Down the barrel

Round Like a circle in a spiral…

 This morning I awoke thinking about lenses and the thought: Why aren't photographs circular? I mean the lenses produce circular representations of the light. It must be for practical reasons; glass plates, negatives, storage … convenience … who has or had the time to cut out circles? And storing circles … knowing which way was up. I got to thinking about how these early practical considerations have shaped the way we look at the world. How we frame and crop it to suit. Our cameras have shaped and at times constrained our view for so long that I feel sometimes we forget that the world is not cropped into 4×6 or square or 5×7 ratios … that the light coming into our lenses is circular and that we chop it up. Our eyes don't see in terms of square cut windows. I think it strange that with the advent of new technologies that potentially free us from the practical constraints of the past (such as digital imaging, capture and projection) we still cling to them … we call them imaging standards. I imagine that a camera that the captured the light in a circular fashion would be labelled 'novelty' or of 'limited practical use' simply because it did something new (there's an irony in there somewhere).

like a wheel within a wheel …

From a biological perspective, our eyes see circles. We are fortunate to have them hooked up to a superlative imaging system in our brains that creates the impression that we see much more than the circles of light refracted upside-down onto the back of our eyes. Our brains take this input and effectively stitch our visual reality together for us. Our visual experience appears so seamless because the transition between scenes is edited out. You can test this for yourself very easily by a simple experiment. Standing in front of a mirror, look at your left eye. Now look at your right eye. Did you feel your eyes move? Quite likely. Did you see them move? No, you didn't. That movement is a transitional scene that your mind edits out … I don't know why it does but it does. Magicians and sleight of hand experts exploit this phenomenon.

Now I don't spend hours in front of a mirror trying to see my eyes moving back and forth and I only present it here to illustrate how what we see is not always what we see.

The photograph: you're looking down the barrel of a 105mm field gun at a defence recruiting display at the Canberra Show. I loved the way the rifling spiraled away into the bokeh. The colour is a result of the crowd walking past the other end of the gun. Reference – sprial – blur – colour … what more could you want? Sometimes the world blurs into shape and colour … abstract forms and amorphous shapes (thankfully not when I'm driving 😉 ). It retains for a time the rigidity of frame, of reference but becomes something else entirely … something without frame or reference.

Did you try the experiment? Go find a mirror and try it now. Did you see your eyes move?


Geoffrey Dunn is a Canberra based photographer specialising in portraiture and event photography.




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