Monday, October 1, 2007
Here's looking at you
"Here's looking at you, kid," Tim Connor, All rights reserved
I wanted to watch people look at my photographs so I went to the Nelson Hancock Gallery, where five of my prints are in a show called Topos:Brooklyn . I sat in the center of the gallery’s main room facing the wall that displays my pictures. DUMBO was in the midst of its annual Under the Bridge Festival so a continuous stream of browsers came through the gallery. I sat there for about 45 humbling (but illuminating) minutes.
Most people seemed to fall into 2 categories. The first type -- I'll call them "scanners" -- drift into galleries & take in the ambience but don't look directly at the art work. Trust me, I verified this by repeated observation of their eyes. Typically, they raise their faces slightly & scan continuously through a visual hemisphere, then back, as they move through the space. It reminded me of my dog Charley's habit of elevating his nose & slowly swiveling his head, reading the canine scentosphere as he bobs along on his leash. It may be that the scanners, who usually stayed only a couple of minutes, were just being efficient. Some may lock onto pieces of art that meet their criteria, just as Charley freezes & zeros in, sniffing frantically, toward the aroma of other dogs. But I did not see this happen.
Those from the 2nd category had a related method. Typically, they stalk along the gallery walls at a steady pace, pausing their gaze no more than a second on each art work, until they have dutifully completed the task. Because they never give any work more than a single glance, I began to think of these people as "verifiers." "Hmm, a photograph, yes, another photograph, yes, yes, yes, photographs. " What surprised me was how relieved they seemed when they had finished looking.
I don't even need to state, do I, that the above are caricatures? Some browsers were enjoying themselves, taking their time on pictures that interested them, talking to their friends about what they were seeing & so on. Nevertheless I'd have to say the vast majority of those I watched fell roughly into one of those two categories.
Thus, toward the end of my experiment, I was particularly gratified to notice that a girl, about 7, who had come in with her father, continued to stand in front of my pictures after the father had moved to another part of the show. Looking up, the girl was completely absorbed. Her small hands were oddly clenched as she moved from picture to picture, studying them intently. I was fascinated to hear her say, "Oh, I get it!" but knew better than to approach her, a strange, gray-haired man asking strange questions. Meanwhile, her father was busy having a long conversation with friends. The girl stared at my photographs for over 15 solid minutes till her father came looking for her. I told him what she'd been doing & volunteered that I was very pleased she was taking such an interest. He called her over & tried to get her to talk about the pictures. She ducked her head against him in embarrassment. Poor baby.
Enough that she was really looking. Thanks, kid.