In one incarnation, attributed to the Greek poet, Hesiod, the Cyclopes were the primordial sons of Uranus and Gaia and brothers of the Titans. They were giants, they had only one eye and they were skilled in blacksmithery.
Uranus feared his sons and locked the Cyclopes away in Tartarus.
Tartarus was more than a prison, it was a deep abyss into which things could be thrown to be forgotten. An oubliette for the Greek gods. It was also a primordial force, placed alongside Earth, Night and Time. In a lot of ways, it is the opposite of Memory.
Memory, as it happens, was a sister of the Cyclopes.
Gaia, upset about the imprisonment of her children, encouraged her other sons, the Titans, to usurp Uranus. They did this by castrating him and throwing his testicles into the sea.
The Cyclopes were freed.
And then they were imprisoned again.
The Titan, Chronos, had the same worries as his father and so took the steps of killing his own children. He would eat them. Only his son Zeus escaped this fate.
Zeus would later trick his father into drinking an emetic, causing him to disgorge the other gods.
Demeter, Hetia, Hera, Hades and Poseidon. All vomited back into being.
After freeing his siblings Zeus released the Cyclopes and in return they forged his thunderbolts and helped him overthrow the Titans.
The Cyclopes would eventually make their home on Mount Etna where they crafted other weapons for the gods. Bows and arrows for Apollo and Artemis. A helm of darkness for Hades and a trident for Poseidon.
Hesiod fails to record if the Cyclopes crafted any sort of device for recording images of his family.
"Here is of a photograph of me when I was younger".
Of course it is.
That's how time works.
This is not a description of the actual room, rather, a list of the memories of it.
Four white walls.
On one of the walls a picture. Hand drawn digits. 6.10.
A table with three books, one about modernist theatre design, one about the physiology of seeing.
A small model of a cyclops with no features.
A small pink fabric covered notebook.
Some wires across the floor. A video camera. A paper gun.
A scone, with pumpkin seeds inside. And butter.
A4 paper with black ink.
Empty plastic bottle, 500ml.
1l bottle of water still a quarter full.
Two takeaway cups of coffee. Then four takeaway cups of coffee.
Mamoru and Mary, then Gillian and Adam.
A 35mm camera.
In a different incarnation, this time by Homer, a Cyclops, named Polyphemus, is a shepherd with a taste for alcohol.
In summary, Odysseus, on his ten-year-long return journey home after the Trojan war, ends up trapped in a cave owned by the Cyclops. He watches as his men are eaten, two at a time, by Polyphemus each evening before tricking him and blinding him by driving a stake through his singular eye.
This story is told by a third person omniscient narrator.
They see everything.
The Cyclops, however, now sees nothing at all.
In Homer's Odyssey, the Cyclops is blinded through damage to his eye.
Here, physical damage has occurred to the element that receives light and converts it into an electrical impulse that is later interpreted by the brain. At this site, damage can occur to the lens, which is responsible for focusing the light, the iris, which controls the amount of light that enters the eye, or the retina which converts the light into electrical signals.
It is reasonable, given the description of a sharpened wooden stick being used, that the damage could have also included the physical structure of the eye, including the sclera and the jelly-like substance called vitreous humour that it encases.
This sort of damage is, however, just one form of blindness. Blindness caused by damage to how light can be gathered and converted. There are other types of blindness. There are conditions where the brain, the site of interpreting what we see, is unable to do so.
Visual agnosia a condition in which a person can 'see' but cannot recognize or interpret visual information, due to a disorder in the parietal lobes. For example, they may know what a camera is, and be able to describe both its function and appearance, yet when one is placed in front of them they do not recognise it. The image has become dislocated from the memory of the thing.
This can occur with colours.
In these cases, the person sees, but they can make no sense of what it is they are looking at. There is a dissociation between form and meaning. Here, an image is not enough to make sense of something alone.
Agnosia is Greek, for 'ignorance'.
Then there is Anton–Babinski syndrome, which is a form of visual anosognosia.
Anosognosia comes from the Greek words, 'without', 'disease', and 'knowledge.'
Here, the person is clinically blind but believes that they can see. It is thought that in these cases the discrepancy occurs in the memory itself. The brain is unable to remember correctly what it has seen, leading to confabulation as it tries to make sense.
