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Posts Tagged ‘seeing’

I’ve just come across the DIEM project which tracks your eye movements as you watch something and sees exactly where your attention is fixed at each moment. You could spend hours on this, but here are three of my favourite video clips.

“This is an excerpt from There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007). 11 adult viewers were shown the video and their eye movements recorded using an Eyelink 1000 (SR Research) infra-red camera-based eyetracker. Each dot represents the center of one viewer’s gaze. The size of each dot represents the length of time they have held fixation.”

There are different ways of displaying the eye movements, as explained on the DIEM project website:

The DIEM project is an investigation of how people look and see. DIEM has so far collected data from over 250 participants watching 85 different videos. The data together with CARPE will let you visualize where people look during dynamic scene viewing such as during film trailers, music videos, or advertisements. CARPE, or Computational and Algorithmic Representation and Processing of Eye-movements, allows one to begin visualizing eye-movement data in a number of ways.

There are a number of different visualization options:

  • low level visual features that process the input video to show flicker or edges;
  • heat-maps that show where people are looking;
  • clustered heat-maps that use pattern recognition to define the best model of fixations for each frame;
  • peek-through which uses the heat-map information to only show parts of the video where people are looking.

The next two clips use the heat maps, which show where the communal gaze is fixed by aggregating the focal points of individual viewers. The first frenetic piece is from the Simpsons, and shows how we tend to follow the action. But notice how we try to read any written words that pop up in the picture even if they are not at the centre of the activity (e.g. the blackboard in the classroom).

The next is from the third US Presidential debate between Obama and McCain. Keep watching to see how the attention changes as the camera pulls back, and the wives come onto the stage.

I don’t know what we learn from all this! Film directors, psychologists, and advertisers must all be fascinated to analyse the results.

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One of the many topics explored at the Theology of the Body conference over the weekend was shame. Not the moral shame we feel when we’ve done something wrong and wish we could undo or hide it; but another kind of ‘anthropological’ shame we feel as an instinctive response to those who treat us as if we were just objects.

Christ raising Adam and Eve

John Crosby explained how in Pope John Paul’s anthropology, we long to be recognised as persons, with an innate dignity and an inner life of our own. This is one part of his ‘personalilst’ philosophy. If someone simply looks at us (we might say stares at us), they don’t get beyond the surface sheen of our body – so we become objectified or ‘instrumentalised’ (as the jargon goes), turned into ‘instruments’ for the use of another – even if they mean no harm – and denied our own personhood and subjectivity.

This happens all the time, and usually it doesn’t matter too much. It does no harm that we are only able to glance at the hundreds of people in the high street, and that we can’t engage with them enough to appreciate their inner beauty. But if someone quite consciously stares at another, looks at them without seeing them as a person, it becomes an intrusion; and this is even more the case if they are being turned through this look into a purely sexual object.

Shame is our natural defence against this intrusion. This is quite distinct from the shame that comes if we are guilty of doing something wrong and desperate to hide our wrongdoing. The ‘good shame’ takes place almost at an existential level, rather than a moral one. It involves an inner withdrawal. To stop myself being turned into an object, I hide myself – physically, emotionally, psychologically and even spiritually. I don’t want to allow the ‘shameless’ look of the other to trap me and reduce me to the sheer materiality of my bodily existence. The shame I experience is much more than a feeling – it is a strategic response, a form of legitimate self-protection.

The goal, ultimately, is to recover that original innocence of the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve could stand without shame before each other in their nakedness – truly ‘seeing’ each other in all their personal depths, delighting in their humanity. I don’t mean this literally – there are other important reasons why we are not naturists. But the idea of standing before each other without shame, and of allowing others to come before us without the need to feel this anthropological shame, is part of our redemption and a return to innocence.

There are simpler words to express all this: the need for respect, acceptance, reverence, humility, gentleness, openness, sincerity, etc. Pope John Paul just wants to get behind the language to see why it really matters at the level of his personalist philosophy.

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The art of drawing lies more in being able to see the world as it is than in having any special technical ability with the pen or pencil. This was the idea put forward at an exhibition I went to last week of the New English Art Club.

It runs like the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: Any artist can submit their own work. They pay a small fee, face a panel of judges, and see if they are lucky. A friend from my home parish was delighted to have one of her collograph prints accepted (see it here) – and so I got an invitation to the private view.

The New English Art Club is committed to figurative art. There is a range of media and styles, and not every work contains the human figure; but they are all realist works that have some recognisable subject.

drawing in colors by Bern@t.

The reflection on ‘seeing’ came as one of the members did a plug for the classes put on by the New English Drawing School. What he said applies to writing and thinking as much as drawing. I’m paraphrasing from memory:

We teach people to draw what they see, and this involves an education in seeing. We teach people to look, to concentrate. People have to be trained to pay attention and to notice things. When children come to the classes I don’t sit them down on the floor with a sheet of paper and a big stick of charcoal and tell them to express themselves. They are already very good at expressing themselves! Instead, I teach them to observe what is there, to make distinctions within their field of vision, and then to put this down on paper. The rest will follow.

The exhibition is well worth a visit – it runs until 7th December. It’s at the Mall Galleries in London, on the Mall, at the end near to Trafalgar Square.

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