Christopher Howse

What the eye don’t see


Since I began to watch films on video and not so much in cinemas, I have found that I sometimes get the itch to rewind reality itself, in order to check on what I have seen. There must be many oddities in my way of seeing of which I am less aware. Julian Rothenstein, a one-man art movement, intends to expose some of them in The Redstone Book of the Eye, a collection of almost 300 full-page pictures with very little commentary.

It’s about seeing, and the eye is secondary, really, even though we are drawn to others’ eyes in daily conversation. Or in some cases we avoid eye-contact. In British culture this may signify guilt; in Caribbean culture it may signify deference. It is a pity to mistake the one for the other. Rothenstein includes a photograph by the Barcelona photographer Joan Colom of a man in a crumpled suit, sitting on the kerb and crying aloud (one can almost hear him), while a young man with his girlfriend and an old woman turn to look at him, as they pass by. While Catalans, by and large, are not quite so given to staring as Castilians, the tendency remains, alternating with an acquired ability to blank the socially unwanted.

Perhaps the most powerful culture-bound image in the book is of 23 fried eggs arranged on the floor around a lavatory pedestal. It may be clean enough to eat your breakfast from, yet the appetite evaporates. Some of the more mechanical teases in the book are also striking. One captioned ‘Circles or spirals?’, a pattern of angled boxes, simply cannot be credited as a series of concentric circles unless the reader follows the pattern with one finger.

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