My Eyes Can Only Look At You

I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston yesterday.  At the end of visit, tucked in the smaller gallery, was an exhibit by a photographer who titled her exhibit, “My Eyes Can Only Look at You”.  Without seeing one image, I loved her.

It is what we’ve been discussing in the last post, really.  What is photography? What is reality? What is god forbid “truth”.

We couldn’t be more different as photographers.  She uses film only. Her images have no post processing, analog or digital, whatsoever.  She is a studio photographer on medium or large format.  She uses flash and literally smoke and mirrors (the name of one her series) to create images that appear to have no focal point, no discernible subject.  Yet, she is fascinated with the same thing that I am: (curator’s words)
“The photograph has often been described as a transparent window into a frozen moment.  For Eileen Quinlan it is not a window but a mirror–reflecting our tendency to see even constructed images as truth when delivered by the camera.  Fascinated by this, Quinlan explores her medium’s capacity to be both record of physical fact and deceptive illusion.”

Except I don’t think it’s deceptive. Or, an illusion.

To drive in New England during the early spring is to know that “My eyes can only look at you” is true almost to point of weeping.

©Pat Coakley 2009


6 comments on “My Eyes Can Only Look At You”

  1. “our tendency to see even constructed images as truth when delivered by the camera”

    This is a discussion that the post modernists have been having for the last 25 years. Is a photograph a document?

    In short, no.

    Starting with the fact that we chose what to fit into the frame is subjective and it excludes other parts of reality, such as context and motivation.

    The classic example of this issue is the photo of Thích Quảng Đức (a Vietnamese Buddhist monk) who burnt himself to death as a protest in 1963. Malcolm Browne’s shot of the self immolation is usually cropped to show the burning monk up close but the actual shot has people standing around watching.

    Would the monk have burnt himself if there was no audience? Is the photo an actual document? Or is it just a subjective framing of a scene that has more to do with our own mind set?

    Everything we record with cameras is subjective. Not only what we choose to shoot, how we frame the scene and what we call it, but also the purely technical reason that we only see a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. What we see is only a small part of what is actually there.

    Photography merely approximates what we think is real.

    By the way there is an amazing Australian film called “Proof” about a blind man who uses a camera to photograph what is happening in his life so he can check with sighted strangers what is actually happening because he doesn’t trust the people around him.

    • Professor Buffnick, I think you should be writing photography books or teaching a course or maybe both. I’m going to get that movie!!

  2. I would have loved to have seen that exhibit. I love exploring the idea of what is photography or why do I do it or any variation of those. Reality vs. Fiction is another fun topic. Ultimately, I see a photo as either pleasing or not so much. Somewhere in between are pictures that I know are technically beautiful and may represent reality, but they just don’t do it for me. Your photos definitely do. No matter how many layers there are, they seem very real. I only ask about them because they are so seemless. I am so very impressed by your photos. You set a nice high standard for me to work towards.

    • O, Conni girl, you are a nice friend to have on this dreary, rainy day and I’m feeling sorta shaky for some dumb reason! Thank you, sweet artist girl!

  3. This post looks so nice that I want to switch back to monotone. It helps that you headed it with an eye popping photo.

    Isn’t this the same discussion we’ve been having for the past couple months? It’s nice to see that the folks running the museums share similar viewpoints as us bloggers.

    • Thanks, Dave, and yes isn’t it nice to see our thoughts on an exhibit catalog?? P.S. I’m still working on this image! Someone asked me how long does it take to do some of my images, thinking that if it was a reasonable amount of time, they might try some themselves. I am flummoxed for an answer as some come together quite quickly and others seem to fall in the category of high priced luxury goods, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” Gobs of time for some, in other words.

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