On Aesthetic Distance: A philosophical investigation on Cinematography in the Digital Age

Author _Eugenie Ying Guo Contact_eugenie.guo@gmail.com Essay_ AR2810 Philosophy of the Image and Architecture Tutor_ Patrick Healy, DSD Faculty of Architecture Delft University of Technology

ABSTRACT The making of cinemas is to interpret, recognize and assess the ontological value of cinemas’ being recording-realistic, and comprehensively to convey the personal wills of creators. Aesthetic distance forms the condition and space to carry out such actions. But when the condition loses its ground, and the deprivation of space occurs, in other words, in the realm of cinema, when audience no more acts as spectator but participatory subjective, we cannot see the primary purpose of cinemas any more.

KEYWORDS: interest relation, aesthetic distance, psychical distance, spatial distance, temporal distance, cinematography, lens, light- rendering/shading, angle of filming, pseudo-(aesthetic) distance, mirror stage theory, imaginary signifier, depth of field, movement, dimension, technology, empathy,


on the contrary. A metaphorical temporal distance. that in a context of Art. Kant denoted that in the course of aesthetic judgment. and that special. strains of watching and listening for distant and unlocalised signals. Aesthetics is in no way referring to a relationship between object and its spectator. it is apt to produce feelings of peculiar anxiety. ‘remoteness from us in point of time’. mostly seen in perspective painting. Beauty is a nonperceptional sensation of pleasure or satisfaction (wohlgefallen) and it does not exist in object. fears of invisible dangers. i. philosophers had already drawn attention upon the interest relations between observers and the literary aesthetic quality. In First Alcibiades. Bullough gave an illustration about fog in order to express a general connotation of distance he meant – psychical distance: Imagine a fog at sea. which I understand as an emphasis upon the psychical distance between spectator and object. is a factor that considerably weights in our appreciation. Within a course of judgment. but an act of contemplation based on investigating such a relationship. thus become preoccupation and is no longer pure aesthetic judgment. Kant (1790) in his The Critique of the Power of Judgment conveys his concerns about aesthetic judgment. and claims what he sees is beautiful. but an absolute disinterested attitude.e. Plato refuted the view of conceiving aesthetic as being practical and useful. doesn’t understand the impressionist sunrise and these unwieldy strokes at all. that it won’t be pure if it touches on even a slight sense of utilitarianism.C. always [2]    . Edward Bullough (1912) underlined in his essay Psychical Distance as a Factor in Art and as an Aesthetic Principle. The listless movements of the ship and her warning calls soon tell upon the nerves of the passengers. he says this piece of artwork is just specious. man must have no sense of possession. and this also forms an interpretation of distance. no biased cognition. Apart from the physical annoyance and remoter forms of discomfort such as delays.). expectant. a most obvious suggestion of the conception of distance is the actual spatial distance or represented spatial distance within the work. One expresses his being pleasant.I. tacit anxiety and nervousness. Could it be possible that both of these two men are having pure judgments of taste? And what if a third man claims that he can’t feel anything? Is there a right or wrong? Since the Hellenistic age. as noticed by Aristotle in his Poetics (335 B. for most people it is an experience of acute unpleasantness.The aesthetic distance Assume that two men are standing in front of Impression·soleil levant . a disinterestedness attitude is very much emphasized. The other.. thus much more reflective and distant. The discourse upon utility in aesthetics has never been withdrawn from the discussion table. neither could it be identified via spectator’s eyes.