In other words, in the absence of coherent images, the memory conjures them up.
It must have been 1986, or 1987, but I'm not entirely sure.
I am spending the weekend with my friend, Richard. His father has offered to take us to the cinema.
We have decided that we would like to see the Disney film, 'The Great Mouse Detective', however, when we arrive at the cinema we are ushered into Screen 2 where we are informed that we will be watching the exciting fantasy epic of, 'Krull'.
'Krull' has been described as a mix of 'Star Wars' and 'Excalibur' and features the actor Todd Carty, best known for playing Tucker Jenkins in 'Grange Hill' and Mark Fowler in 'Eastenders'.
I don't think that Krull had a mouse based upon the actor Basil Rathbone, but it did include a cyclops.
This particular cyclops, Rell, tells a story about why he has only one eye. Apparently, the Cyclopes traded one of their eyes so that they could see into the future. It was a trick, however, and whilst they could see into the future, all they were able to really see was their own death.
Rell the cyclops spent the whole film thinking about his inevitable end.
He couldn't forget what he had seen.
He wasn't able to remove that vision from his memory.
The image of his own death spanned his past, his present and his future.
Mamoru tells us that the camera does not see as we see. The camera is more of a cyclops.
A single eye.
There are superficial similarities. A lens, an aperture, the ability to focus on objects at varying distances.
With a 50mm lens the camera is said to be approximating the human standard for field of vision.
But the camera does not see like we do.
Between the retina and the lens at the front of the eye are thousands of capillary blood vessels. We do not see these, however, as the brain conveniently erases them from our perception. They are rendered unimportant.
We see what the brain tells us we see, we perceive more than we see.
And that perception is based on everything that came before and in anticipation of everything that might happen.
The camera allows light to pass through it, choosing only to record, to remember, when it is instructed. The image it eventually produces is a record of the light that hit the film. There is no deviation or interpretation here. Sure, the image may be manipulated later, for more dramatic lighting, or better cropping, whatever marketing have requested, but in the first instance it is just fact without interpretation.
The human eye does not have this functionality.
Nor does the human eye work like a video camera. We do not see in 'frames per second', a fast parade of static images. We see a constantly developing and evolving composite of the world, filtered, again through our perception.
And again, that perception is based on everything that came before and in anticipation of everything that might happen.
It is a mixture of image, and memory, and hope.
[NOW AND THEN AND NOW]
The way in which we take pictures, and have pictures taken of us, has changed as our relationship with the camera has grown. This is partly due to a consideration of the audience of the images we take.
This relationship has its roots in painted portraiture. An expensive marker of importance and wealth. Photography offered a cheaper, more accessible form of recording image. The audience here differed too. traditional portraiture was about demonstrating power to strangers, whereas photographic portraiture seemed destined for a personal audience.
Images given to loved ones as a keepsake.
It is perhaps interesting to note that in the earlier photographs, due to the extended length of the exposures, the only humans that appear in sharp focus are the ones that no longer move.
At this stage, the photographer was an independent entity outside of the family group. You would visit them or they would visit you. The pictures were taken on devices that were slow. You had to sit still. The image needed to be constructed. Mothers hid under blankets to pacify babies and not get into shot.
It is easy to criticise modern photography for its artifice, but this is a trajectory that started at its inception.
Still, in these cases the camera pointed away from the photographer. The image was a proxy for what the photographer saw. this was their vision replicated. Much like any artist.
And this continued into the more modern era when families gained their own cameras. They took pictures of what they saw. A thousand holiday snaps of that pretty bit of beach. Candid and unposed now. Families, weddings, birthdays, graduations. A picture of your mantel piece. These were images that were there to act as reminders. Releasing the shutter of the camera is saying, 'this is something I want to remember later. This is worth remembering'.
The conventions of these images followed simple rules. The rectangle of the image was orientated in either landscape or portrait, for subjects that were, predominantly, landscape or portrait. In most cases, the default ergonomic position of a camera was landscape. Most images taken were in landscape too, partially because of this, but also because of the notion that landscape allows for framing of people in context. A person in context of that pretty beach. A person in context of a loch. A person in context of other people. A group. A party.
These images were taken to act as memory for the person taking them, mostly.
