I'm preparing to leave for the second part of my holiday. This time I'm going to the Alps for an other fifteen days. I'll spend a week in my cabin in the woods, and, hopefully some time at 4000 meters taking pictures of the Bernina's glacier lake. But before leaving I've put together some more references in an attempt to give an alternative route to the already cited "John Constable and the Theory of Landscape Painting" by Ray Lambert.
The ecologist approach to vision
Back in the seventies of the last century a silent revolution in natural sciences happened. Partly due to the accumulation of large masses of empirical data, partly for the influences of the new toy in town (the computer) and partly for the spirit of the times (many of you certainly remember the habit of questioning everything we used to have) new ideas and radical departures started to appear.
It was a real scientific revolution in the terms of paradigmatic shifts as T. Kuhn pointed out.
Unfortunately the level of specialism was so high that the diffusion of the new ideas has been very slow. I'm going to cite a passage form Maturana and Varela's "Autopoiesis and Cognition" that I hope will exemplify the question. The fragment is from the introduction by Maturana and depicts some of the questions he confronted with after the famous studies on the frog's vision:
"There are many visual configurations, with uniform and variegated spectral compositions, in simple and complex geometric forms, that give rise to indistinguishable color experiences. How should one, then, look for the invariances in the activity of the nervous system, if any, in relation to the perception of color ? After we realized that the mapping of the external world was an inadequate approach, we found that the very formulation of the question gave us the clue. What if, instead of attempting to correlate the activity in the retina with the physical stimuli external to the organism, we did otherwise, and tried to correlate the activity of the retina with the color experience of the subject ?"
This is clearly a huge jump in cognitive terms. More or less the same happened in theories about human visual thinking. The main actor of this parallel development was J.J. Gibson soon followed by Ulric Neisser.
Gibson questioned the role of two-dimensional representations as simplification of the three-dimensional space of the real world. I wont get into the details of this since it would go well beyond the purposes (and the reader's courtesy) of a blog post. It suffices to say that this opened up several new perspectives in the study of any kind of imagery the Homo Sapiens produced. For us, photographers, this means the end of the naive approach used by several Psychologist that, I bet, always makes you uncomfortable in the reading.
The work of Ray Lambert relies heavily on the study and assertions of Gibson in approaching Constable's painting.
Fortunately the core ideas of Gibson are available for free (as in beer) in the form of a debate that went on between Gibson and Gombrich. Here is the link. As a starting point it is advisable to read first Gibson's "The Ecological approach to the visual perception of pictures ?" that fully summarizes his findings, here.