the subjective is endowed with total freedom. Despite the experience of practical unpleasantness and danger may be caused. to anticipate for safety. The fog on sea is a fragment in one’s real life. In aesthetic appreciation of art. it twists with all your cognition. 2 I would give an extravagant example: the Nazca Lines [3]    . The time lost – the temporal distance created. the subjective. This simply explains why the things in memory are always better than how they really were. in another words. make a fog the dreaded terror of the sea (all the more terrifying because of its very silence and gentleness) for the expert seafarer no less than the ignorant landsman. All the reality urges you to detect danger. to dislike the fog that might cause every inconvenience in assisting you to realize your wills. a certain spatial distance enables a release of space and freedom for man’s visuality and cognition. taking a transcendental position to reproduce and optimize the objective. Insufficient spatial distance between the objective and the subjective would mislead the subjective to be lost in details thus neglecting the entire image2. on the other hand an insufficient distance would probably result in an                                                              1 I define spatial distance as a distance in regards to physical distance. The insertion of psychical distance (apparently there is no alteration in spatial distance nor in temporal distance1) alters feelings of mankind while makes the object detach from its interest relation with mankind. sea fog itself. You are just too close to the fog. expectation and practical needs. can certainly be a source of enjoyment. On the contrary. the biased angle of cognition can easily result in a distortion and deformation of aesthetics object consequently conveying false image. distribution of mediums in air and other contingent physical conditions. Antiques were never antiques when they were at use. When the distance in time has stretched the vertical dimension. I think the Bullough addressed psychical distance is exactly the deviation between object and spectator (the object and subject in a course of aesthetic judgment) regardless interest relation. an excessive distance would fail the appreciation fundamentally. temporal distance as distance in regards to vertical distance in time. will be presented with an entire discourse and features of the objective. beautifies the primary objective. becoming either a tool or an obstacle. emotion. Aesthetic appreciation can also be realized through a temporal distance evoked via the subtle filtration of memory and compensation of imagination (anticipation). there is no way for you to make pure judgment on the fog with an attitude of disinterestedness.associated with this experience. through recalling and imagination. an excessive spatial distance would probably provide the subjective with completely no image of the objective by virtue of diffusion of light. too much related. In the meantime. In the process of re-projecting. In the course of aesthetic appreciation of art.

The correspondence between a physical distance and a psychical distance ensures universality. A cinematographer does everything and nothing.overdose in utilitarian motif and thus losing the grounds of aesthetics. aspect ratio and framing is sometimes subjective. emphasizing a sense of intimacy and natural. [4]    . people were drown into the magical world. thus affecting the coherence of this cinematic artwork. Then the movement created by zoom-lens keeps abreast with the movement of scene (objects) in image space. Sometimes he only needs to click the shutter on camera. they set up series of ground rules about optical effect. it refers to ‘the making of lighting and camera choices when recording photographic images for cinema’. In cinema. In cinematography. – The interpretations of aesthetic distance in cinematography: choices of lens. lighting and angles of filming When the Lumière brothers for the first time publicly projected motion pictures onto screen on 28 December 1895. prime lens depict objects in a detailed and ordered manner. The use of wide-angle lens pushes out the interrelation within entities on one scene. The Dadaist Isidore Isou ever said that film (motion pictures. technically. audiences even ran away from the roaring train coming towards them from the screen. therefore cinematography and film production is merely a replication process of reality in ‘disordered ‘dimensions. about the printing and editing of films. The virtual reality. cinematography is composed of cinema and photography. Semantically. about type and position of lens. With a small depth of field. therefore generating brand new visual effects. demonstrating the will of cinematographer and film director. the use of lens interplays all aesthetic distances (psychical. Close-ups rely on the use of prime lens. Rituals of motion pictures worked in practice while exploring. forming a synchronized rhythm in which the camera ‘dissolves’ in the synergy of movements. The movement of camera carries out the synthesized effect of lighting (with filters) and optical/visual characteristics in scene. the verisimilitude of films determined that the film noumenon features a recording character. in modern context) is a constant expression and representation of reality in life. it reveals the existence of camera causing a trance of audience. The basics and techniques in cinematography were very much founded in early silent film period. The choice of lens affects depth of field and focus. but normally. the perspective of a scene presented through the normal lens (standard lens) is close to the view from human observer under normal viewing conditions. spatial and temporal). it is obtainable of various angles of views and range of viewports. By altering focal lengths. II. A zoom lens is equivalent to the combination of several prime lenses.

