Archive for September, 2007

The blind model, a photo session

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Olavo's view of himselfThe blind model is a photo session in which the model can only see what the camera sees.


I’m now more interested in photographing as a form of social interaction, than in the resulting photographs. Taking pictures of people modifies their behavior. A photo session can be a performance in itself, the resulting pictures being merely traces of this moment. The photographer / model relationship is a very asymmetrical one.

With the unrealized project The photographer is not a vicious man, I planned to automate the power of the photographer over the model. With The blind model, I personally assume that dominant role, to the extent of depriving the model of his/her sight - replacing it with the view from the camera. The bonus of this augmented vision for the model, with its layer of information about light and focus, and with its zoom, is tied to the loss of control over his/her own sight.

Me in the mirror photographing Claudia seeing exactly this picture, and twice herself Claudia's view of herself Claudia in grandeur

Following is good

One thing that got me excited a lot in beginning this new work, is that it follows a growing and diverse body of other works ! Take a look at these, all playing on exchanging our usual vision for another one : Mathieu Briand’s SYS*05, ReE*03/SE*/MOE*2-4, several alternative reality works pointed in notes from Chris O’Shea, and the famous Upside-Down Glasses from Carsten Höller. [update] Also explore the projects listed by Régine on WMMNA.

Of these pieces, I’ve only experienced SYS*05, ReE*03/SE*/MOE*2-4 from Mathieu Briand. It was during the Au delà du spectacle show, at beaubourg in 2000, and I must say that I loved the experience. I could have stayed for hours immersed in it. It was very addictive. You can switch your vision for that of another person in the room, leading to a mix of familiarity, as the place is the same, and strangeness - seeing your own back getting nearer and nearer as someone is walking toward you, for example. You are automatically reverted to your vision on a random or timed basis, which makes an interesting interruption in the alternative vision. Going back to your own vision - mediated by the video helmet - becomes an event in itself.

What I really want to keep from all these works is the gift of another perspective to the participant. But as I’m a little perverse, feelings of insecurity and manipulation do come bundled with that gift.

Prototyping is good too

During the very first try of the technical set-up, Marie was bending toward the ground when at the same time seeing herself from above, and she had a kind of out-of-body experience. At other times, she experienced the performance as film-like, and slightly perverse. Evocation of a David Lynch movies, and a strong reminiscence from the last scene of The Blair Witch Project came to her mind. That alone was an incentive enough to do a full prototype session.

The prototype set-upThe video glasses, housed in felt for peripheral vision maskingSeeing through the glasses

In the ensuing five prototype sessions, all done in one evening, Erica became aware that when she was tilting her head, she felt like the camera was following her movement. Another participant, Nicolas, explained it later by saying that it was as if his brain was keeping the image horizontal with respect with the ground, with the point of of origin of gravity.

Erica also said, in front of a mirror, that it was strange seeing herself three times, when in fact she was seeing herself twice - her back and her front reflected in the mirror. We have supposed that the third view of herself she was intuitively referring to was her physical body, felt by proprioception - the sixth sense we all share and that allows us to know where our hand is, even when we don’t see it.

New people might even be better

Nothing really new if you are neuro-scientist, for sure, but it was very stimulating to experiment directly with these phenomena. It’ll allow me to fine-tune the next session, finding ways to shape the experience. I also now see that - dissociating sight and sense of balance - I should be able to obtain poses and attitudes from my models that wouldn’t naturally come out in an usual photo session.

In term of social reactions I can expect, it seems pretty much the same standard reactions to some of my other performative installations, like Glory Hands or Glaçant. Boys try to get maximum control on the process or refuse to even try, girls play the game, and I suppose older men will too as usual. The funny thing is that all young men who refuse a performance have more or less the exact same way to do so, while stating that its about their own individual reason and feelings. Well, free will it is ! The photographer’s role as a predator is reinforced when the model’s unique view is what the photographer want to frame, to shoot. The asymmetry of the photo session is stronger than ever. And I suppose boys don’t like to play the part of the prey.

Olavo trying to find his markOlavo trying to find his markOlavo trying to find his mark

In any case, I’d like have a lot of different people experimenting The blind model. So, I plan to offer many more sessions, both in private places like apartments and studios and in public spaces like galleries and festivals. Please contact me if you’d like to arrange sessions.