I was inspired after listening to this talk because it gave me a new way of looking at glass and its affect on isolating subjects and oneself. In this talk, Anna Woodhouse explores what looking through glass and glasses means for us.
When she was a call centre worker, Anna could see the towers of Leeds University through the window of her high rise block on a Leeds council estate. For her, this symbolised both possibility and disconnection from the object of her desire. When she eventually left the estate, and then studies to get into the University, she decided to focus her theism on the place of glass in our culture.
I will be discussing this in more detail in my isolation project but this is a brief summary of some of her main points – see mind map for more details.
The basic premiss was that glass has an great effect on our actions and thought even though it transparent and does not prevent us seeing. This is partly because the window is a frame that shows us a partial view, but it also isolates that view and demands our eyes to focus upon it. Glass also forms an invisible barrier between us and the things we see behind the glass. Ironically, it is also a symbol of sadness and dissatisfaction when associated with people staring out of the window – looking at their soul but not with their eyes.
Looking through glass is a very common part of our lives from the computer, phone, and cameras to shop windows, display cases and glass bottles. It is also set to intensify with the future development of Google Glass. Our relationship between what we observe behind the glass and the physical object is different. We can see it but can’t always touch it, or fully interact with it. It is often a controlled view and one where the author is trying to manipulate a responses from us.
Putting glass in front of an object or person changes their relationship to it. It isolates them and the frame provides a new context for the viewer. The earliest example was the development of the shop window and the window dresser in the 19th century – Frank Baum, better known for his novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz! More modern examples include the ‘fly on the wall documentaries’, and the sex shops in Amsterdam.
The extract below is the response I got from her when I emailed her about her work.
Many thanks for your email. I am delighted that you enjoyed the talk, and found the subject engaging. Part of my thesis is focussed on photography (I look at representations of transparent glass including windows, lenses, and spectacles. I have been particularly influenced by Susan Sontag’s work, On Photography, which started me thinking about the ethics of how we view people through glass, when I did a module on American Photo Texts as part of my Masters. There is much more of this in my thesis, but I also have a published essay on the subject in Writing with Light, edited by Mick Gidley: http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Light-American-Studies-Culture/dp/3039115723
The Essay is called ‘Mediated Realities: An Ethics of Seeing in Weegee’s Naked City and Sontag’s On Photography’ if I recall correctly. You might be able to get hold of a copy through inter library loans.
Thanks for your good wishes and do keep in touch.
Dr Anna Woodhouse
Programme Coordinator (US Scholars)