As the making of Schindler’s List (1993). Janusz  Kamiński addressed the contrast in darkness and brightness. Intriguing is. however it has to be differed from simultaneous experience. I believe also the crew of creation believed that. temporal distance has almost become a connate feature existing in the whole course of life. In general. light. Steven Spielberg decided to simulate the reality by giving a black and white documentary style of cinematography. the film shall aim at evoking an empathetic response in the audiences but not absolute aesthetic appreciation. The cinematographer Janusz  Kamiński said that he wanted to give a timeless sense to the film. In a secular context. The angle of filming is determined by the relation of view point. whether it has to be symbolic or expressing absurdity. bringing audience into the scene. I suppose the answer is constantly nil. so the audience would ‘not have a sense of when it was made’. On the premise of a documentary style. Cinema as motion pictures features an essence of moving in a universal context. Spectators can make instant judgment. Undisguised is that in the world of cinematography. I wonder if any artist is doing their works out of the pure aesthetic courtesy. Actually. kids being chased and those laborers being forced to strip off. Just because of the feature of this essence. Forty percent of the film was shot with handheld cameras. With the help of outdoor on-location shooting in cloudy weather and the use of artificial smoke. it is almost impossible (neither is it meaningful) to artistically re-depict objectives upon aesthetic distance. [5]    . depressed and turmoil realistic atmosphere and psychical emotion. implying a kind of heroic charisma (aura). As the cinematographer said. Each framing is metaphorical and it indicates a certain motivation. whereas overlook-shooting can easily despise and disgrace the subjective.On the basis of applying realistic as well as expressionist and ideographic forms to shape image space. orientation and distance. the setting of angle of filming provides the creator a subjective space to articulate. Elevated shooting usually characterizes the subjective as being majestic and weightier than ordinary.rendering/shading is also added to compensate (or/and enrich) the physical and psychical environment of image space. the angle of filming is in regard to issues of filming elevation. focal length of lens and the object itself. building up a ghastly. without zoom lenses as the director anticipated. cinematic spectators are desired to jump over the temporal distance that objectively exists but deliberately made dissolving in the image space supported by vivid natural lighting effect and the naturally fluent movement of lenses. the cinematographic techniques applied the film also referenced to the impressionist way of using light and composition in painting. The moving cinematographic viewport follows the Jewish refugees being driven.

Metz focuses on narrative structure — proposing the "Grand Syntagmatique". The action on the screen as a final cinematic product is in fact viewed by a secondary spectator.the psychoanalytic ‘imaginary’ and the structural linguistic ‘signifier’. The core of Lacan’s mirror stage theory is about intuitive (spontaneous. generating a kind of primary recognition. When it comes to filmic discourse. it ‘inaugurates a regime of visibility’. virtual technological discourse. proposing that the reason film is popular as an art form is on account of its being ‘imperfect reflection of reality’ and a ‘method to delve into the unconscious dream state. according to commonly-known rules. film or cinema is a type of ‘imaginary signifier’. how much of pseudo-(aesthetic) distance do the final film products consumed by ordinary like us contain? On what ground do cinema critics usually stand? If.org [6]    . In Film Language: A Semiotics of Cinema. The infant assumes a mastery over the body which as a matter of                                                              One has to bear in mind that the primary is as the production side of cinema. and periphery as the consumption side of cinema. It is more a passive and impotent viewer now. The imaginary signifier theory coincides with the issue of hierarchical spectator and pseudo-(aesthetic) distance discussed in chapter II. the ‘signifier’ of cinema itself is imaginary. But in actual fact. to what extent could they identify and overcome the false impression brought by the pseudo-(aesthetic) distance? Christian Metz4 . cinema critics must not have anything to do with the cinema production process. as a psychoanalytic film theorist. aesthetic distance already exists between these two hierarchies of spectators. I understand the ‘imaginary signifier’ in double meaning – cinema is imaginary. a system for categorizing scenes (known as "syntagms") in films.’ As Metz inducted. The infant sees its fragmentary body as a whole (gestalt) and identifies itself with this illusory unity. which enables spectators to completely ‘believe themselves to be all-seeing and thus all-powerful’. when they misrecognize themselves from looking into the mirror. cinema is the vehicle of expressing imagination while the vehicle itself is imaginary. no limit is assigned to the camera. unconscious) self-deception.  4 3 Christian Metz also applied Ferdinand de Saussure's theories of semiology to film during the 1970s. – Wikipedia. In this sense..the Lacanian theory in cinematic interpretation and reflection on aesthetic distance The aesthetic distance in the chain of cinema industry3can be abstracted as both primary and peripheral. The identification with the camera provides the primary spectator ‘an illusion of unmitigated power’ over the screen images. aesthetic distance is no longer linearly dimensioned but in a multiple way. The mirror stage occurs at infant age (3-18 months). it simply exposes everything. So. this avoidance of being seen from spectator results eventually in the illusory omnipotence of themselves. In another words. pioneered the application of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage theory to the cinema. The camera captures no absence because of its technological nature. And fundamentally.III. The spectatorship derives from the primary identification with the camera.

