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Ausgewählte Thesis-Projekte (2) MA in Visueller Kommunikation und Bildforschung

Eine Auswahl an Thesis-Arbeiten aus den vergangenen Jahren. Diese vermitteln einen Einblick in die thematische Breite des Studienganges „Master of Arts in Visueller Kommunikation und Bildforschung“.

Patrick Baumann: Based on True StoriesPatrick Baumann: Based on True Stories

We live in a time, when images – more than ever – shape and affect our under- standing of the world. Here, photography is a medium, which is often used to document an event or attest to a situation. In this context, the photographic image is understood as something that contains and communicates concrete facts. The act of taking a picture seemingly functions as a certification of the reality experienced.

This MA thesis focuses on the opposite: the moment of doubt in photography. I am interested in what makes an image implausible and how uncertainty can be experienced through a medium that, in the first instance, was meant to depict what is in front of the camera lens. By asking what makes us doubt cer- tain images, I hope to raise further critical questions on why we trust in others. Therefore, researching this aspect meant asking two main questions. Firstly: is photography an appropriate medium to create images which can make their beholders doubt what they ostensibly see? And secondly: if so, what are the possible requirements and how can they be visualized?

“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” René Descartes

There is a saying, “ I’ll believe it, when I see it ”, to express someone’s crit- ical view of an argument. The person who says this claims to be a realist, only trusting in what is actually there and visible for everybody as a fact. However, when it comes to pictures, the situation seems to be different. The idea of being able to accurately perceive the world through images is a myth, which has been put into question and belied several times – and not only since the digital evolution. Studying how images are perceived is one of the core compe- tences in the field of visual communication and iconic research. In this, photography certainly is a medium of high interest for any enhancement of knowledge, because it touches upon all aspects of human activities: from documentary evidence to art, from information to entertainment, from private to public and from amateur to professional use and production. And while our perception of so-called “objective reality” is conveyed in all its numerous details, the borders of the respective categories increas- ingly vanish and merge. Nevertheless, it has to be admitted that there already are count- less studies on how pictures are creating an illusion of objectivity. Nominally, this has been done in the theoretical fields of media, science, technology, and visual-culture studies, or by art history. 
However, this MA thesis is focusing on another aspect and il- luminates it from a practice-based point of view. The project is an inquiry into the question of how pictures can make a person unsure about pictures. The aspect of creating doubt within a photograph as its “raison d’être” is adding another perspective to the on-going discourse on photography. On the one hand, doubt in the field of visual communication could be seen as a negative, which disturbs and complicates the commu- nicational aim. Therefore, it should be avoided by all means. Ideally, the designed piece of work would be intuitively understandable, so that the beholder can easily follow the message. Pictures need to be read and un- derstood and we need to understand pictures. In this process, it does not matter under which label – documentary, art, or advertising, either trust- ful or artificial – an image is subsumed, as long as there is one. Here, re- curring image traditions become familiar, provide confidence and will, therefore, be seen as true. We know exactly what a report on a war, a fash- ion photo shooting or the easy-going, friendly handshake by competing politicians look like. Jörg Huber, a scholar of visual studies, calls this phe- nomenon of an almost automated mental categorization and certification the evidence effect [Effekt der Evidenz] (1). On the other hand, this feeling of doubt can be a powerful “tool” for the perception of images with our – unavoidably – guilty (2) eyes. Uncertainty is disturbing and can grab the attention of the beholder. It is an unstable, constantly moving moment, oscillating between two ex- tremes : reliable and unreliable. Also, when a picture is not easily accessed, because it does not correspond to the image in our head (3), the inner cate- gorization system does not work reliably anymore. Beholders are then forced to leave their mental comfort zone and may also have to reconsid- er their view in general. My intention was to dig further in this direction with my own work. I am interested in what makes an image uncertain and how its beholder can be made to doubt it. Based on a visual style that is oriented on what we call a documentary (4), I investigated the impression of photo- graphic images. But rather than a verification in the sense of Barthes’ notorious ça-a-été (5), I wanted to provoke the question qu’est-ce que c’est? Indeed, I was not so much concerned with telling a specific story or ex- plaining a certain theme. Doubting the image as such was my theme, and any visual content could work fine for that purpose. Instead of a limitation by a single conceptual framework, the setups for my practical experiments were designed to explore a wide variety. Still, I claim that a scientific rec- ipe in the sense of a “ how-to ” could not replace my authorship for the creative and imaginative process. The final pictures are the result of an in-depth examination of the topic, as well as a personal selection. In the end, my work is about understanding images through their generation.

Endnotes

  1. Huber Jörg : “Lesen – Sehen – Verstehen” in : “Covering the real. Art and the Press Pic- ture, from Warhol to Tillmanns”, Exhibition Catalogue, Kunstmuseum Basel, 2005, p. 74
  2. Philosopher Nelson Goodman claimed that there is no innocent eye. Cf. : Goodman Nelson: “Languages of Art. An approach to a theory of symbols.” Indiana, 1976, p. 7
  3. Schriften der Freunde des Museums für Europäischer Kulturen, Heft 9 : “Pictures in our head. Fremd- und Eigenbilder in Europa.” Berlin 2010
  4. Art historian Abigail Solomon-Godeau emphasized that the term of documentary is historical, not ontological. Cf. : Solomon-Godeau, Abigail : “Who is speaking thus ? Some questions about documentary photography ”, in : Solomon-Godeau Abigail : “Photography at the dock. Essays on photographic history, institutions and practices” Minneapolis 1991, p. 169
  5. Barthes, Roland : “La chambre claire. Note sur la photographie.” Paris, 1980

Felicitas Katharina Merz: Images beyond Sight?Felicitas Katharina Merz: Images beyond Sight?

