How do we see the world around us?

The page you are viewing right now is a collage masterpiece created by the peerless artist known as the brain. The science explains that our eyes, “the cameras of our brain”, record a number of fragments of a particular scene which are then simultaneously joined together by the brain in a whole. Forms, colors, depth, ..., all these elements of the image that you see are mapped from multiple viewpoints and composed into the whole picture by our mind in a blink of an eye.

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For David Hockney (1937 - ), one of the most influential British painters and photographers of the 20th century, this very process of seeing was the inspiration for the creation of his famous series of photo collages, which Hockney called “Joiners”.  Hockney’s photographic exploration of the way the human eye works and at the same time how its counterpart - the camera - operates,  took place mostly during the 1970s and 1980s. His earlier photo collages consisted of grid-like compositions made up of Polaroid photographs, which is not surprising since in 1972 Polaroid released its famous SX-70, a beloved creative tool for many of Hockney’s fellow artists at the time. Later he used 35 mm prints. In both cases Hockney attempted to depict the act of seeing, and especially in his landscapes to evoke the experience of seeing, by shooting the same subject countlessly from different perspectives and at different times.

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A numer of individually photographed details were then compiled into a complete mosaic-like picture that, according to the artist, should be much closer to the truth. “One point perspective is only a half truth”, Hockney once said.

 

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By applying the approach of multiple perspectives,  Hockney’s “drawing with a camera” has defeated the stationary, “one-eyed” feature of photography challenging viewers to understand the very act of seeing and, moreover, to see and feel the space in the picture as in real life. The famous artist held the view that we see space through time. This method of depicting the visual world that involved not only multiple perspective but, far more interesting, the sense of time, wasn’t new. Long before Hockney, the Cubists were practicing the application of multiple viewpoints in depicting space with the aim of illustrating the continuity in our perception of the world.

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The most famous “joiner” is certainly Hockney's “Pearblossom Highway” made out of thousands of photographs. Compiling multiple viewpoints into the whole, he came closer to evoke the actual experience and perception of three dimensional space on a two dimensional surface. Seeing space from numerous angles through time resulted in an almost 2 meters high and 3 meters wide work of art with the apparent effect of more “real” space. The conventional photograph of the same subject would not be able to achieve this.

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This technique allowed Hockney not only to conjure up how we see the world around us the closest he could but to push the boundaries and limitations of the photographer's perspective in particular and to maximize the potential of the camera. As such, Hockney's “Joiners” have had a significant influence on artists to come who will further elaborate the idea of continuity and veracity in digital media.