Drawing Time: Perspective

“The universe is an aggregate of non-simultaneous and only partially overlapping events” 

- Estelle Jussim,(51)

In Before Photography Peter Gallassi discusses the social context of the invention of photography.  Although all the technology to produce photography was present before the eighteenth century, it was the large amount of what he describes as ‘Speculative tinkering’ that spawned the photograph as we know it.(Gallassi, 11)

From The Instant Garden Series, 2009

From The Instant Garden Series, 2009

The camera, as a tool was creating a new standard of pictorial logic, offering the possibility of automatically producing perfect perspective which was in itself the product of a tradition of Western pictorial tradition. Describing the ‘four-hundred-odd years of perspective’s hegemony over Western painting (ibid.13) he says that the differences in the use of perspective form a ‘coherent history’ in the way that painters conceived the role of vision in art. This history he describes as a ‘complex but continuous development of the normative visual scheme’ (Ibid.14) based upon the development of pictorial tools. 

In The Ontology of the Photographic Image, Andre Bazin describes perspective as the ‘original sin’ of Western painting, leading to a quandary between aesthetics and representation; the former a spiritual reality, the latter a psychological need (The Camera Viewed, Vol 2, p.142). Perspective, says Bazin, did not solve the problem of movement and realism was ‘forced to continue the search for some way of giving dramatic expression to the moment’.

Photography’s disruption to this history is discussed by Joanna Lowry in her essay, ‘History, allegory, technologies of Vision’ (History Painting Reassessed, ed. David Green)  Referring to an essay by Jeff Wall on the work of Manet, Lowry discusses Wall’s theory of “an increasingly alienated relationship between bodies and the space they inhabit” produced as a result of the fragmentation of the individual subject under the laws of capitalism. 

Wall’s argument is that the emergence of modern industrial society resulted in the commodification of the body through the new systems of industrial capitalism. In addition, the emergence of photography was a threat to painting as it “revealed it’s own technical presence within the concept of the picture” (Wall) which had hitherto been conceived as internally structured using perspective. Wall argues that the transgressive fragmentation of the laws of classical perspective in Manet’s paintings shows a recognition that this previously unquestioned structure was under threat. 

In Revisions, Ian Jeffrey discusses the change of perspective that took place in the Modernist Era where technological advances lead to changing attitudes and ways of visualizing space. He says, ‘An apple or an orange in 1907 was something in essence desirable and edible; whereas in the 1920s and increasingly into the thirties, it featured in ‘Modernist’ art as a moveable item in an arrangement’ (Jeffrey, 88). Jeffrey explains this change in attitude to a different way of thinking: Modernists, he suggests, thought in terms of ‘room space’, not the ‘deep space’ of the Renaissance, and more shallow than the proscenium arch. The influence of photography was to introduce a ‘scene’ with moveable parts, with any number of productions and performances. He suggest that this new ‘relativism’ came out of an acceptance of the theory of relativity.