In his book Memoirs of the Blind, philosopher Jacques Derrida emphasized that drawing beyond sight forces us to trust in memory and opens a lidless eye at the end of the fingertip during the drawing process.1 To perceive and draw an object with the help of our sense of touch, our tactile sense, is a new experience for most sighted people. Concentrating on the materialized traces of the draw- ing process, the research attempts to reveal the crucial role and influence of tactile perception and blindness in image creation. The project refers to the visualization and translation of tactilely perceived stimuli in two-dimensional drawings that are triggered by manual explorations of an object. By focusing on the visual translations of tactile explorations I established the hypothesis that we do not entirely trust our active sense of touch, but rather rely on former memories and experiences. 

The active sense of touch plays a central role in perception and cognition. Through the method of touch, we can gain information of objects and get hints of their materiality, weight, and temperature that cannot be experi-enced in the same way by vision alone. Any haptic exploration consists of processes in the areas of our motor system and brain. Through drawing studies, I shall analyze how tactile stimuli can trigger different memorized information during the process of visualization. The experiments will show that the sense of touch and the sense of vision are more closely connected than we thought. This thesis project strives to investigate ways and methods to visualize tactile stimulations of three-dimensional objects in two-dimensional drawings. The project focuses on establishing a methodology to analyze different forms of knowledge in a tactile drawing process that are triggered through a tactile stimulation by an object.

My first investigations with the help of practical experiments inquired into the influence of specific conditions of objects on the drawing process. The first outcomes assumed that there is a visibly growing tactile knowledge through the manual exploration of an object in an image over a certain period of time. The resulting drawings suggest that increased haptic skills and prior experiences with the object provide a learning process and an acceleration of object recognition.

Subsequent studies revealed and visualized that the general perception in its interplay with the tactile translation of materiality, with the influence of odour and of objects and at different temperatures, all had visible effects on the drawing process as well as on the final drawings. Due to the absence of vision, the test persons felt strongly limited as to their pictorial abilities. They frequently stated that they were unable to realize their intentions the way they would have liked to do in drawing with open eyes. In all visualizations of haptic explorations thus created, the subjects used the line and perspective to translate their tactile perception with a pen on a paper surface. Of course, mental imagery does not consist of line drawings, but the resulting images of the translation process do. During the perception and translation process and also in the final drawings, bodily and emotional reactions of the subjects could be observed that were partly based on the principle of individual and common experiences. An example for a common reaction in the experiment is the aim of the subjects to name the touched object and to recognize it before starting to draw it. 

Summarizing the knowledge gained by the former, practical experiments, the process of visualizing one’s tactile sense by the method of drawing invokes the following questions: what role does the recognition of the object in the process play? Does the drawing process differ when we recognize the object during the haptic exploration compared to when we are unable to recognize it? And how does our memory influence the process of object recognition and drawing?

The results from the most recent drawing experiments have me assume that the more one recognizes an object through manual exploration, the more one can recall past experiences and start to “feel” them as real.

Although the moment of object recognition is very short, it can  substantially influence perception and the process of drawing and change the creation of the drawing quite rapidly. If the object is not recognized, the process of perception is a completely different one, with the perception of space and size quite remote from representing the real object. 

In the final practical study of my thesis, eleven persons haptically explored five objects and tried to draw the tactile information they perceived. By observing these processes, I recognized that the representation of tactile information interacts with memorized information from other sensory or physical attributes, such as the visual memory, personal or physical experiences. Therefore, a tactile stimulus can influence the drawing process by accessing mental images of our visual memory. 

The findings of the study have the potential to contribute to the knowledge of drawing theory, especially in the field of haptic and blindly produced images of touch. It should be a gateway for a better understanding of mental processes and ways of translation during the haptic exploration of objects and their materialized manifestation in two-dimensional lines. The final examination of my thesis project is a practical study with ten participants, who produced tactile drawings under given  conditions. Through images and video documentations, the project analyzes the visual translation of the object under changing conditions, for example the variation of the degree of abstraction, the size, and the spatial position. The resulting collection of drawings can be seen as an initial point of discussion for my theoretical and practice-based research in the field of tactile perception, its meaning, and its ways of translating tactile stimuli into visualizations.

Endnotes

  • Jacques Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind. The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins. Chicago  1990, p. 3. 
  • Michael Thomasello, Origins of Human Communication, Massachusetts 2008, p. 45
  • Bergson, Henri, Key writings. New York 2002, p. 126.
  • Mary A. Peterson, The edge complex : Implicit memory for figure assignment in shape  perception. Perception & Psychophysics, May 2005, Vol. 67, Issue 4, pp. 727 – 740.
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