BA Phot

nowhere in particular

nowhere in particular
Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller

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In 1999, Miller (better known for his wit, theatre direction and television programmes) published nowhere in particular, a book of what he accurately describes as 'pictures of bits'. The photographs are interspersed with jottings on a variety of subjects, mostly visual and/or perceptual. There are no page numbers in the book.

Quoting Paul Schilder, Image and Appearance of the Human Body, "Perceptions are only formed on the basis of motility and its impulses."

Seeing As

"When I talk about seeing something as something else - say, seeing a cloud as a weasel - it's pnly because I recognise that the thing at which I am looking has an official identity and that any other way of seeing it is in some sense at least a misidentification. This, when Polonius agrees with hamlet that the cloud is backed like a whale, he takes it for granted that Hamlet will not assume that he, Polonius, mistakes it for a whale. So how about Picasso's sculpture in the Minneapolis Art Institute in which the head of a baboon is represented by a battered racing car?" [image here, if Miller had not pointed it out, I would barely have noticed that it is a car]

Architecture and pictures

"In the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, the Twomblys and the Barnett Newmans owe some of their impressive appearance to the architectural seting in which they are displayed. You have to take the whole vista into consideration: the huge white walls of the gallery and the deep rectangular returns of the openings through which a painting is glimpsed along with others, half revealed. It's difficult to overestimate the extent to which one is beguiled by the scene of which the paintings are a part."

What are you looking at?

Surely there are two possible answers to this question. One answer is, whatever it is that intercepts my eye-line. Someone other than I could just as easily answer this question by simply tracing (in the geometrical sense) the line of my conjugate gaze to the first thing it encounters. There might be some errors here, in that a few degrees could make all the difference between my looking at that barn on the horizon and my seeming to look at the house just to the left of it. All the same, it is a question that can usually be settled by pointing along the line of my gaze, in the hope that my extended arm and finger will pick out what I am looking at better than my mere look would do.
But there is also a sense in which the question "What am I looking at?" cannot be answered either by taking my eye-line into consideration or by my pointing. What if I say, "I am looking at the most beautiful bicture in the Uffizi"? Now, as it happens I am standing right in front of Simone Martini's Annunciation, and there is no doub that the large oblong picture that bears that name is the object at which my gaze is directed. But my companion, whose eye-line is directed t the same picture, might not agree that she was looking at the most beautiful picture in the Uffizi.
So how abouta somewhat less contentious claim? I might say, "What I am looking at is its style." In this sense of "looking", I am looking at an "aspect" of the picture, something about it that cannot be distinguished by simple following my eye-line."


The authority of a photograph has something to do with the fact that its appearance is directly caused by whatever it happens o be a picture of, so that as Susan Sontag says, the faintest and most blurred snapshot of Shakespeare would be more interesting than a portrait by Holbein. I can still recall the delightful shock of seeing the indentation of Michaelangelo's hand in what was once the wet, yielding plaster of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. More interesting than his painting of the hand of God.

Seeing as and seeing in

When he discusses representation, Richard Wollheim talks about seeing the depicted object in the paint- meaning presumably that we recognise that it's apples which are thus depicted and that it is nevertheless a depiction of them. Recognising them as a depiction imples that we acknowledge that someone, ie the artist, intended us to recognise that that is what he intended when he made the picture - because we can recognise things in something where there is no such intention. We can "see" an image of the Virgin in the discoloured heartwood of an apple tree, or we may perceive the silhouette of a city in the polished cross section of a piece of variegated agate. In contrast to depictions, we simply marvel at the accidental likenesses, and if we are Hapsburg Archdukes we keep such specimens in our Schatzkammer.
When I mistake someone for someone else, once I learn the truth I suddenly see the extent to which he is unlike whoever it was I took him for. But I am not tempted to call the original experiece an illusion. I can see how I made the mistake, and my subsequent seeings are no longer mistaken. Compare this to illusions which lead me to see things which I have good reason to believe are not in fact what they seem to be - but the illusion persists nevertheless. For example, when I go to the cinema I am fully aware of the fact that I am confronted by a sequence of still pictures alternating with extremely rapid periods of darkness. But I can recite this fact to myself without being able to escape the experience of moving pictures.

Page created 13-Jan-2019 | Page updated 30-Jan-2019