From the representation (vorstellung). Casement theory( general realism) to Mirrors & Ghosts theory. and this self-deception within an imaginary process becomes the ground for the formation of an infant’s ego. Spatial distance in visions of both hierarchies of spectators has least variables. their types and uses were established. already infiltrates the condition that allows a permanent existence of the aesthetic spatial distance. in times very different from the present. directors as primary and spectator after-production stage as secondary spectator such as audiences sitting in front of screen. The mirrors & ghosts theory5 in cinematography influences the composing of image space in a direct way. Psychical and temporal distance is very complex in the minds of primary and secondary spectators since the essence of utility (interest relation) varies fundamentally.fact does not exist (because it simply lacks a biological condition). it blurs the boundaries of image space presented via film scene and the imaginary and/or virtual space (created by distance) between cinematic spectators and the screen. the adaptability and precision they have attained. the ideas and habits they are creating. [7]    . The imago of infant itself appears in the form of another ‘ideal-I’. The difference lies in the hierarchies in spectators – cinematographers. which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. The lens replicated space meant for imaginary scene. The framing ratio and image space created is constant and coherent throughout before-after production of cinema. It seems that a spectator can never derive from preoccupation in the process of aesthetic appreciation.. However. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be. simultaneously the entire image is extending towards the sense of roles and cinematic spectators. The scene appearing on the effective range of screen an audience sees is the same as a primary spectator sees during making.rethink on cinematography in the age of digital (re)production “Our fine arts were developed. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time immemorial. The film screen serves as a mirror. through which the spectators can identify themselves as coherent and omnipotent ego. by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours. We must expect great                                                              5 The evolution of film theories is epitomized as the development from Safe area theory ( montage). But the amazing growth of our techniques. psychical distance and temporal distance. being omnipotent ego seems far from enough to indulge (secondary) spectators to become an independent entity. Lacan’s infant and cinematic spectator is analogical in a certain way. IV. it differs from the Hegel’s another ego consciousness. make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful. the imaginary feature of cinema-as being motion picture.

as of silent film. Screen is still flat.innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts. what is the aesthetic value again then? In comparison with stationary art of painting and photography. however the sensory effect of the spectator has been altered. Despite some influences brought by the advancing of color technology and optics technology in lens making. the cognition of subjective upon temporal distance is blurred and thus appears deceptively. [8]    . the primary structure of the art of cinema had not been challenged for a long time since the entering of sound. in other words. Pièces sur L’Art. When audience as spectator is being transformed into participant under the condition of the worshipfully vast use of digital technology. thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art. the cinema industry welcomed its contemporary age. a group of creative directors and cinematographers came onto the stage with new visual ideas. I think the whole purpose of a 3D film is to realistically simulate the space and environment that the film is meant to deliver. the introducing of dimension of sound marked a milestone. it is to understand that cinema.” -Paul Valéry. can connately construct aesthetic distance in both temporal and spatial way. more importantly. until the advent of modern television technology. I cannot help drowning into contemplation upon those digital technology supported films’ destiny if they were only produced out of ‘plainness’. and thereupon to create beauty in the sense of pure judgment – either from the appreciation on beings from outer space or the empathy towards a bloody fight at Colosseum from Roman age. 1931 Le Conquete de l’ubiquite Having come a long way in the past hundred years. In the late 1970s. 3D cinema has been re-presented to the public since its disappearance in the ’80s. Tracing back the primary definition of the art of cinema.                                                              6 Image Maximum technology. Perhaps it is possible to say that the application of digital technology in cinematography blends in all three aesthetic distances. when the diminishing of spatial distance influences psychical distance. At the present time. particularly in the last decade. cinema as motion pictures had only grown with one more dimension of movement. many of us have experienced wearing a goggle (not the cheap anaglyph glasses anymore) at theatre while watching a 3D technology based film. I doubt if the audience as the receiver of information can be offered basic conditions to act appreciation. I wonder if cinema critics and judges are able to make neutral commentary out of pure aesthetic judgment without sitting in a gigantic chair at IMAX6 theatre and wearing a pair of 3D goggles. the technological support was much advanced: cinematographic cameras became handier. and on this point.

