June 14, 2009

Photographing A Thought ?, by Lin Bee

An article written by Lin Bee
From Fluffytek
UdA Art Editor

Whilst on my extended bloggie break, I found myself preoccupied with a question :

Is it possible to photograph a thought ?

I researched the matter in depth but came up with precious few answers.

Franck Petronio

"She’s quite a good photographer too."

Thought-Photography is nigh-impossible, although many have tried. In 1933 a physicist called Nikola Tesla announced “a tremendous new power which was about to be unleashed.” He declared that he would soon be able to photograph thought, which he believed would bring about a total social revolution.

He was convinced that “a definite image formed in thought, must by reflex action, produce a corresponding image on the retina,” which he believed he could read by use of an artificial retina which would receive and record the image of the object seen, and then photograph it.

Needless to say, his experiment was a spectacular failure and Tesla died several years later, his ambitions unfulfilled.

Dave Levingston


" This is my current favorite photo. That's why it is the cover photo on my book "The Figure In Nature" which is available here.
I had this photo in my head for a couple years and kept trying to shoot it while doing other figure shoots.
Finally I decided to just do what needed to be done to get it captured. When I get something like this in my head I have to get it recorded or it just won't go away. So I called up one of my favorite models, Lani in the mountains of North Carolina. I knew she could do what it took to get the shot and that she would know a good stream to use. I told her to find the right stream and tell me the day and I'd drive down from Ohio. The day came, we hiked around and found just the right spot. Lani got in the freezing mountain stream and looked beautiful and serene.
Besides being a near perfect capture of the pre-visualized image, I like this shot because it embodies much of what I try to do with the figure in nature...showing the links between the forms and including symbolism." Dave Levingston.

Grzegorz Zawadzki

Having discussed Thought-Photography with Rich at some length, he reckons that the problem is that in order to tell what someone is thinking, you have to first interpret their expression. This is not a straightforward process because people’s expressions are ambiguous.

Tom Lane -
"Ring Flash III"
Art Model Jennifer

Study after study shows that a person’s perception of an expression is based upon what the viewer has seen moments BEFOREHAND.

There are only a certain number of human expressions and as humans have evolved, expressions have always been interpreted in the context of the actions that precede it. They don’t in themselves have an intrinsic meaning when abstracted from events.

So expressions don’t necessarily convey a thought, they just express emotion.

J Borodina (Eliara) -
"Flying in my sleep"

Insousciance -
"La femme du boulanger"

To understand a thought, it must be preceded by an event.

A filmmaker has an advantage here because he can create a series of events which may be very subtle but which allow the viewer to correctly gauge an expression and thus the thought behind it.

On the other hand, artists and photographers have to resort to props, or what Rich calls “tricks”, to transmit the context of the model’s expression and thus convey the thought to the viewer.

In order to be successful, these tricks have to be very obvious. Subtlety doesn’t work.

Scott James Prebble -
"I can see through you"
Art Model Fiona

In the case of a pure art nude portrait photograph, where there are rarely any props, I would therefore argue that it is nigh impossible to photograph a single thought and accurately convey it to viewers.

As Dr L’s excellent photograph demonstrates, expressions are misleading (even basic ones like hunger) and viewers will naturally project their own feelings, interpretations and biases into a single picture.

The model is thinking what we subconsciously want her to think,but we don’t really know the truth behind “the look.”

Nad Iksodas -
"Lela and her first love"
Art Model Lela Rae -

Perhaps this is the very reason why portraits remain so alluring, because they have that element of mystery. It’s the classic Mona Lisa question : what was she thinking ? (Nad Iksodas does this style very well.)
The problem is that with art nude portraiture, we will never really know, and I must admit that this conundrum frustrates me. I WANT to know ! Which is precisely the point of the photograph, I guess.

The element of mystery is the hook which reels the viewer in.

Dave Levingston
Art Model Jessica

I have no profound insights into Thought Photography to offer you, other than I wish I knew a sure-fire method of accurately capturing thought in a single frame.
Perhaps this is beyond the capability of the camera as a tool.

Maybe the apparatus is too limited, or perhaps the whole portraiture process is too easily influenced by viewer subjectivity to ever reliably convey real thought.

One last (rather peculiar) nugget that I want to leave you with today is the story of the only proven occurrence of Thought Photography.

In 1973, Lawrence Fried, the then President of the American Society of Media Photographers, photographed Uri Geller in a controlled experiment which aimed to prove that Thought Photography was possible (although not in the same way that I am referring to above.)

Geller mentioned, casually, that he had once or twice before been able to project his own image on film through a completely closed camera :

By Lawrence Fried :
" Geller held the camera at arm's length, pointing it at his head and tripping the shutter. (See Plate 47.) He repeated this at various distances from his head until he had the camera pressed directly against his forehead. He did this many times until the entire roll of 35-mm exposures had been "exposed." All the time Geller was tripping the shutter, I was photographing him. My two assistants, Hank Gans and Laurel Gallagher, were present, standing on either side of me and never taking their eyes off Geller. In addition, there was also a reporter from the New York Post in the room at the time. No one else was present.
I took the camera from Geller's hands upon completion of the experiment and personally removed the roll of film. I marked it to keep it separate from the rest of the exposed film and put the roll in an inside pocket of my jacket. We packed our equipment and left Geller's apartment. At no time after I loaded the camera before the start of the experiment was I separated from that camera. It was never out of my hands until the second I handed it to Geller, from which time I never took my eyes off it and was never more than three to five feet away from it. This can be corroborated by my two assistants.
The film (high-speed Ektachrome) was sent to Berkey-K&L Laboratory, in New York, for processing, with instructions that the processor not cut the roll or mount any slides if there were any pictures on the film. Mr. Geller, incidentally, was never advised as to where my film was to be processed.
The next morning I received the processed roll from the lab and opposite frame marker number 10, on the edge of the roll, was an image of Geller. It was somewhat out of focus and slightly underexposed, but unmistakably a photograph of Geller taken at the exact spot where the experiment had been conducted. (See Plate 48.) When I finally removed the tape from the lens that Geller had used, there was absolutely no indication that it had been disturbed in any manner whatsoever."

Grzegorz Zawadzki

So… the moral of the story is that Thought Photography IS possible.

The model just needs to be psychic.
Or a genius.
Or crazy.Or all three.

Scott James Prebble
"I live in my own world"

Model Ari

Feel free to try this experiment at home with your highly psychic models.
Do let me know how you get on, won’t you ?

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