Techniques of the Observer


Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century

Jonathan Crary

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, London, 1992

“Modernity and the Problem of the Observer”


[film, photography and television] until the mid-1970’s, were generally forms of analog media that still correspond to the optical wavelengths of the spectrum and to a point of view static or mobile, located in real space.


[computer-generated imagery is] relocating vision to a plane severed from a human observer.


Older and more familiar modes of “seeing” will persist and coexist uneasily alongside these new forms. But increasingly these emergent technologies of image production are becoming the dominant models of visualization according to which primary social processes and institutions function.


Most of the historically important functions of the human eye are being supplanted by practices in which visual images no longer have any reference to the position of an observer in a “real”, optically perceived world.


The problem of the observer is the field on which vision in history can be said to materialize, to become itself visible. [not the field of representational practice/art etc]


Vision and its effects are always inseparable from the possibilities of an observing subject who is both the historical product and the site of certain practices, techniques, institutions, and procedures of subjectification.


A history of the observer is not reducible to changing technical and mechanical practices any more than to the changing forms of artworks and visual representation.

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