There is something wonderful about so many people carrying a camera. We live in an era when things can be so easily documented and shared. Our collective memory has the potential to be brighter, deeper, and more diverse than at any other time in human history.
Some people will argue that we have gone from a state of making photographs to one of taking images. There is an inherent increase in violence in those words... from 'making' to 'taking'. However, these things seem to co-exist. Traditional film photography continues alongside digital photographic processes and image taking with a smartphone.
It isn't the form that has changed, but our relationship to it.
Are these images about things we want to remember, or are they about things we want other people to witness? Is this about storing memories or about broadcasting experience?
The lens is no longer facing outward.
There is a collapse between the subject and the object.
A thousand Instagram profiles with usernames that end in, 'photography' and 'photographer', coupled with a profile picture prominently featuring a camera and a series of hundreds of photographs all aimed at the photographer.
This is not about what the photographer sees, but rather how they want to be seen.
The ergonomical form of the phone promotes portrait-orientation pictures, and this is led by the platforms the images are destined for. Landscape is for general context, but portrait is all about the individual in the image. It cuts out context. There is no context but the person in the image and the fact they are in the image. They are worthy of having their image taken.
This is a person dislocated from their environment.
It's like traditional portraiture again.
They are not saying, 'this is something I want to remember later. This is worth remembering'.
They are saying, 'I want you to remember me. I am worth remembering'.
We have two distinct types of memory with two distinctive mechanisms.
Our short term memory, for example, is almost entirely chemical. It allows us to store around seven significant items (such as digits for a phone number) for a period of about 30 seconds. We can store a little more information with practice and through techniques such as breaking down large numbers into smaller groups.
Our long term memory, conversely, is constructed physically. Neurons in the brain make connections with others to encode long term memories. The more times this pathway is reinforced the stronger the memory will become, creating links to other memories and ideas. This is how we learn things. Repeated experience creates more permanent pathways and we can stimulate this process through techniques such as revision.
Of course the brain edits out what it doesn't feel is important.
Have you ever realised that you have no memory of just crossing the road on your way to work? That experience was deemed too mundane to remember, perhaps because you have enough similar memories.
Think of this as flicking through the images on your phone. Do you really need those 30 copies of the same selfie that you attempted before finding the one that hides your bonus chin? No, you do not. Delete them. Delete that memory.
Mostly the struggle we have with our memory is trying to remember things. Names of actors, times for appointments, that sort of thing. However, there are also times where we may wish to forget something.
Walking in on your parents being intimate.
That stupid thing you said at a party.
Watching someone die.
We have no easy function for forgetting. We can't just delete memories. We can't, at will, edit that stream of perception like you can edit a film. The brain tries its best to protect us. Adrenaline, released during periods of anxiety, has been shown to inhibit short term memory processes and that leads to long term memory formation. This is why chronic anxiety sufferers may struggle with poor memory recall. It is also why people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, where they often relive their experience repeatedly in dreams and flashbacks, embed their horrors into long term memory.
[GILLIAN TAKES A SELFIE]
I don’t remember taking this picture.
In the early 90s I took a series of photographs of myself. They were a means to an end - the result of a refining process; an attempt to locate the best place to situate myself physically in order to take a successful portrait of myself. Latterly, they became about trying to capture the best likeness of myself (or, the likeness I most favoured).
I had a Canon SNAPPY K point-and-click replete with 35mm F/3.8 lens, automatically selected shutter speeds and aperture, automatic motor drive and film easy-load system, integrated flash and frame counter. Having taken it at its name however, I had high expectations that simply pointing-and-clicking would suffice. I was wrong. I became increasingly frustrated that what I saw through the confines of the view finder was rarely what would emerge within the confines of the developed photograph -- the point-and-click-ness of the machine offered none of the precision I felt a camera should offer -- it wasn’t seeing what I was seeing and I couldn’t teach it.
I’m pleased to have since learned that simple physics played a large part in that lack of precision, beyond my obvious lack of skill. From behind the Canon SNAPPY K, the viewfinder was set a good 4cm above the lens, skewing my (assumed) perfect alignment of the objects I hoped to capture. Unaware of this physical obfuscation, I began the process of slowly refining where I situated the camera, how I positioned myself, what height of chair to use, whether the chair needed a pillow to raise my eye level a bit and whose room offered the most flattering backdrop in which to take my pictures (My room. Obviously).
