Predatory vision : 3D imaging and the transformation of screen-space
journal contributionposted on 01.04.2011, 00:00 authored by Rosemary Woodcock
Despite Wheatstone’s academic interests in the device, the stereoscope languished somewhat as an optical toy. Yet the advent of 3D screen-spaces for home and mass entertainment suggests today’s consumers and practitioners of screen culture hold the view that screen culture will be ‘improved’ through 3D imaging technologies. Like cinema and photography, stereoscopic 3D imaging has the potential to transform visual culture. But what is transformed, as optics and electronic imaging techniques deliver Alice in Wonderland in 3D? This paper links the advent of 3D cinema and TV to the notion that vision is itself a ‘technology of the visual’. As such, our innate binocular stereoacuity is ripe for exploitation by developers of 3D imaging technologies. I argue that contemporary 3D imaging marks an epistemological visual-perceptual shift: toward screenspaces becoming spaces for potential action. Such a shift entails seeing as doing rather than seeing as thinking. 3D imaging exploits binocular vision’s spatial acuity (stereopsis), but is effective only for objects within near distal space. The 3D effect tapers off dramatically for objects only some metres away, because the two retinal images lack significant lateral disparity (difference) to trigger stereopsis: the imagery flattens out and becomes ‘monoscopic’. Information available from conventional 2D media entails a peculiarly unspecified spatiality. Perceptually, the contents of a conventional cinematic screen are like those of a painting: they are situated neither near nor far, and constitute a shared and ambiguous visual space. Our own eyes are like those of a cat: frontally placed for predatory action. The visuality of 3D screen-spaces assumes a perceptuality of the near-by and close at hand, since this is the structure of the visible information to which stereopsis is adapted to respond. Noting the binocular acuity of predatory animals, as well as some etymological links, this paper examines the implications of perceptually ‘capturing’ the sensation of visually solid objects in one’s immediate space. Stereopsis is about decisive action within an immediate environment: but it also presupposes the single viewpoint of an active observer toward which the 3D imagery is targeted.