Inside a crashing car one has the experience of time slowing down. Studies suggest that the sense of time slowing during a crisis event is happening during recollection, not during the perception of the event as it is happening. During the crisis event a larger than normal amount of information is being processed as an instinctual survival mechanism. The processing of more than the normal amount of information creates an elongated perception of the event. (1.) We see that recollection is an important part of the process of perceiving and understanding an event.
When does memory start and how does it relate to the present? There are many different theories about this process. I'm working in a model that believes memory starts immediately.
During visual perception and cognition, or simply put, seeing and understanding, we are seeing, and then thinking about what we just saw even if on a subconscious level, while perceiving what is happening in the now. Thus, a continuous flow of information is being perceived, processed, and stored, even while new information is coming in.
There is an oscillation happening while we see the world. There is the past, the immediate past and the now, all moving in the present time to create an understanding of what we are seeing. The way a person or people relates to elements of time: the past, the future, is important when understanding what is perceived and how it’s being understood.
In a linear world time view there are the past, the present and the future. Each are separate, stand alone elements. One could even describe them more precisely as the distant past, the past, the immediate past, the now, what is coming up, and the far off future. A different world time view, a cyclical time view, there are still the same components the past, the present, the future, but they are not stand alone elements, instead they are related as a whole, a holistic expression of one reality.
“Samsara is defined as the cycle of repeated birth and death in the material world.” (2.)
“The endless details and the oppositions of the samsara are there just to turn the mind in the direction where all oppositions are overcome and successions are embraced in a successionless consciousness.” (3)
The world time view of the old norse culture is a different model. “Thus, the Germanic universe divides temporally into past and nonpast. ... Man's world stands at the juncture of this past and the nonpast, that is, at that point, the present, in which events are in the process of becoming 'past'. The past is experienced, known, laid down, accomplished, sure, realized. The present, to the contrary, is in flux and confusion, mixed with irrelevant and significant details. What we nowadays call the 'future' is, within the structure of this Germanic system, just more of the nonpast, more flux, more confusion. ” (4.)
There are temporal world views such as "Presentism", “the doctrine that concrete reality is confined to the momentary present. Presentists deny any reality to the past or future.” (5.)
These different world time views reflect different psychological frameworks with which people perceive the world and its events. I’d like to consider both the cultural framework and individual circumstances as we consider time, perception, and cognition in an idea I call a “visual time signature”. A visual time signature is the perceptual and psychological framework of how one witnesses and relates to time, which underlies the process of perceiving and understanding. Visual time signatures may vary based on the event, such as the slow motion perception while in the crashing car, as opposed to a time signature of average, everyday life, or that of the zone of deep contemplation. Visual time signatures may vary throughout people and cultures A cultural notion of time, of the past, present, a future creates different world-views. Differences in visual time signatures can lead to differences in perception, interpretation and understanding.
In the arts, visual time signatures can lead to different aesthetics and different expressions. What is the tempo and tone of an image? How does the visual time signature affect the meaning of the image? Is there an emphasis on the past, or the present? What is the world time view in the image? Let’s think of these time questions when looking at work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams.
In Western contemporary society we consider time in three distinct parts. The past, the present and the future. It is linear. We are in the present. The past is gone. The future is coming, never here. We stand alone in a segment of time, the present. This lends itself to an understanding of events in individual units, slices of times, small “present moments” add up to one event which is immediately “the past”. Each individual “present moment” is a unit, a piece of data, a stepping stone that stands alone, and in sum helps define an event.
Henri Cartier-Bresson a master in the field of photography is known for “the decisive moment”. It is an aesthetic of photography’s documentary nature in which the photographer has successfully captured the single instance that best depicts or gives meaning to the subject or event photographed. This might be a picture of something just about to happen, which elicits as sense of titillation and anticipation in the viewer, “Uh oh! That person is just about to splash into that puddle!” It’s a single image, a single moment in time. It is based in singularity. This is a modernist aesthetic, from a linear visual time signature. It is discrete. The aim is to capture the best unique precise, present moment.
This is not to say that Cartier-Bresson was not incorporating the oscillation of vision in time in his process. Like an archer hitting a moving target, shooting photos for the decisive moment requires the calculation of the oscillation in physical terms. Especially in the time Cartier-Bresson was using cameras, there was one shutter release, one image, one instance at a time was photographed as opposed to digital cameras that have shutter bursts recording many images in a sequence while holding the shutter button. This means that the decisive moment had to be foreseen, anticipated. Shutter lag time needed to be accounted for, and the shutter button pressed at the precise moment when the subject and composition come together.
Another master photographer has a philosophy that counters Cartier-Bresson’s “Decisive Moment” aesthetic, though the two are not mutually exclusive. Ansel Adams said “You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” In Adams’ work the imagery is loaded with the meaning of past. This slows down the visual time signature of Adams’ work. Like the slow time movement in the crashing car, a shift in perception is caused by all the additional information that is in that processed. In Adams’ work the aesthetic speed, the tempo, the visual time signature is slower.
Does the an image of the same subject read differently in different time signatures? “Mountain” in a work by Ansel Adams piece, may carry all the past that “mountain” symbolizes. In a faster time signature like a Cartier Bresson, “mountain” may not be loaded with symbolic meaning.
The speed of thinking, the speed of making. The speed, the tempo changes both process and meaning. If we are in deep consideration, we are moving at a different tempo then if we are moving quickly. Is the subject considered at length, giving time to let meaning build, and nuances crystalize in detail? Or is there a faster pace, letting inconsequential details blur into a periphery while focusing only on the main subject? Each produces different imagery, which carries different emphasis, nuance and information.
What does photography look like when we witness the world from articulated expressions of visual time signatures and different perceptions of time?
Meta-Landscape is the photographing of the psychological landscape and the actual landscape. Meta-photography incorporates the photographer’s inherent personal perspective in the act of making an image. Imagery can be created within a particular world time view, with a chosen emphasis on the past or present.
Here are examples of using photography as a composite cinema of experience. The technique creates an image of multiple instances occurring during one event to show a broader range of the experience or subject being documented.