Friday, January 28, 2011

Vermeer's "View of Delft" and photography

Vermeer’s View of Delft: though he may or may not have used a camera obscura as his aid, it is known that he reconstructed the view in order to satisfy his purpose. He could remove or add things and changed the proportion. For instance, the actual Nieuwe Kerk had to be taller than what he depicted. He, painting this, may have not changed his manner from the way he painted the other genre paintings; though the genre paintings are presented as a slice of life, the painters did not see the models placed like a scene of a play on the stage in order to depict. Rather, they constructed the scene on the canvas. It was like novel writing. In this sense, the difference between the historical paintings and the genre paintings is the difference of the subjects, but not the accuracy of resemblance. But View of Delft has a strikingly photographic effect. It presents itself as a pose, in the sense that Roland Barthes explains the nature of photography. Barthes says, “for the pose is not, here, the attitude of the target or even a technique of the Operator, but the term of an “intention” of reading: looking at a photograph, I inevitably include in my scrutiny the thought of that instant, however brief, in which a real thing happened to be motionless in front of the eye. I project the present photograph’s immobility upon the past shot, and it is this arrest which constitutes the pose (Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Vintage Books, Trans. Richard Howard, 1980, p. 78).” And I could argue that, in order to present the pose in that sense, it does not have to be photography. But here I do not aim to praise Vermeer’s mastery, but I point out the character of this painting because I assume it can help us examine what photographic reality is.

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