Between conscious and unconscious vision

“Clearly it is another nature which speaks to the camera as compared to the eye. ‘Other’ above all in the sense that a space informed by human consciousness gives way to a space informed by the unconscious.” (Walter Benjamin, 117)

In this photo I primarily intended an (admittedly clichéd) self-shot of one of my eyes. Aware of this cliché, I still wanted to take a photo of myself that captured something of myself that I cannot see without the aid of technology, and the most obvious way to do this is to photograph the physical window through which I see the world, which I can never, save for mirrors, see itself but only through it. The photo came out of both a desire to allude to my own subconscious and the optical unconscious—the truth behind the eyes, the way I see, the volume of information my eye takes in and the utter impossibility of retaining it all—and a desire for a close-up of an object I cannot normally see. When taking this photo, I must have moved my hand or my face, possibly assuming the picture had already taken, but either way, it came out blurred by accident. Really, however, the accidental blur adds depth to the concept because it contains motion, which Benjamin talks about as something we can photograph and freeze in a way that we never see with our human eyes. And the accidental quality of the blur adds an element of the spontaneous, the unexpected, the contingent that Mary Ann Doane talks about and Kracauer values as a way to capture the transience of the modern world through images that resist meaning—something intrinsically magical and wild about the world that only the camera can capture. This, I think is what Benjamin meant when he referred to the space that a camera captures as “informed by human consciousness” giving way to “a space informed by the unconscious” (Benjamin 117).

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