Lawrence Weschler, True to Life. Twenty-five years of conversation with David Hockney, University of California Press 2008
“I mean, for instance, wide-angle lenses!” Hockney exclaimed as we stood that afternoon on the deck overlooking his pool. “after a while I bought a better camera and I tried using a wide-angle lens because I wanted to record a whole room or an entire standing figure. But I hated the pictures I got. They seemed extremely untrue. They depicted something you never actually saw. It wasn’t just the lines bending in ways they never do when you look at the world. Rather it was the falsification – your eye doesn’t ever see that much in one glance. It’s not true to life.”
Hockney led me back into a the studio and picked up a magazine, thumbing randomly to an ad, a photograph of a happy family picnicking on a hillside green. “See? You can’t look at most photos for more than, say, thirty seconds. It has nothing to do with the subject matter. I first noticed this with erotic photographs, trying to find them lively: you can’t. Life is precisely what they don’t have – or rather, time, lived time. All you can do with most ordinary photographs is stare at them – they stare back, blankly – and presently your concentration begins to fade. They stare you down. I mean, photography is all right if you don’t mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralyzed cyclops – for a split second. But that’s not what it’s like to live in the world, or to convey the experience of living in the world.
“[…]Looking at you now, my eye doesn’t capture you in your entirety, but instead quickly, in nervous little glances. I look at your shoulder, and then to your ear, your eyes (maybe, for a moment, if I know you well enough and have come to trust you, but even then only for a moment), your cheek, your shirt button, your shoes, your hair, your eyes again, your nose and mouth. There are hundred separate looks across time from which I synthesize my living impression of you. And this is wonderful. If, instead, I caught all of you in one frozen look, the experience would be dead – it would be like…it would be like looking at an ordinary photograph.”
“[…] For perspective to be fixed, time has stopped and hence space has become frozen, petrified. Perspective takes away the body of the viewer. You have a fixed point, you have no movement; in short, you are not there, really. That is the problem. Photography hankers after the condition of the neutral observer. But there can be no such thing as a neutral observer. For something to be seen, it has to be an account of the experience of that looking. In that sense it must deeply involve an observer whose body somehow has to be brought back in.”
“[…] For instance, in the old Newtonian view of the world, in Newtonian physics, it’s as if the world exists outside of us. It’s over there, out there, it works mechanically, and it will do so with or without us. In short, we’re really not part of nature; it virtually comes to that. Whereas modern physics has increasingly thrown that model into question and shown it cannot be. Mr. Einstein makes things more human by making measurement at least relative to us, or anyway, to some observer; the supposedly neutral viewpoint is obliterated. There can be no measurement without a measurer. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is, of course, highly technical and specialized. It deals with a paradox in particle physics, showing how if you attempt to measure the velocity of a given particle you won’t be able to identify its exact location and vice versa. Previous to this, of course, science believed that given enough technical advancement, it would eventually be able to measure anything, but Heisenberg showed that this was not just a problem of not yet having the right measuring devices but that the problem was inherent in the nature of physical reality itself. The old conception of scientific inquiry had gone on as though we could measure the world as if we weren’t in it. Heisenberg showed that the observer, in effect, affects that which he is observing, so that some of those old borders and boundaries begin to blur, just as they do in cubism.
There’s that famous phrase of Gombrich’s about the triumph of Renaissance perspective – ‘We have conquered reality’ – which has always seemed to me such a Pyrrhic victory, again, as if reality were somehow separate from us and the world now hopelessly dull because everything was known and accounted for. These physicists, by contrast, were suggesting a much more dynamic situation, and I realized how deeply what they were saying had to do with how we depict the world, not what we depict but the way we depict it.”