In an attempt to ‘trick' the lens in to meeting my exacting standards, capturing the precise and accurate images I’d hoped for, I reduced the variables and took rigorous notes of the constants.
Variable: My positioning
Constant: Chair height
Variable: Chair positioning
Constant: Shelf height
Constant: Desk height
Variable: Placement of camera
And once the spool had been developed after an agonising wait, I altered the variables and tried again. And again. And again. And again.
Something about the positioning.
Something about delayed gratification.
There is a particular type of curse that afflicts theatre makers. The curse of the marketing image.
The problem goes like this -- You need a strong marketing image to persuade venues to take your work. You often need to persuade venues to take your work before you can apply for funding to make it. Therefore, you have to construct the marketing image before you've made the work.
You have to condense a live and varied performance that occurs over many minutes into a single, static image, and in order to do that, you have to look into your own future.
But first, let us consider why marketing requires the image. In short, it makes their life much easier. The internet started off as a text-based medium, but now it is increasingly dominated by images.
There are some marketing departments that believe their entire job is to post pictures to Facebook and call it audience engagement. These are the same departments that are mystified when no one shows up.
We did everything we could.
Maybe the image wasn't strong enough.
Even if the image is successful, there is a high chance that, at best, it misrepresents the work. At this stage, with no budget, there are no props, there is no scenery. If you are lucky you have a performer. You have a human without context. You are going to have to take a portrait of them. They are probably going to be dressed, not in costume, but in the clothes they own that most approximate a costume.
And they are going to have to pull a face. The face is going to have to do a lot of lifting here. It is that face that is going to tell the audience exactly what this show is about.
You know the faces.
There is that particular face that every comedian at Edinburgh pulls for their poster (the 'I don't know, the words just come out funny' face) or the earnest expression of a serious play about serious things.
Grimaces behind face paint, most likely red, for anything to do with live art.
Close cropped, contorted bodies wearing slack clothes and blank expressions for contemporary dance.
Most of these images were made before the show and they were made to placate a strange god that either takes the glory or deals the blame.
When I look at a marketing image I have made like this, I do not remember the show. I remember taking an awkward image, with a contorted performer on my kitchen table, lit by household lamps, flashlights and mobile phones.
It does not feel creative or liberating.
It feels like looking into the future and seeing my own death.
November 5, 2011. Lancaster.
We are stood on Greyhound bridge, just opposite the castle, in one of the designated viewing areas.
In the old days we would be crammed up there by the bonfire in a terrifying sea of strangers and dangers.
The fireworks erupt overhead. The bridge bounces. The sound echoes back and forth across the valley created by the river. The smoke drifts down and the smell of gunpowder mixes with burgers and beer.
Next to us there is a man. He has his phone lifted up in front of his face. He is filming the fireworks. Swinging wildly across the black sky, trying to capture them.
We can't help but think, 'When is he ever going to watch that footage back? When is anyone ever going to watch badly filmed footage of a local firework display?'.
How can any film capture the visceral details of a live event, particularly one based on the fleeting explosions of short lived explosives?
And then, even if he does watch it back, will it evoke the memories of being there, being present, or will it just remind him that whilst the show was happening he was staring at glass?
The therapist asks you to think about the incident. It's painful, but you've worked hard to get to this point. You can do this. At first you see it, in your memory, in colour and detail. It is moving. It has sound. Then the therapist asks you to stop the motion and make it into a picture. A colour photograph. At first it resists, but then everything becomes motionless and silent. The detail is still there. The colour still vibrant. Let the colour drain out of it. Imagine it turning black and white. You do. The scene from your memory now becomes a black and white image and you realise that you are imagining holding it in your hands. When you are ready, says the therapist, let it go. Drop it and let it be forgotten.
What would you forget, if you could?
I would like to forget my favourite films, just so that I can experience them again.
I'm aware there is a risk that I might not enjoy them as much this second time around, since enjoyment is as much about context. I'm a different person now than when I first saw them. We won't have been through the same things. I wouldn't have watched that film when I was in bed ill that particular time. It wouldn't have comforted me.
It is worth the risk though. To see them again, not as 'remembering' but as an 'experiencing'.
