Geoffry D. Hinton
"All Things Being Equal"
Part 2
All texts and photographs copyrights owned by Geoffry Dean Hinton
     "Locke's position places restrictions on the scope of the imagination: whatever we make up we will only ever be compounding simple ideas that ultimately originate in experience." 
     John Locke, 1632-1704 
     "Any reference to the nature of character of the world is a reference to, and is only intelligible as a reference to, actual or possible experiences. What we immediately perceive in vision is a flat, two-dimendional array of colours and shapes. in the New Theory of Vision Berkeley presents arguments to show that distance is not something immediately perceived but something constructed from certain orderly relations of the ideas of different senses in the mind. Thus to say an object is one mile away is just to say that a certain sequence of ideas -- for example, those constituting the experience of walking forward -- would have to go through the mind before we received such-and-such ideas of touch. This lays the groundwork for the view that what is perceived (the object of perception is something at a distance from us, is therefore always something in the mind." 
     George Berkeley, 1685-1753
      "Flat" reality, in both painting and photography, is termed flat not just because the images may appear flat, but because "causality" has been reduced or removed. It is also said that the images are "emptied out". The removal of causality has interesting philosophical roots and reasoning. Examples of causality may be nationalism, communism, fascism or history in general: it may be political or sociological. Through cause we may seek interpretation or "meaning". Often this meaning is subjective or manipulated. So it may be desirable to remove causality so as to reduce the act of interpretation. The importance of this can be seen when it is placed next to recent political events, such as war.
     Deconstruction is also possible with a flat reality: a scene that has been reduced, that is, say, a peaceful, quiet scene is easily deconstructed when we recognise that "peacefulness" is suppressing its opposite, namely chaos. In this way we achieve a truer understanding of both "peacefulness" and eruptive "chaos". 
     The development of this attitude, however, needs further inquiry. 
     My own personal interest dates to around 1976 or 1977, when I was staying at a friend's studio in Paris. It was a psudo-Existential lifestyle while I worked on small very reduced paintings  
-- a collection of ten or so -- all the while listening to Brian Eno (Another Green World) and David Bowie (Low) -- great stuff -- and reading James Joyce in between. The great Modernist exhibition "Paris -- New York"" was on at the Georges Pompidou Centre, at the time.
     Jean-Paul Sartre developed many of his ideas for Existentialism from the writings of the German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), who coined the term Phenomenology. In Phenomenology Husserl developed the technique known as "eidetic reduction"; reducing something -- a scene or a situation -- to its most basic essence: the thing-in-itself, so as to apprehend reality truthfully. 
     Jacques Derrida also went to Husserl and Hussserl's work on language and consciousness to develop the theory and technique of Deconstruction. 
     Much of the work of both Existentialism and Deconstruction was applied to shattering the myths of Modernism: Utopianism and unifying concepts, and the supposed ability of humans to perceive and to know all. This was exemplified in the two Joyce extravaganzas Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. 
     Common to both Existentialism and Deconstruction is the "impartial gaze".
     In painting, in particular, we have clear examples of eidetic reduction: the still-lifes of Morandi; the colour works of Joseph Albers and the "flags" of Jasper Johns ("The painting of a flag is always about a flag or about a colour or about the physicality of the paint, I think."). Robert Ryman is another painter that comes to mind. 
     There is also another oblique lineage from Egyptian decorative art and the aesthetic ideal of two-dimensional "flat" images to certain periods of Picasso and to the early Egyptian paintings of David Hockney. 
     It should be noted here that eidetic reduction is not Minimalism: indeed it is the opposite. The Structuralists, Barthes, Piaget, Saussure and Levi-Strauss, held that individuals were units in a meta-structure. There was no "free will" as was held by the Existentialists. And this can be evidenced in Minimal art where the only relationships were between particulars -- rather than the particulars themselves. Structures are basic to human knowledge, it was held. Minimalism is then both Modernist and Structuralist.
     With flat reality there may not necessarily be any relationship between particular images. 
     There are some traits, however: 
          Removal of causality 
          It is not Utopian or promoting unifying systems 
          Intervention by the artist is restricted 
          The truthfulness of reality may be tested by eidetic reduction or may be deconstructed. 

     Christopher Isherwood, at the beginning to his Berlin Stories, famously stated that "I am a camera", impartially recording the world about. Of course this is not entirely true as the artist is participating, selecting. However, the truth of the reality will be recognised by others.

