sole purveyor of pictures.
It knew the power of images, and Della Porta would have
noticed, like Michael Curtis, how people were attracted to
that optical projection. They still are.

The church had social control. Whoever controlled the images
had power. And they still do. Social control followed the
lens and mirror for most of the 20th century. What's now
known as the media exert social control, not the church, but
we are moving into a new era, because the making and
distribution of images is changing. Anyone can make and
distribute images on a mobile phone. The equipment is

We do not have debates about images. The world of art is
separate from the world of images, but the power is with
images, not art. An obvious problem is seen. The world of
images claims a relationship to visual reality - television
and cinema - but this claim cannot now be sustained. We will
get more confused if we don't think about them.

For instance, the NHS published an image of a boy (it could
have been a girl) with a fish hook in his mouth. "Don't get
hooked," it said, for the anti-smoking campaign. There were
protests at the disturbing image, which had been seen on
television and bus stops. It had to be withdrawn.

The image looked like a photograph, and by that I mean the
idea that an event took place in front of a camera at a
particular time and place. If this had been true, the
photographer should have been prosecuted - depicting cruelty
to another human being is against the law in Britain under
the Obscene Publications Act, obviously meaning there is a
difference between painting and photography because
paintings of the crucifixion are "allowed".

No one was prosecuted. Why? Because no one believed the
event actually happened. It was made with an application
such as Photoshop. People are now prosecuted for owning
images. How do we know they have anything to do with

Parliament will discuss depiction, but not art. We are in a
confusing time. The decline of religion in Europe is seen as
part of the "scientific" revolution. I have begun to doubt
this now; it is quite likely that it's to do with images.
The decline of the church parallels the mass manufacture of
cameras. They are deeply connected. I noticed on a recent
tour of Italy that not many Italians went in the churches to
see pictures. They see them at home, not made by Botticelli
but by Berlusconi. Think about it.

. David Hockney this week donated his largest work, Bigger
Trees Near Water, to the Tate; it will hang at Tate Britain
An archive of all list discussion is available at

Visit the Walker Percy Project at

Archive powered by MHonArc 2.6.24.

Top of Page