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Curious Frame - Issue #33 - Believing is Seeing

Curious Frame
Curious Frame - Issue #33 - Believing is Seeing
By Leanne Staples • Issue #33 • View online
Forgive my lateness and silence. I’ve been having some health issues. I’m feeling better now. In the meantime, it has eaten up quite a bit of my time with appointments. I haven’t quit Curious Frame.
Moving forward, I’m planning on publishing every other Wednesday. So the next issue of the newsletter will come out on Wednesday 23 June. 
Thanks for your well wishes and understanding!
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Believing is Seeing
Aliens Are Coming, New York City, March 2013
Aliens Are Coming, New York City, March 2013
Language is something that takes a considerable amount of time to learn. An infant will hear spoken language for a year before they even begin to speak. Longer if you believe that they are able to hear in utero.
Language and grammar are very complex systems. Once we learn a language it is so embedded in the way that we think that it is difficult to attempt to explain why we say things in the order that we do. 
It can also be difficult to recall the actual meaning of a word taken out of context. When we learn a second language we begin to understand how complex language is.
Raining on Fifth Avenue, New York City, February 2013
Raining on Fifth Avenue, New York City, February 2013
On the other hand, for the most part photographs need no explanation. When we see a photograph, we know what it is. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ll return to that thought in a minute. 
I’ve written a few times about how we easily get caught in the seeing is believing trap. No matter where we stand on the earth, we will always feel like we’re the center of the universe even while knowing that we’re not. 
But I’m not going down that path today. Actually, I’m going down the opposite path today. 
Earth. While we can't take a photo like this without being in outer space, we believe it to be an accurate representation of Earth.
Earth. While we can't take a photo like this without being in outer space, we believe it to be an accurate representation of Earth.
There’s been a war between the word and the image pretty much since the beginning of time. Well, at least since the beginning of the written word. 
The biggest players in this battle have been religions. But don’t worry, I won’t spend much time on that. 
In the beginning was the word (John 1:1) is a very good example of an attempt to make the written word a powerful force. God is seen as the author and authority. An author is an authority in the literal sense of the word.
Another example is the taboo of craven images and the ban on the use of images that depict idols or God. The word rules for many religions.
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales c. 1387-1400.
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales c. 1387-1400.
All written texts before Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales were written in the name of God as the author, authority and divine inspiration. He was seen as the first author of vernacular literature.
The vice of Luxuria, Amiens Cathedral, Amiens, France, 13th Century.
The vice of Luxuria, Amiens Cathedral, Amiens, France, 13th Century.
In the Middle Ages in Europe, images were used to communicate with the illiterate what was allowed and not allowed. That is to say those things which were considered sins. But it actually backfired on them. 
In the above image is pictured a couple kissing. “Canon lawyers of the thirteenth century… equated kissing with the major misdemeanor of fornication (sexual intercourse between an unmarried man and a woman) and the even more serious crime of adultery.”
Does art imitate life or life imitate art? For the peasants in the Middle Ages in Europe, the images of taboo worked both ways.
René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1929. Also known as Ceci pas une pipe or This is not a pipe.
René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1929. Also known as Ceci pas une pipe or This is not a pipe.
Fast forward a few centuries and there was a collision between art, literature and philosophy. 
In 1929, René Magritte created a rather flat painting with no brush strokes. It’s a rather simple image like you might see in a children’s book for learning words. 
What we see is a pipe and a the statement that this is not a pipe. It is a denial of the idea that seeing is believing.
The Treachery of Images as seen through Surrealistic philosophy is about “overthrowing the established oppressive rationalism of wealthy society.” Ceci pas une pipe is similar to saying “the map is not the territory.” (The above quote does not have an author attribution.)
I recently read about an anthropologist who studied a primitive tribe of people for a period of time. He took a number of photos of them. But when he showed them the photos they didn’t understand them. They didn’t recognize themselves. 
So yes, technology has changed everything. It’s not just the internet and digital photography. We certainly take for granted our ability to see and understand things as a result of all kinds of technology.
In photography’s early days there were people who thought that the ability to reproduce images photographically was evil. We’ve come a long way.
Four mysterious objects spotted in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1952.  "In the past few years, high-level officials have publicly conceded their bewilderment about U.A.P. (unidentifiable aerial phenomenon.)
Four mysterious objects spotted in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1952. "In the past few years, high-level officials have publicly conceded their bewilderment about U.A.P. (unidentifiable aerial phenomenon.)
Fast forward to 1946 and we have a new fascination. Well maybe not entirely new. The idea that aliens and ufos are out there has been around since the beginning of time.
It is kind of silly to think that there isn’t some kind of alien life forms in the universe. Maybe they just don’t look like the images that we see in popular culture. We don’t even know what to look for. 
So very recently the idea of aliens has made a big comeback in the media. There are of course, all kinds of grainy photos that are seen as proof of their existence by believers. Deniers see them as nothing more than photoshopped images even before Photoshop. 
We have all kinds of ideas of what ufos should look like. It is an exercise in imagination.
We have all kinds of ideas of what ufos should look like. It is an exercise in imagination.
We believe the photos to be true because we believe in the idea of the possibility of aliens. The opposite is true for those who don’t believe. 
Photography begs us to believe in what we are seeing. Perhaps some things can’t be seen by us. Or maybe it’s possible that we don’t know what to look for?
Photography can open our eyes to see and understand things we wouldn’t be able to otherwise. It can also be valuable in what it doesn’t show. That which we can’t see.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, East Village, New York City, March 2020.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, East Village, New York City, March 2020.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is a poem and a song by Gil Scott-Heron from 1971. I wonder what he would say now with the BLM protests?
His statement is somewhat similar to Magritte saying this is not a pipe. The revolution isn’t something that we can see and if we can see it, there is no single image that would be able to illustrate that.
The revolution will not come from corporations and Scott-Heron lists a number of ways that the revolution won’t occur.
There’s always more in life than the things that we can see, photograph or even read about. Even grainy photos of ufos can at least cause us to wonder about those things which are beyond our vision.
As always, I look forward to your comments. Have you ever had a sighting? Do you believe or think that the photos are helpful? And What do you believe about photography are all good topics.
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Further reading:
  • Kohlbert, Elizabeth. Swing On A Star: Have signs of intelligent life been found already? The New Yorker, 25 January 2021.
  • Lewis-Kraus, Gideon. The U.F.O. Papers: Why did we start talking about unidentifiable aerial phenomena seriously? The New Yorker, 10 May 2021.
  • Levi Strauss, David. Photography and Belief, David Zwirner Books, 2020.
Further listening:
This is Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Definitely worth the listen.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Skirting the Edges:
Talking about aliens, have you seen by multi-dimensional story of Skirting the Edges? It’s about artists, aliens and drag queens.
I am adding pieces all the time to my website. Some pieces are for viewing and others for purchase.
Skirting the Edges - Leanne Staples
Did you enjoy this issue?
Leanne Staples

In a world that is overpopulated with images, Curious Frame is where I share my thoughts on photography. It is always about ‘seeing with new eyes’.

I’m Leanne Staples, a photographer, artist, and writer living in New York City. Street photography and lens-based art are my passions, and Curious Frame is where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on these passions.

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