The camera does not record like the eye sees. This has been the greatest challenge to great photography and will stay a challenge. David Hockney said that you can only look at a photograph for a short time. Because it’s like the snap of the eye. And then he created the photograph that makes you look at it just as long as you look at a painting: Pearblossom Highway.
This picture consists of over 800 images. A picture is something complex, an image is just a reflection, like an imprint on the retina, the snap of a camera when its shutter shuts in another grab of the world. A camera always records a stringent perspective, the eye does not. Man’s seeing is as much a physical process as it is a psychological. Our experience takes objects that we see and makes them more important. Our experience does that.
What the eye really sees
You can see that in Hockney’s picture. A camera would record a lot of road, the yellow center line. The roadside would already be very small, as well as the landscape ahead. Mercilessly, perspective shrinks everything that is at a physical distance, even though it is at a close emotional distance. Hockney’s picture corrects the camera.
We see the yellow center line, but we see the roadside just as well. It omits the flat asphalt where the cars roll. When we see a road we see exactly what Hockney shows: we see the center line when looking ahead, and the roadside, when we look out of our windows. We see the trash on the roadside, that a camera would only record as dots: Hockney lifts it out of perspective oblivion and enlarges it, just as he enlarges the countryside ahead.
Pictures will go on changing, as they have in the pastDavid Hockney
The poetry of the vision of man
And another thing the camera does that human vision does not: it records everything at the same time from one point of view. We don’t see like that. Our eyes go from one detail to the next, and over time shape a picture in our mind. That picture isn’t arranged at a mathematical perspective. It is shaped by what we find interesting: the road sign, the roadside, the yellow center line, the landscape in the distance, the sign saying Pearblossom Highway.
Everything not necessary for our picture we omit: the boring flat asphalt, which in reality grabs over half of every photo taken from the center of a highway, and which shrinks everything we look at to small spots that we hardly see. Hockney has created a photograph that shows what the eye sees. It’s one of my favorite photographs. It’s the path of the eye. It’s poetic.