Bassam Lahoud

Artist Statement - Looking and Seeing - The Power of Selection of the Look

Artist Statement - Looking and Seeing - The Power of Selection of the Look, Lille cultural capital of Europe. Prof. Bassam Lahoud, Lebanese American University, September 2004

I would like to begin with those 2 words that are related directly to the forum and in the same time to my intervention, The Power of Selection of the Eye.

Because the brain helps us to see, the eye being an optical device, a sort of a lens with iris, pupil, retina…our way of looking and seeing is related directly to our education, culture, and experience in life. All those elements lead us often to see things that the others don’t see and want to see things that the others don’t want to see.

When we walk in the street, we look anywhere, without really concentrating on a specific subject. It happens often to us to be stopped by an acquaintance that would be in front of us and that we don’t see. It could be annoying, but most probably, at that time, we were concentrating on something else, or just simply be elsewhere.
A man who is looking for instance at many women would only see one, definitely would concentrate on a part of her, maybe a detail, that could be the element that attracts him most.

The movement of the subject is also an important element that would attract the look of the person and could change his vision.

Speaking of education, of culture, and of experience, a child less than 5 years old, would react in relation to the look of a person, in a different way than an adolescent, an adult, or an aged one.
The fact of looking at certain parts of those subjects, would push them to make a movement towards the part where they looked at, and this depending on the education they received, their culture, and their experience in life, and to give the possibility to the one who is looking to select what he could see, also depending on those 3 criteria mentioned above.

The human being reacts differently to landscape, and to architecture, but he comes back always to the same elements, Education, Culture, Experience.

He will find himself in front of an inanimate subject, but alive, alive thru the instant that we share either with someone or by the way of looking at this landscape of architecture.

We keep it alive thru our framing, our selection of detail, in a relation of course with the lighting, the balance of volumes, the contrast…
I speak often about the “NATURAL FRAME”, element that personalizes a point of view, a selection of the look.

The look in photography, is related directly to the photographer, and the instant seen and fixed eternally in a cliché, is seen only him when he takes it.

The difference between the camera and the eye is precisely this power of selection.
The eye selects what it wants to see, because of its relation with the brain, but the camera needs many lenses to reach this selection.
When we take a photo of a person, we have this tendency to see only this one and to ignore the background and other elements that could come with the picture.
I always give the example of a portrait with an electrical pole or a tree in the background that would be exactly behind the head seeing as a unicorn.

The eye selects what it wants to see, but the camera, thru the different focal lenses, could technically show us an enlarged detail or could get things closer by using the telephotos or macro lenses…or a scene that a normal lens could not select, like the use of wide angles and fish eyes.
The psychological effect of the look and the camera on the human being is an important element in photography. The relation between the photographer and the subject is basic to succeed in his photography. We must know that many people would feel bad in front of a camera, feeling penetrated in their intimacy, that would make them fragile, and would refuse to pose. Others, because of a loss of trust, would also react the same way. The photographer must know how to convince by his approach and his way of looking, so to relax the subject.
We end getting into the intimacy of the people with our way of looking at them, and talking to them, and finally fix their character, showing their weak or strong point, and penetrate their inside.

The photography of landscape and architecture is related directly to this power of selection of the look, the “NATURAL FRAME” being one of the important elements of the picture, and in the same time to the photographic instant linked to the lighting and colors.

Photography in Black and white or in colors is not related directly to my presentation, but it could be also an element in the selection of the look, because those factors would influence our way of looking thru the camera. The vision of a picture in black and white would be different from the one win color. It would be a topic to be discussed separately.

The eye or the camera, whatever, the selection of the look is related to our education, culture and experience.

I am insisting on those elements, but for me, those are so important that they are influencing our creativity, our way of looking at things, and of course defining our artistic character, that would lead us at a certain point to a certain “VOYEURISM”, a sort of obsession of the look, and definitely an influence of the look on the subject you look at.

We end up getting into the intimacy of people and get out what does not get out normally.

The photographer is, in fact, the only fixed element in a photo, because we discover his look thru his picture.
The photographer and the photo unite in the eternity of the instant and become “one”

I spoke about the power of selection of the look in photography, but the fact of having a double formation of photography and architecture, led me to integrate in architecture my look of photographer, and in photography my look of architect, and to create a sort of “voyeurism” thru the lightings and the openings in architecture and in photography.