Monday, September 24, 2007

The City, the Camera and the Optical Unconcious

Walter Benjamin believed there was a symbiotic relation between cities and the medium of film. He himself sought to describe cities in writing but he always saw this project as being a manner of translating images into words. For Benjamin, the city had to be understood as a visual panorama, or what we might call a cityscape. Photographers have long been fascinated by cityscapes and have tried to capture their richness and complexity in their art. There is a great website where you can see images of cityscapes taken using a special 360-degree camera. Some of the images are quite arresting. One of the things that gives these images their power is the fact that they record a view that is simply unavailable to the human eye at any single moment. They capture what Benjamin referred to as "the optical unconscious": a feature of the visual world that is unavailable to our ordinary perception. Check out this page for Hong Kong. Pick a location from the map and once it loads up drag your cursor over the panorama image to look around. It can be quite dizzying.


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