However, I was photographically naive compared to someone like Lewis Baltz. When he started photographing the industrial parks in the American west he was firmly with the modernist visual art tradition (eg., minimalism), had little interest in photography as a medium and his photography was shaped by cinema. I didn’t even have a question or a problem to address other than a sense that traditional literacy based on printed texts was in the process of being displaced by a culture of the screen, which may be cinematic, video or computer based. Photography, which is now a part of an array or flow of images on a computer screen, is a way of responding to and shaping the world through the eye.
At the time all I knew is that single photographs was not what I wanted to do. Like the early Baltz I wanted to work with groups of images –a body of work. The body of work would be the unit. I though that the Mallee was a subject that would sustain that kind of engagement; a subject that was interesting in itself and interesting to me. The body of work would be a signaling a hint as to what is to come. It would be an adumbration in the sense of a sketch or brief outline that would to represent the Mallee in outline; a bringing forth. It is an outline because we have to learn to see.
Baltz said that:
One of photography’s early attractions for me was that it was – or could be made to appear to be – almost the same as ordinary vision; or at least it was the closest thing to that the arts offered. It had the illusion of being unmediated seeing, and it was that quality that I wanted to exploit.
Unmediated seeing in a photographic culture was part of a hegemony of vision–an ocularcenterism in the form of a naive seeing or a camera gaze. As Wittgenstein observed, “don’t think but look”.
The photographic assumption is a Humean account of vision: since we cannot tolerate a mere chaos of impressions, we are unconsciously compelled to organize the random data or image into definite figures, shapes, landscapes or groups. What we see is a construct, more our less justified, that arises fro a series of discrete visual impressions. This assumed a pure neutral vision that makes everything present — a mirror of nature that equates seeing with knowing through a detached and objective observation of the whole or a totality spread out before our eyes. Vision, in this sense, is taken to be pure and unchanging mode of perceiving its objects, that visual images always make everything present; and the development of visual representation and its culture has been a steady progress towards the light.
However, the full presence the metaphysics of presence) sought by the philosophers is not to be found. Light fades, outlines waver, objects are in shadow, and there is the momentary glance of the eye in contrast to the all-seeing, totalizing gaze. What eventually emerges into light and clarity does so on the basis of a background of concealment. Moreover, vision is perspectival as there is not intrinsically privileged place from which to see things; there is ambiguity , confusion, uncertainty to our processes of construction and inference; there was never a form bedrock of visual impression that would serve as the basis of inferences. Consequently, there is a need to sift and strain the material, to choose what to represent and how to represent it, to create a selective shape to the subject.
Unmediated seeing is an illusion.