I mention this to Gillian. She responds that she would be just as happy to remember that she had seen some films before getting half way into watching it again.
[GILLIAN RECEIVES A SELFIE]
22 years later.
Sandwiched between images of sports cars, personalised number plates and other shit my older brother enjoyed looking at in the 90s, the negative image of my failed selfie sat in a cartridge unseen and undeveloped in his house until the Christmas of 2015. He was 38 years old and I was 35.
The delayed gratification was secondary to my confusion as to why I had taken the photograph in the first place; I’m not central to the image, the top half of my face is outside of the frame and the focus sits nearer the light switch than it does to me (not to mention the unbrushed hair and the hand-me-down nightie formerly owned by my older cousin Lynn).
Then came the dawning realisation that this pictorial anomaly was one of more than a hundred images, and was only an anomaly by way of the images that it accompanied. Fastidiously taken across numerous collections of photographs of straight pavements and sodium-lit lamp-posts and other straight-lined tests set to analyse what the edges of the viewfinder of my Canon SNAPPY K could see, were images taken with the sole purpose of refining the process of taking the perfect portrait of little old me.
At first glance, a failed selfie, 22 years in the making.
Something about the positioning.
Something about delayed gratification.
Ultimately a reminder of a process which saw me painstakingly balance a camera on end, sandwiched between books on a red shelf, sat directly above a mirror placed fastidiously on a dresser, angled just so, to be sure I was sitting in the correct position I had had success with in the last series of photographs. Curtains open, half open, closed, right curtain closed, left curtain open and again.
Documentation is a relative of marketing. Perhaps the brother that would banish it to an abyss.
The current fetishisation of the visual documentation of live performance has its roots in university courses where it is championed because good documentation makes it easier to grade students and also supplies material for academics that often can't make it to the live performances.
In these cases, documentation presents itself as a way of preserving the live moment.
This is a paradox.
What is really happening is that documentation is pretending to be different from marketing but has almost exactly the same aims. That is, to take a work of subtlety and complexity that occurs in front of a live audience and reduce it down to a static image.
Performance work does make great images. A lot of care and attention goes into the creation of the general aesthetic. With some shows it is hard to take a bad or uninteresting photograph.
The documenter takes many photographs, before selecting one that works for them. It may be one that captures the movement of the performer, or the ambience of the piece. It could record, for all time, that this performance took place at this time, in this place. It might create a distinctive, iconic image that condenses the work into a visual feast... and then they put it on Facebook because it is a nice image and will get plenty of likes.
A 'like' is a unit of engagement.
Engagement not with the work, but with pictures of fireworks.
We collect 35mm slides. We have a library of over 6,000.
These are slides that were taken by someone we've never met.
We can only speculate as to why they were taken. Each image was once important to someone. Each release of the shutter stated, with a click, 'I will remember this'.
As the cartridge advances each kerchunk-click brings a question.
Is this a family member?
Did they go on holiday here?
Were they particularly proud of this mantlepiece?
Was this the last time they were photographed?
The only reason we have these slides is that their true meaning has been lost, and the keepers of the memories that root these images in a real way have become dislocated from them.
These are orphans.
Images orphaned from memory.
Mamoru tells us about the time that he saw two performances in the same space within a short period of time. Some time later he was recounting one of them when he realised that his memory had conflated the two performances. It had edited them together.
His memory was not a reliable account of what had happened, but was now a reliable account of what it meant.
There are no second takes.
Live performance cannot be edited like film. This is because we can never ask the audience to forget what they have just perceived.
Even if they wanted to comply, they probably couldn't. Besides, we spend so much time trying to create something memorable that when an audience member does forget we can't help but see it as failure.
Memory is the site of editing for our experience, but it isn't one we have control over. We can fight it, but in the end our editor works with us, not for us.
You can't look a Cyclops in the eye.
This is not because it has been blinded.
This is because they don't exist.
We know this because there are no photographic images of them.
There is no visual documentation.
There is no Instagram account or Facebook page.
All we have are written accounts of something that may or may not have happened. Something that only exists in a form of memory that persists despite its inherent paradox, somewhat like performance without the marketing image, somewhat like an orphaned slide but in reverse.
The cyclops is still trapped in the abyss.
The cyclops is a memory without an image.