(2024) | Series of photographs

The word ‘see’ has different uses. You can see an object or a picture, where you see what is directly in front of you. But there is also seeing-as. Seeing a likeness in someone’s face, for instance, or seeing a geometrical drawing as a glass cube, seeing a triangle as a mountain, wedge or arrow. And we all know the rabbit-duck drawing, in which you can recognize a rabbit as well as a duck.

‘Nur aus dem Irrtum geht die Wahrheit hervor’ (Hegel, 1770-1831)

The Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) calls this experience ‘noticing an aspect’, or aspect perception (Aspektwechsel): you notice that the object you are looking at has not changed, and yet you see it differently. Aspect perception is an unstable state. Only in the change of aspect does one become conscious of the aspect. In general, it involves noticing a similarity. You can say that you experience a comparison, an object is seen as a variation, or derivation, or copy, of another one.

When you see a tree, for example, and realize that it is a tree, you see its resemblance with other trees. Seeing is comparing, seeing is interpreting. Everything we perceive, we perceive in its relevant aspects: in a picture we immediately see what it represents and we respond to it accordingly. Seeing an aspect means recognizing an aspect that you hadn’t seen like that before. The picture doesn’t change, and our seeing doesn’t change either. It’s our interpretation that changes.

This raises the question whether a picture is seen or thought of.