You see, perception's sometimes not what you think......

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by john_macpherson, Jan 8, 2007.

  1. I went to a nature photography event one weekend. There were several main
    speakers, mostly professionals, some using slides, firing them up singly, others
    doing dissolves, and a few others were doing digital presentations, mostly poor
    (compared to the slides) apart from one which was stunning and compared very
    well to the slides.

    At lunchtime a few other amateur photogs got to present their work, and this one
    fellow, who described himself as "a mountaineer who took photos", had a simple
    slides & music presentation, nothing hi-tech. (This is the dead time in the day,
    with relatively few in the audience as they're all out doing lunch and shopping.)

    He fired up the music, and then manually put up the slides through the normal
    projection system. They were mountain landscapes, very dramatic light, lots of
    contrast, and really lovely well observed work. First slide went up and the
    seconds went past, and a few more seconds, and a few more, and a few more and I
    started to get uncomfortable - why is this slide not changing to the next I
    thought? An unfeasibly long period of time went past - waaaaay longer than I'd
    ever have dared to leave an image up. Then the next one appeared, and the same
    thing happened - ridiculous length of time passing with the same image in front
    of me. And the music. And then again after what seemed like an eternity the
    third image appeared. And then something quite weird happened, the image
    'seemed' to change, the slide hadn't been changed, but the image seemed to be
    'shifting' in some quite wonderful and unusual way! Almost as if the image
    content was moving - clouds and light, sort of shimmering, but hard to describe

    I was astonished, and was aware that the guy beside me was looking as perplexed
    as I was, and fidgeting and wiping his eyes. Then image after image appeared in
    front of us at an utterly glacial pace, and for the next 45 minutes we were
    sucked into some quite weird and beautiful visual experience, and each image
    seemed to dance and shift and change in some very strange and unusual way.

    After it was over I turned to the guy beside me, Jan Tove, the well known &
    respected Swedish photographer who was sitting with his mouth open looking as
    puzzled and astonished as I. "What happened there?" he asked me. "Did you..."
    and I cut him off saying "Yes yes, I did...!" We compared our thoughts on what
    we had just witnessed and realised we had both experienced some quite strange
    and unusual perceptual shift, seemingly related to the length of time each image
    was left up on screen, and our brains trying to play 'catch-up' when the image
    was changed. Neither of us could figure it out, so we spoke to the photographer
    and he seemed unaware of exactly what was going on. We asked about why he
    decided to leave the images up so long, and he was just casual about trying
    something different, so you could really look at the images, that he felt giving
    people a longer time to do that would be good. He was really surprised to have
    us two babbling at him about some weird perceptual thing that we felt was going
    on! In many ways what we witnessed eclipsed all the techy dual projector
    dissolves and all that other stuff we'd seen earlier.

    It was simple and it was beautiful. But it was most odd. I have never seen
    anything even remotely similar. Whether the music contributed to the experience
    I am unable to say.

    Had I alone experienced this, I'd be curious, but that two of us sat side by
    side and seemingly experienced a similar effect has left me rather more than
    curious. I left that simple presentation feeling that I had been led towards
    another way of seeing. As a photographer of long experience, used to observing
    changing light, aware of some optical theory, and with an interest in
    perception, I considered myself fairly competent. However this experience has
    sneaked up behind me and whacked me on the head! And I am perplexed by it.

    It was so perplexing I'm not even sure what question I'm posing/asking here!

    Anyone had a similar experience or got any thoughts or observations?
  2. I what kind of bar have you been before the presentation?

    No, maybe it pays to slow down and avoid firing one slide after the other.

    Congrats to the show you've seen, Stefan
  3. What you saw might be as simple as the after-image one sees after staring at an image, then
    the image is removed or changed. It is caused by two things: bleaching of the retinal
    sensitivity in brightest areas, and the effect that occurs because after a while the brain tends
    to ignore parts of a scene that do not move. Suddenly change the scene and you get what
    you saw.
  4. John,

    We anticipate unconsciously what we are about to experience, in this instance a slide presentation. When our expectations are confounded -- it doesn't proceed in a way we expect (the "rules" are broken) -- we can react with irritation, rejecting what is presented, or we might be captivated by it.

