03 September 2008

Monkeying around with intentionality

An interesting question from Geoff Powell.

Summarising a larger two way email conversation, he asks whether this picture (Today 080831) "was meant to be interrelated by the viewer" and seen as The Great Monkey God? Gayle Reynolds, in an entirely separate observation, made the same specific "interrelation", referring to it as a monkey deity.

The making of that image went something like this.

  1. My eye is caught by the pink stone lurking inside the plastic centre hole of a café brolly support.
  2. My attention is held by the contrast with the bluish off white of the plastic.
  3. I look closer.
  4. I am further attracted by the surface stressing lines ("crazing" in Gayle's words) around the hole and support moulding.
  5. The combination of colour and texture decides me to stop idly looking and positively explore the image possibilities.
  6. I get down on hands and knees (to the usual curiosity of other customers and amused resignation of my ever patient partner) and examine the object from all sides, watching what happens as clouds scud across the sun, experimenting with different degrees of reflected light into the hole and onto that pink stone, doing that framing thing that we photographers and cinematographers do with our hands.
  7. I finally decide what I want, so bring the camera up and look through it.
  8. I've already decided how the dark and light masses will be related and framed so I adjust the position, height, attitude and angle of the camera to capture that.
  9. I get the viewfinder frame aligned exactly right. All the abstract elements fall into place ... and suddenly a baboon is looking back at me through the lens.
  10. I squeeze the shutter release at exactly the same moment that delight at this gift floods though me.

So ... here is why the question is so interesting to me.

Where does intentionality begin?

At the start of this process, I clearly did not have any intention of the viewer seeing a monkey god – because I didn't know it was there. There was no intention of interrelation in the creation of the image, then: only chance or, perhaps, at the very most, subconscious recognition.

After the event, having seen a baboon (not a monkey deity) after everything is already decided, I am choosing which one out of the day's several hundred images to post as my Today picture. The baboon who made itself known just as I squeezed the shutter release almost certainly figures in this choice – even more so than if I had planned it in deliberately – so I suppose the assumption that others will also see it probably, at some level, influences my choice. Is that intentionality?

I'd be interested to know how it looks from outside. What is the answer to Geoff's question? Was the monkey deity "meant to be interrelated by the viewer"? How does my head work?

Answers on a postcard, please...


Geoff Powell said...

The "texture" of this photograph reminded me of a K9 which led me to see a face. More robot like on reflection; perhaps a "robot" Monkey God ... I also saw faces on the 4th (Iron Man) 10th (Doleful Stone Man - his wife turned to flesh!) and 11th August (Warthog)

Poor Pothecary said...

We're talking pareidolia, the subset that very specifically targets faces. It sounds as if Felix focused very strongly on one element of the scene, and that was sufficient to mask perception of the whole - which very easily activates whatever cognitive goings-on register a face - until he took the sufficiently broader view of the image.

(Out of interest, I always see hexagonal plugholes as the faces of evil mice), and certain kinds of burled wood grain are fairly nightmarish (full of little evil skulls).

Anatol Nedelko said...

I do not see a monkey or a baboon. I see a voracious and destructive Brechtian machine slaughterer. It is strided, devouring, from the library of imagination into a pictured reality.

Poor Pothecary said...

A bit like the Moloch machine from Metropolis?

Felix Grant said...

Anatol Nedelko, and Poor Pothecary: Good Grief, Charlie Brown!!!! [grin]