Pulling Our Heads out of the Water

Author: Eve Laliberté

Eve Laliberté holds a BFA in Art History and is currently undertaking graduate studies in Edition. Since more than five years, she has been involved in the redaction, edition, and curation of several artistic projects. Through her researches, she is mainly interested in the notion of the situated body and the concepts of the immaterial, ephemeral and imaginary. Her texts have notably been published in Pica Mag, Échelles, Anniversary Magazine and some of her poems have also been published in the art book ‘‘rien d’ordinaire’’ by doux-soft club art collective.

Yesterday I came across this black and white photograph of two young lovers kissing in a park. During the 3.46 seconds in which my eyes were focused on the image, the sharp contrast and the cinematographic setting seemed familiar. I guess it was one of those iconic images I had encountered thousands of times, or a copy of it. But I still can’t recall where it came from or who was the author.

Most images stay in our mind like a vague memory. They flow into the depth of our psyche and sometimes just become a mere list of information and characteristics. We classify images like Facebook’s AI; we list the figures, the settings and the objects present in the frame. Maybe we need to do this to better understand what we see, but does it really help? Has our appreciation of images become algorithmic?

These drawers of memories and visions are so full that almost nothing seems distinctive anymore. The real question is; how can we see if our eyes are numbed by hours of scrolling through hi-resolution targeted content?

In his book Optics. Compression. Propaganda, American artist Sean Snyder wrote that « despite the ever-increasing amount of images we are exposed to, it could be conjectured that we see less. We see less of the image itself, overpowered by the meaning imposed by the discursive context in which it appears. »

If what Snyder proposes is true; we have to ask ourselves what happens if this context is the same for the thousands of images we consume every day. How can images produce a meaning that goes beyond their capitalist framework if they are only consumed through a small screen in an app interface thought for overconsumption and marketing ?

We have to think about how images happen to strike us in the physical world. For my part, most of the images I can clearly remember are those I encountered when I did not expect it. In real life — whatever that means — we are often caught off guard. We wander, physically or mentally, and eventually are surprised, either by a scenic moment taking place in the street or by a print, meticulously placed in the window of the subway. Even an incredibly small piece of paper laying on the pavement can freeze time long enough to change the course of our day. We see more of the things that are not predictable.

For images to impact us, we have to be receptive and, to be receptive, I guess that we sometimes have to allow ourselves to be surprised. But the internet as a space doesn’t always seem fit for these kinds of impromptus and meaningful encounters — and this is even truer if we consider the influence of algorithms on the homogeneity of what we see.

Basing her research on theories by Bruno Latour and Lev Manovich, among others, Suzanne Paquet refers to cyberspace as being a hyperreal environment seemingly closer to water than to earth. This comparison seems undoubtedly appropriate, especially when we can’t shake the feeling of anxiety caused by the impression that we are drowning in images. I think that the quality of a photograph often lies in the details, in the unseen, in the context, the sense it produces and the ideas it refers to. But to come to term with any of these specificities, we need time, calmness and openness. It is normal not to understand in 3.46 seconds, it is normal not to fall in love through a single glance, and it is also normal to forget the significant part of what we see. The most powerful love stories don’t always reveal themselves at first sight.

Maybe we have to instigate a new sense of calmness in this maze that is the internet to allow for better reception of the images. But how do we do that?

I guess everything starts by pulling our head out of the water for a day or two.