     Thomas Mann once stated that "having imagination does not mean thinking up something; it means making something out of things". 
     As has been noted Locke sought to limit imagination for its own purpose. The imagination, without limits, is not in the service of truth. 
     The question that remains is: Do we construct the conditions for our experience, and in so doing, our reality; or, is it from our various experiences that we are conditioned and so construct a reality? 
     For the artist -- painter, photographer, and so on -- this must remain as a central issue. 
     In Phenomenology we have the terms "eidetic reduction" and "eidetic image". It was held that a visual image holds little or no true information as the act of seeing is an act of the imagination, that is, in the first case, an act of construction and so interpretatiom. 
     It was held that the only true eidetic image was that of a child's scribbles and musings, as they are done without the filtering of reflection. An eidetic reduction would be the conscious selection of information or images which are then reduced, either singularly or in a constructed situation, to the bare essence of that image or information. This reduction served to limit the imagination, and so the act of interpretation, allowing the viewer to see the essential truth of that image or information. 
     In ancient times the Sceptics developed the technique of the "epoche" now commonly termed as an act of "bracketing": This was a stopping of the act of opinion forming, a holding back. The imagination is also suspended; simply put a condition of "One doesn't know" or uncertainty is put into effect. For the Sceptics "doubt" was an essential component of "belief". 
     In recent times the technique of epoche has led to the "gaze": the fixed stare that holds no meaning except as a way to isolate a situation before the act of interpretation. It must be recognised that with the gaze there is no memory, as the gaze is not an event, nor is it a filter.
     With the contemporary technique of the gaze there is no relationship to belief or doubt. It simply is a technique. 
     The act of taking a photograph may be one of constructing a "reality" which is then suspended -- it in fact holds little or no information as it is only an empty bracket which cannot be called experience. However, when that bracketing ceases and the act of interpretation is stimulated the central issue returns: Is the photographer not aware that he/she is constructing the reality for his/her experience, or is it the experience of the external "landscape/reality" that constructs the photographer's reality (news/war photography being a case in point.)
     The instant in measured brevity of "taking" a photograph is a suspension, a bracketing or epoche: there is is a suspension of judgement to allow for possibilities in interpretation: This is not to say that consideration is not given to what the gaze is fixed upon; the gaze, one's attention has been "captured" by something, before the camera then mechanically and distantly "captures" what has captured the observer's attention. The printed photograph, then, in turn, "captures" the attention of secondary viewers and so slowly a second "reality" is constructed. This secondary reality though, retains an essential element of truth, as both imagination and interpretation have been virtually eliminated. This secondary reality may be the only "true" reality. The subject and the question of technique enter here; the sensational, the dramatic are not suitable for the aesthetic of Phenomenology or Existentialism, as the sensational has already been defined by an act of interpretation; indeed "truth" can only be found in the mundane, the common, where causality and wonder (awe) have been removed. The commonness of the ocean can produce an awe which is interpreted as religiousity; the act of representing it can "reduce" that awe to the sense of simply a heaving mass of water; it's factuality. 
     Paradoxically, skillfull technique can serve to enhance the non-moment of bracketing as technique serves to create distance between the viewer and that which is viewed. This distancing is seen as a prerequisite of objectification; which is considered an essential in truth-finding. 
     But is the non-moment of bracketing still an act? For the artist it must be, what's more it must be a conscious act, whereas the choice of subject may be unconscious or on the spur of the non-moment. Aesthetically this positions the artist, posits the artist's images, somewhere between Surrealism and Existentialism; this can be referred to in cinema, literature, photography and in the essential American painting of Edward Hopper whose entire oeuvre is posited so, constructing a second reality of Anerican life -- and hence its aura of truthfulness, of fidelity.
The method and aesthetic of Phenomenology -- "that nothing is known save by a knowing subject" -- , a necessary illusion,  allows us to escape from interpretations of "reality": a reality we may have constructed from our experience, or a reality which imposing itself upon us: these may be dogma, the dogma of a laissez-faire economy, or a tiranny -- the tiranny of an established aesthetic order -- Modernism, for example; both of which seek to establish the terms for truth and reality. 
     The so-called "Flat Reality" anti-aesthetic which here has been retermed "secondary reality" is now, paradoxically, established as a legitimate contemporary aesthetic; paradoxically by its practicioners who have added it to the body of history of art.
Adorno, Theodore W.; Subject and Object 
Herbert Read; Icon and Idea 
Susan Sontag; Against Interpretation 
Jean-Paul Sartre; Nausea 
Alain Robbe-Grillet; The Erasers/Last Year At Marienbad 
Antonioni; L'Eclipse/ The Passenger 
Marcuse, Herbert; The One-dimensional Man /On Science and Phenomenology 
Merlau-Pomty, Maurice; The Phenomenology of Perception 
Kranzfelder, Ivo; Hopper
Additional notes: 
"Ambient mindscape", a current term which appears to suggest Berkeley's description of the unconscious mind as belonging to the background whereas the conscious mind is at the foreground. The mid-point is the moment of the Existential gaze. 

Desconstruction would be Berkeley's description, in reverse. After co-inventing Cubism, Picasso went on to intuitively deconstruct Cubism. 

Distancing: the German painter Gerhard Richter developed the technique of painting from photographs, intentionally removing the artist from the subject. this is another method of eidetic reduction. Eidetic reduction offers no object of satisfaction, for the viewer. 

Structuralism: In France, this meant a rejection of the conceptions of individual autonomy. Instead individuals were seen a mere place-holders in social networks or structures and the idea that they are human objects, i.e. agents whose decisions can influence the course of social events, was regarded as an illusion. 

Modernism: this had the unfortunate trait of the heroic endeavour, therefore such titles as "Ulysses"; at the time other authors were Ezra Pound and the doubting Modernist T.S. Elliot (The Waste Land). The Apollo space program was the pinnacle of Modernist endeavour.