The computer technology and digital technology has been thoroughly changing the whole cinema industry.sensitive photographic film were invented and peculiar optical lens could also be custommade. on the other hand. the reality encloses doubled layers. then. regardless the cinematographer is a quasi new technology enthusiastist or not. this ontology of the cinematographic image and realistic aesthetics theorized by André Bazin now tends to decompose. which is actually causing cumulative groups aesthetic fatigue in a comprehensive way in my point of view. There is no talk of a crew of specialists in light setting. but also a merging into a wider system of mass media. in hysterically trying out different angles of filming and the use of lenses – all can be done by just one person with one piece of software on one computer. specially the sector of cinematography. the technology-fever urged a worship of technology-only. This is a deconstruction of the existential significance of the art of cinema itself. [9]    . therefore there requires a stronger (primary) realistic nature. When the digitalized cinema breaks into our visual sight. As cinema is no longer a record of objective image but a pure imaginary entity. theoreticians in nowadays shall seriously rethink what cinema is and what cinematography has become. as a confrontation towards time. the tremendous development and application of digital imaging technology in stunt making in modern cinemas and the revolutionary switch of cinema producing enables the virtue of being wonders in regards to the art of cinema to be highlightened. The identification and recognition upon the realistic narrativeness has been transferred onto the appreciation of cinematographic wonders and technology. Apparently the new ‘cinematographers’ are facing supreme challenges. On one hand the traditional cinematography is facing a fierce shuffle. it is at this moment a reality set up on the grounds of non-realistic conditions. transcending the realistic recording feature. Bazin’s cinema aesthetics was built on(to) reality – in psychical sense – the ultra effect chased by experimenting the depth of field. In the post-cinema era. We (at least I) used to regard the nature of cinema as a record of spatial image and image space.

while the audiences are clearly aware of the digital backgrounds of the reality presented in front of/around them. when spectator becomes participatory subjective.EPILOGUE. it is to find a retour to create the noumenon of realistic life. The intersecting aesthetic distances play an intensively deceptive role in the act of appreciation creating identification difficulties. [10]    . generating virtualirreality. – the destiny of art of cinema and cinematography If we say the conventional cinema producing constraints itself with technological barriers ( including technological difficulties in cinematography). And. neither is it a simulation of materialistic reality. it seems we have come to the final phase of occurrence. Again. the application of digital image synthesis and image processing technologies ( and so on) have brought the possibility of eventually going beyond mankind’s imagination ( which is based on realistic cognition to some extent). cinema is not a recording vehicle anymore. Art becomes art because it distinguishes itself from reality. we have come to the end of cinema’s being art and cinematography’s being creator of art. When aesthetic distance disappear. When it coincides with reality. surprisingly. when cult value (Kultwert) and exhibition value (Ausstellungswert) can only be validly reflective via a aesthetic distance – I somehow dare to say. when virtualirreality blurs the definition of reality. it is reality. however one thing is ensured – that the convince on cinema’s recording reality collapses.

(2007). and Aethetic Aspect. Indiana University Press.). & Salvato.C.pp. Cambridge Metz. Introduction to Kant’s Aesthetics. pp.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.(1936). (trans. Paul Guyer & Eric Mattews (2000).com 2.com/widescreen/grandeur-sep1930. Psychical Distance as a factor in Art and an Aesthetic Principle.L.(1984). The Critique of the power of Judgment ‘Kritik der Urteilskraft’..BIBLIOGRAPHY Benjamin.html Kant.H. On Wittgenstein’s Notion of Meaning Blindness:Its Subjective. p87-117. cinema and the mirror www.marxists.Objective. C.htm 3.(1986).. 429–33 Pallasmaa. Frankfurt.. The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema. online version available at: http://www.E. University of California Press. Bloomington Metz.widescreenmuseum.edu/~jvancamp/361_r9.csulb.).filmreference. Berkeley and Los Angeles Wenzel.(1990). C.. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema..(1790)..C.I. Helsinki Schaefer.(1912). Cambridge University. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction ‘Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit‘.Steven Spielberg.H. British Journal of Psychology: V5.(1997). Wikipedia. The University of Chicago Press.201-19 Wenzel. 33/3.(2010). Philosophical Investigations.originally published in Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung. Blackwell Publishers Websites: 1. J.org [11]    . Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers.(2005). Faber and Faber. Rakennustieto Publishing. Chicago McBride.D..htm Bullough. New York. online version available at : http://www. (trans. American Cinematographer – Wide Film Cinematography www. Film Language: A Semiotics of the Cinema. Andy Blunden (1998).W.

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