Preconscious Ocular Aesthetics

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  • Title: Preconscious Ocular Aesthetics: Returning to a Fictitious Point in Photography’s History
  • Author(s): Michael Gray
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: The Image
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Image
  • Keywords: Photography, Phenomenology, Aesthetics, Preconscious, Art Practice
  • Volume: 14
  • Issue: 2
  • Date: November 07, 2023
  • ISSN: 2154-8560 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2154-8579 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Gray, Michael. 2023. "Preconscious Ocular Aesthetics: Returning to a Fictitious Point in Photography’s History." The International Journal of the Image 14 (2): 63-79. doi:10.18848/2154-8560/CGP/v14i02/63-79.
  • Extent: 17 pages

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This paper focuses on an alternative photographic aesthetic based on the human eye that could have evolved given a different set of historic technical developments in photography. In broad terms, this alternative aesthetic would depend on the recording medium being far more sophisticated than the lens: the opposite of how photography actually evolved. The paper references an art practice based on single-element lenses, which materially reduce phenomena to what may be experienced preconsciously inside the human eye. The paper then aligns the practical artistic outcomes with aspects of phenomenology and established academic enquiry into preconsciously experienced optical data. In phenomenological terms, the aesthetic produced in these artworks privileges the biology of the human eye over the processing power of the visual cortex: a preconscious ocular aesthetic over conscious perception. The paper contends that when viewing images that approach a fundamental, yet unknown, visual experience, the viewer has partial access to visual phenomenon which is experienced prior to, and withheld from, consciousness. The results highlight how photography has always strived to produce a uniform, sharp plane of focus that, in turn, falsely maintains that human beings biologically experience the world in a similar manner. The paper also extends aspects of Walter Benjamin’s notion of “optical unconscious” while incorporating aspects of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s “indeterminate vision”. The paper also realizes how an arts practice can incorporate the agency of materials to approach traditionally intellectual enquiry in novel ways.