    We expect a certain pace. We expect commentary. When they do not occur we are on our own. In this instance a combination of pace, slides, their order, the presenter's silence, and the music contributed to your captivation. Hard to believe it was unintended.

    Some movies will do something similar, I think. We expect a conversation in a film to be constructed a certain way. There will be closeups, reaction shots, establishing shots and so on -- a lot of cutting and a job for the editor. Tarkovsky in Solaris (1972), instead, moves the camera in long gliding tracking movements; the camera follows one character and rather than cutting to a reaction shot of the other character, the camera gets the second in the frame at the proper moment as a result of the sinuous movement.

    An opposite example is Tati's Mr Hulot in which the camera is set in stone and the action occurs in the middle distance. Very counter-intuitive. This is especially effective in the street scenes with many scenes being enacted at once in the wide frame.

    Whether they irritate or fascinate the viewer is a matter of taste.


    Don E
  5. -The slide gradually melting and warping from the heat of the projector lamp.
  6. The slide gradually melting and warping from the heat of the projector lamp.
    LOL! Probably true! (dawns the light!)
  7. Nice try boys, but we're neither alcoholics nor arsonists!
  8. Nice try boys, but we're neither alcoholics nor arsonists!
    It was a reference to how slides in a projector can pop and move from the heat, usually when the fan is malfunctioning. You don't have to be an alcoholic to be humor impaired.
  9. I think our original poster knows what can happen to overheated slides, and is trying to describe something different. Slides in an overheated environment "pop" first, as they expand, and the result is a focus shift which is quite recognizable. Further, catastrophic overheating results in a brown area of scorching on the slide. I've never seen one melt. And I can't begin to guess what John saw but I think it's fascinating.
  10. Thanks for sharing your story, I enjoyed reading it and I believe you 100%. I hope I can experience something like that sometime!

    Sometimes simpler is better, just look at some of Andre Easter's work. He is a Photonet Patron.
  11. Pico - I've been shooting slides as long as you I suspect, and I have many fond memories of 'popping' slides, and on one memorable occasion an entire projector catching fire whilst I did a lecture.

    I dont consider myself 'humor impaired' any more than you, and happily continued in the same vein as your Jan 10th post which nicely poked some gentle fun at me.

    If you re-read the responses: "what kind of bar have you been (in) before the presentation?"


    "The slide gradually melting and warping from the heat of the projector lamp."

    .....that might give you a clue to the tenor of my response.

    Very memorable presentation for me I have to say, and I've pondered on exactly the mechanism that caused it. I suspect you are correct with your observation "What you saw might be as simple as the after-image one sees after staring at an image, then the image is removed or changed."

    However it was such a novel and completely unexpected experience I was completely smitten. And possibly more so because there had been previous hi-tech presentations with all sorts of bells and whistles that just went way wide of the mark.

    As Kellen says "Sometimes simpler is better"

    And I'd agree.
  12. John MacPherson - perhaps it was me that was temporarily humor impaired. Thanks for
    the comments.

    FWIW, I have experienced the after-image effect in ordinary conditions, so I naturally
    fostered that thought. It happens especially with imposed complementary colors, and
    requires a saturation of the eyes which a long display could cause. ('course, maybe it
    helped to do light shows in the sixties where we exploited the effect... even though we
    didn't know how we did it.)

    Hope we are okay. John.
  13. Yup, I remember those light shows, some done on an "overhead" projector using viscous multi-colored gloop between two pieces of glass. "Liquid light" it was called. The top glass was curved, like an oversized watch crystal, and it was moved in time to the music. I really suspect that a lot of the strange visual effects we experienced back then were more due to the herb we smoked and the chemicals we ingested on sugar cubes. Them wuz the daze!
  14. We live in a fast paced world. Yeah, I know.......obvious, right? But, i don't think most of us realize how much it actually is geared to moving fast, looking fast, listening fast.......parallel processing.......more, more, more!

