Reading Kendal Walton (2): Transparency


Look at this still from Late Spring (Banshun, 1949). Is it just an image? Or do we see something? Two people walking afar on a beach. Two bicycles in the foreground, partially framed. Do we merely see these elements or do we equally see the scene?

In “Transparent Pictures”, Kendall Walton argues that still and motion pictures are transparent. This means that we see through and by means of them the elements and scenes photographed. They mediate how we see and simultaneously let us see.

We literally see the bicycles, the people, the sea, and the beach. Obviously, these things are not in front of us, they are not tangible. With this idea, Walton is not confusing the picture with what the picture shows — a photo of a bird is evidently not a bird. What he contends is that seeing a picture is like looking at a mirror or gazing using a telescope. We see indirectly, but we see nonetheless. We see through their transparency.


“Reading Kendal Walton”: (1)