If you ever wondered what silence looks like, there you go! This absence initially is a bit of a riddle. The easy part is understanding the expression on her face. Then you need to interpret the empty balloon. Those who know anything about comics, will know that it’s not just a weird ellipse, but a bubble that’s missing words. Also, this is a speech, rather than a thought, balloon. So, this absence denotes speechlessness or silence. You may then just conclude that it’s her silence. Her emotions took the place of words. But it gets trickier. The tail of the bubble is pointing away from her – which standardly means that the bubble belongs to the “off-screen” character – one who is not a part of the visible scene. So if it’s not her bubble, this silence belongs to the person we don’t see! A double absence.

Comics are hard.

 

Speechless

Dumbledore’s absence seen through the eyes of Harry Potter. I’ve been thinking about the difference between remembering and experiencing an absence. Harry is not merely remembering – that much is clear from the context of the movie. In film, remembrance is typically conveyed through the imagery of the things remembered. When depicting an absence, we are often shown abandoned objects – empty rooms, chairs, beds, even landscape. Here, Dumbledore’s absence is poignant because we see traces of his presence: his eye glasses, an opened book, a mug. They cause Harry to remember Dumbledore more vividly and as a result invoke an acute sense of his absence.

 

Interrupted presence

Paul Gauguin sans pants. Picture was taken by a Czech Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha when he shared a studio with Gauguin in Paris in 1895. This photo illustrates the idea that drastic violations of expectations tend to produce more vivid experiences of absence than more subtle incongruences. What makes violation of expectation drastic? Context often plays a role. If you are at the beach, you won’t be experiencing ubiquitous absence of pants on people. You would just be seeing bare legs. And if your family members like to walk around inside the house not fully dressed, it’s unlikely that you’ll notice absence of pants on them since you are used to them looking this way. In this photo, Gauguin’s solemn expression, his place at the musical instrument, and a suit jacket make lack of pants conspicuous. All this ensures that our expectations are violated. It also shows that violations of expectations, and hence, absences can be comical.

Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939). Paul Gauguin. Playing the Harmonium in Mucha’s Studio, c.1895.

 

Gauguin

This painting, regarded as the most important work by the German surrealist Richard Oelze, argues its subject – presence of expectation – by destroying our expectations about what we see. Fedoras turned toward ominous sky give us a clue: we think that there must be something important up there that everyone is seeing. Our observation of the sky, however, reveals nothing. This pushes us toward a different interpretation: that the people are expecting something. As a result, our initial impression of absence is replaced by a sense of foreboding.

I think that there is a marked difference between experiences of waiting and experiences of absence. Compare hearing the footsteps of someone who is about to enter the room (expectation without an experience of absence) and seeing that someone is missing from the room. But maybe the difference is not intrinsic, and sometimes, our anticipation of an object essentially involves experiences of its absence.

 

Expectation

William Eggleston’s photographs are nostalgic and subtle. They are about the mundane without glorifying it. He calls it “a democratic way of looking around: that nothing was more or less important.” Is this photograph merely a memory of the mundane – of cotton candy and going to county fairs? Since you are on this blog, you are likely to be looking for absences and may notice that one cotton candy is missing. Could it be that this photograph is not really about a row of cotton candy, but about an absence of one? Is it inviting our imagination to come up with a story about why it’s gone? Maybe, there was a kid who was saving up for one and got his treat at last. Or maybe, the business was slow that day and no one was buying them. Or is absence of one cotton candy just as mundane as was its presence?

 

Cotton Candy

Antique statues are rarely preserved completely – we often see them missing heads or limbs. So, this particular absence comes by a surprise. That something is missing becomes evident once we follow Venus’ gaze and see her arm position. What exactly is absent is harder to figure out (I thought it was a musical instrument). What kind of an absence do you see?

Spoiler alert: here’s the original description of Venus of Capua from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Italy: “Aphrodite partially disrobed, her arms raised to hold a polished shield in which to gaze at her reflection (missing).”

 

This picture is interesting because it depicts an absence in a way that does not immediately grab your attention. The absence sneaks up on you only after you scrutinize the building and figure out what kind of a room it is. In my case, I ended up with a somewhat incongruent experience of absence because I am not used to buildings of this type looking this way. So, my experience just keeps switching to a positive experience of the beautiful detail in the interior and the architecture.

I liked this picture because it shows how subtle absences of large objects may be. What are you seeing? Did it take you a while to see an absence or did you notice it immediately? Do you think it has to do with how the picture is taken (the angle or the perspective) or with the character of the building interior?

 

What’s missing?

A Ringwraith from The Lord of the Rings. There is an obvious resemblance between this image and the previous image I’ve posted. Their contexts, however, are different and I wonder if that affects our experiences. In the previous image, we know that the model’s face is rendered invisible to us due to lighting effects. The Ringwraiths’ bodies, on the other hand, have faded and can’t be seen in any lighting. Does this knowledge alter our experiences? I’m also curious about how specific our experiences are. Are we aware of absence of a female or a male face when we see these images? Or are our experiences indifferent to that?

 

Face of the Invisible

This picture is from a fashion shoot photographed by Armin Morbach for a German fashion magazine. The model’s face is visible in all the preceding pictures, making its absence in the final picture striking. When I first saw this photo, I immediately thought of the Nazgûl from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The Nazgûl, or the Ringwraiths, are Sauron’s immortal King-servants whose physical form faded with time and became invisible to humans. I wonder if we experience absences of their faces differently than absence of the model’s face since we know that the Ringwraith’s faces are never visible. Image of the invisible Riders coming soon.

 

Face

I thought it’d be perfect to launch this blog with this screencap of absence. It’s a page I landed on when looking for a template for this blog. After browsing through hundreds of examples, none of which were quite right, I finally spotted a perfect candidate. Excited, I clicked the icon to view the full-size demo. The page loaded, and…  I saw an absence!

You may have seen a different kind of absence when you saw this image — perhaps because you expected something different from the first post (or from this blog).  At any rate, I’ve achieved my result — you saw an absence. Welcome to my blog and expect a lot more violated expectations here.

 

Electronic absence