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Publication Detail
Visual Deception and the Beholder in Cinematic Space: the role of imaginative perception in film viewing
  • Publication Type:
    Thesis/Dissertation
  • Authors:
    Cammack J
  • Date awarded:
    01/07/2011
  • Supervisors:
    Rees A,Mather G,Kennard C
  • Status:
    Accepted
  • Awarding institution:
    Royal College of Art, London
  • Date Submitted:
    27/04/2011
  • Keywords:
    Perception, ambiguity, uncertainty, seeing-as, phenomenology, early vision
  • Addresses:
    Royal College of Art
    Kensington Gore
    London
    SW7 2EU
    UK
Abstract
This thesis investigates the experience of viewing unstable moving-images and proposes a provisional framework for how they are perceived. The term ‘unstable’ is used to indicate cinematic images whose representational content is not immediately recognized, and which do not readily resolve into a single, reliable interpretation. The perception of ambiguous images is investigated within the broader context of cognitive film theory, and from the distinct and often contrasting viewpoints of neuroscience and phenomenology. Framed by the Direct and Constructivist models of perception, the research draws on aspects of both approaches to analyse the phenomenal experience of the film viewer in response to specific, ambiguous visual stimuli. It combines the neurological models of uncertainty, proposed by Zeki, and of pre-attention, proposed by Rensink, with the phenomenology of Jean-Paul Sartre on the role of the imagination, and applies these to perceptual experiences that occur at the margins of the film viewing experience. In suggesting connections between these approaches, particularly in terms of the experience of uncertainty and the perceptual phenomenon of ‘seeing-as’, this thesis also situates first-person, phenomenal experience at the centre of an interdisciplinary research methodology. The investigation focuses on a number of classic and still controversial issues in the perception of ambiguous, moving images, including the illusion of movement itself. It analyses experimental films by Stan Brakhage, Peter Gidal, Guy Sherwin, Robert Morris and others, in which visual ambiguity is constructed as part of the inherent subject matter of the films themselves. Other visual experiments have been specially designed for the research project, and explore specific details of unstable moving-images such as motion reversal, the ‘hollow-face’ illusion, and visual paradoxes. The research proposes a model of ‘re-cognition’ to account for the ways in which visual perception is a revisionary process of scanning for clues and testing possible solutions. At the same time, it argues, perception is an open-ended engagement in which ambiguity is a productive and even creative element. It also suggests that cognitive film analysis can contribute to the emerging fields of neuroaesthetics and neurophenomenology, and gives some examples from practical research carried out using MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imagng) procedures. Conducted as Research by Practice, the questions and issues considered here have been approached through a symbiotic process of writing and making in order to identify and dissect the perceptual phenomena under investigation. As a result, the accompanying video works serve not only to visualise but also to explore further some of the theoretical questions addressed in the discussion of earlier works by film artists and directors. They also suggest approaches that might be useful to the filmmaker interested in manipulating our response as audiences, through a better understanding of the relationship between what we see and what we think we see.
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