In ordinary life, virtually all objects we encounter are occluded. For example, I am in a cafe now and not a single chair I am observing is in full view. Moreover, a lot of large objects are cut off by my visual field. None of this, however, is particularly attention-grabbing. In art, occlusion and what is outside the field of view is confrontational, loaded with meaning. Sometimes, abrupt cut offs direct our eyes to what is in the field of view – what is truly salient. Sometimes, they offer an analysis of what is not seen, endorsing the invisible.

This picture does both. Much of Roy DeCarava’s work was driven by his sense of injustice that the black Americans “should go through life unseen.” However, his way of making them seen was not relying on references to stigma or trauma. He wanted to show “a life force that each of us has, a will to live and a will to be here.” Paradoxically, by letting the edge of the frame cut off human parts (bodies, heads) in this picture, DeCarava made that life force and humanity most visible.

PS The empirical prediction here is that most people will report seeing absence of the baby’s head and not absence of the body of the person who is holding the baby.

Bill and Son

  • April 15th, 2011
  • Posted in Absence

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