    I'm 55 yo.......I essentially grew up in the change. The web has me zipping thru pics, if the site don't have a slide show thingie, I get bored pressing the mouse button.......if it has one, I reset the nominal viewing time of 5 seconds to 2 seconds just to get thru them faster.

    But, like I said, I grew up in the change, and some things die hard with me. I go to a museum, or gallery......and I'm the slowest person in there. I grow roots in front of the pieces. One thing I have never gotten away from is listening to music. No, not doing the dishes while i listen, not even reading a book while i listen..........just sit there and listen. album after ablum, motionless on the couch.......just absorbing the music. Or, actually, it's more like the music absorbs me. I take a ride on the, up, down, and out, back in again.

    When I edit my own pics, sometimes I end up staring at the screen......transfixed. Yeah, sometimes it's just trying to figure out if the stupid pic is any good or not.......but occasionally, one of my pics takes me on that ride. Into it, thru it, and out the other side.

    I know exactly how you felt John viewing that slide show. And yes, it is an odd feeling. You actually kinda lose yourself in the image. If it's a well constructed image, it's even more fascinating to look at slowly.

    I also remember reading some art columns where museums and galleries are doing things to slow people down. Limitting the amount of images in a show. This allows people to spend more time on each knowing that there are only 10 to look at.........vice 150. One museum even encouraged visitors to get down on the floor to look at antiques from underneath.........heh......great idea actually....don't think even I have ever done that.

    I honestly do know the virtue of looking at art slowly. But, I also grew up, having to change at my place of work, to doing things faster. Absorbing enough to "get the idea". perhaps that's what's really wrong with big business today. They only get a glimpse of the idea behind a product or service they engage in. Maybe thats why "windows xp" has 2 major software service packs and continueing. Maybe that's why laptop batteries are being recalled faster than ford pinto's.
  15. very interesting post, john. do you remember what music he used for the presentation, what
    group or artist? it obviously was very important in what happened. ( i was trying to visualize
    your experience and King Crimson came to my mind ). thanks for the post.
  16. jbs


    You had a moment. And even better, you had a moment with your friend.
  17. John, it reads like the host did what he wanted, at least for the audience of you and your friend. Perhaps that's enough for him, and you have reminded us of what can happen. I am a pragmatic person, but it is a fact that inspiration spreads in mysterious ways.
  18. I've had similar thing happen when listening to classical music, very modern stuff, it was one chord played continuously for about one half hour, after a few minutes my mind started to make melodies to this chord which were enchanting, they say that beauty lies within us so maybe it just takes a little time to emerge.
  19. ....picking up on this thread again....

    Pico - we're fine! I think we share the same sense of humour, and I really enjoy your posts and many responses! You often cause me to stop and think.

    David - cant recall the music now I come to think of it, but it was very pastoral, not classical, but more instrumental folk inspired. It certainly wasn't Crimson!

    Peter - I know what you mean - I like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley - something quite peculiarly satisfying about the 'less' in their music. I've tried to draw an analogy with their music and the best I can come up with is its the aural equivalent of staring down onto a tray of two dozen eggs (try it and see what I mean!).

    Anyway whatever....this simple presentation really took me somewhere - very nice images, dramatic to be sure, but the way the person who took them presented them, slowly and deliberately, produced something far greater than the sum of its parts and for me that was both magical, and a real lesson in how much I dont know.
  20. Just after reading this forum I found this on the net, I'm not sure how related it is but you may find it interesting. Below is an extract the full piece can be found on

    Some factors related to personality may have an influence on perception. One such factor is 'tolerance of ambiguity' (a term employed by Else Frenkel-Brunswik). In 1951, two psychologists called Block reported an experiment in which subjects were placed in a dark room where only a point of light was visible. Since they had nothing else to go by, all of them saw the light sway in various directions. However, some reported the light as moving in a constant direction from trial to trial and to a constant number of inches. Such people have been described as having a low 'tolerance of ambiguity': they require more stability than most, and quickly tend to manufacture it in situations of ambiguity. Other people tend to take longer to establish such a norm: they have a high tolerance of ambiguity.

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