In a few weeks I’m going to be presenting a paper at the International Visual Sociology Association annual conference in Vancouver, BC. My paper will be a general discussion of the value of invisibility in visual research.
The main argument I’m going to make, and I’m putting it here as a placeholder to remind myself, is that invisibility is the context that gives shape to the visible. It is not the absence of the visible, but the ground upon which it depends – both within and beyond sight.
If photography captures a representation of the visible, the visible captures a representation of the invisible. Each is bounded by rules and is governed by relational considerations and neither can work without its parent figure – photography > visibility; visibility > invisibility. It sounded clearer when I was half asleep last night and will be much more polished by the time I’m ready to present, promise. What the visible is to photography, invisibility is to the visible.
Later this year I’m expecting to present a paper at the McLuhan 100 Conference in Toronto. The topic of my paper is on the increasing invisibility of technology despite the increased proliferation of ‘digital rhetoric’ and ‘digital culture.’
This ad from Apple proves my point even further … the one I’ve been making for a few months now that Apple’s market share didn’t increase because they make better stuff but because they have a command of invisibility and have built their stuff to be invisible.
Masks as a strategy of invisibility
A couple of years ago when I asked for suggestions on research related to invisibility I approached the topic largely as a matter of ‘absence.’ But a very clever and thoughtful person suggested that I consider invisibility as a purposeful form of ‘presence.’
His suggestion was to consider how masks are used to create a condition of specialized subject visibility through a strategy of corporeal invisibility. The example he suggested was the Zapatista movement in Mexico that used masks to permit the exercise of voice and power without as much concern over corporeal recognition (visibility). The mask, he suggested, was a strategic form of constructed invisibility in the face of the potential repressions of visibility.
In much the same way, the link above describes how a television program in Afghanistan encourages women to speak out using the mask as a strategy of invisibility to permit the elevation of life circumstances that, too often, remain in the shadows.
There are better/other links to this discussion and if I find a video link I’ll post one (or feel free to suggest one)