Archive | March, 2013

Peripheral vision, a smile and some football

21 Mar


An Italian Landscape, Joseph Mallard William Turner, Tate Gallery c 1820/ 30

When observing landscape or indeed a large map, it feels impossible to focus on the whole at once. In order to get a sense of the whole landscape or map, it is the combined approach of small, separate observations, made with the flick of an eye , at speed , together with peripheral vision, that seems to achieve this.

Looking at a photograph , one tends to believe that the photograph represents an accurate recording of a particular place in a particular moment, but as Martin Kemp in his book:  Seen / Unseen , describes :

‘ the more that sober techniques of apparently objective representations are involved, the sharper the double edged sword becomes. This is encapsulated in the often repeated phrase ‘the camera does not lie’. Even in the age of digital manipulation, this popular reaction to photographically generated images die hard .’ 

This may be  partly because what you see in a photograph where everything is in focus , the eye does not see.

According to contemporary photographer Rory Carnegie , a photograph made with a 40/50 mm lens , on a 35mm camera is the closest approximation to what the eye sees.

Human vision, as we know,  is not always uniform, peripheral vision can be ‘ stretched ‘ with practice , and is indeed an element in playing some sports , for instance  football, where it is important to have great focus in passing the ball and shooting a goal , but also to understand the wider ‘field’..

An interesting example of the importance of peripheral vision in football is shown  in the past research of Gail Stephenson , head of the University of Liverpool’s Orthoptics Department . As a Manchester United fan , in 1996, she worked on extending the players peripheral vision by changing the colour of their kit, which  provided more contrast with the background they were playing in, with the full backing of the team’s manager:

Alex Ferguson : ‘ Peripheral vision is very important to the game , so Gail’s work is very important. It has been very beneficial to Manchester United’.

When drawing recently in a landscape near Salisbury (a wide view ) and in a more constrained view in Taplow , I reflected that although drawing from one particular spot , I had to reconcile that my eyes and to a certain degree , my head was moving , horizontally , vertically , across , in fact in many directions; therefore my drawing on paper was not in the strictest sense accurate or representational of one moment, from one view point.

There seemed an added element : in that when looking at a landscape with intense scrutiny , as I was doing , peripheral vision could no longer be described as being on the edge of ones field of vision, but came closer into the picture plane, in other words : the more intensely one observes , the narrower the field of vision ( or width of vision) , so how is this reconciled with producing an image that shows more than just a small section of the landscape?


Cezanne manages to somehow achieve this , in his paintings of landscape, ( many of which , as above, are in front of Mont Saint Victoire in Provence ), by producing small painted chunks covering the surface of the canvas,  these are in essence, small observations , that almost float in a 3 dimensional way , yet, in an extraordinary sense  , are unified with the rest of the painting , (early pixelation ?).Peripheral vision together with small observations  could be said to throw up a way of looking/ thinking that is two pronged but in unison , however this unison can be in opposition , as is shown by a famous puzzle , the Mona Lisa’s smile :

Margaret S. Livingstone , Professor of Neurology at Harvard University writes how : ‘ A side interest in the lab is to use what we know about vision to understand some of the discoveries artists have made about what we see. .. The elusive quality of the Mona Lisa’s smile can be explained by the fact that her smile is almost entirely in low spatial frequencies, so is seen best by your peripheral vision. These three images show her face filtered to show selectively lowest ( left ) low ( middle ) and high ( right ) spatial frequencies.


So when you look at her eyes or the background , you see a smile like the one on the left , or in the middle, and you think she is smiling. But when you look directly at her mouth, it looks more like the panel on the right, and her smile seems to vanish. The fact that the degree of her smile varies so much with gaze angle makes her expression dynamic, and the fact that her smile vanishes when you look at it , makes it seem elusive .”

Coming back to peripheral vision and maps, and data , are there links here with the method of work adopted by researchers at EnglaID? : small sections of data are observed and slotted into a  large mass of data , to form a cohesive whole and new trends ? early days .. but maybe  this  analogy of using a a broad brush( peripheral )/ small brush ( small observations )  at the same time , is a means of getting a new and interesting sense out of the data?