What's it Like to see like a Bat?

I n 1974, philosopher Thomas Nagel posed this question to introduce his infamous essay on the nature of our perceptions. And it's an idea that echoes in a similar way throughout this ongoing study here — part of a manifesto for slower, more playful seeing. The 'sketchbook' of works here were gathered from a path followed daily, thousands of times on foot and bicycle over several years. The hope (or exercise) is to stir a deeper attention to our living environments and the ways that we percieve them. The French might call this strolling mode of observation the acts of Flâneurie, and at the turn of the 20th century it was an important practice for artists and thinkers of all kinds.

Intended as an ongoing sketchbook of observations, these samples that follow explore things as familiar as snowfall, frozen rivers, city infrastructure, or trees captured beneath ice, and waves beating on architectural debris being reclaimed by life around it. The works below are a brief introduction into a more profound way of ‘seeing’ the strange and opposing wonders that shape our living, seeing paths. Each plays with the principles of film, digital, or analogue techniques we use to capture the familiar in unfamiliar ways — or simply, to ‘see’ with an otherworldly eye.

Selections from the Journals

Nagel's question has always been intriguing to me, partly because it challenges the absolute beliefs we have in our fallible perceptions. Many of us believe our perceptions to be the de facto standards of reality. And yet, our eyes can see less than 2% of the 'light' surrounding us. Birds, fish and insects can see more spectrums of light than we can, bats can echolocate, while hidden electromagnetic and microwaves extend the spectrum of unseen 'light' around us even further. What seems even more remarkable are the ways that certain insects like Monarch butterflies — who like many birds — can follow or 'see' the magnetic path of the earth. So with our limited human vision, the rest is left to our imaginations to try and explore. The works here are in part an homage to this type of thinking, but on another level, they are also an homage to the art of image making and capture itself — ideas, processes, and steps we've begun to take for granted. Playing with the philosophy 'of Other', the ‘sketchbook’ here refocuses our perceptions on all that remains unseen in the common pathways we so blindly follow. At its core is a way of seeing that doesn't ask to solve immediate perceptions, but asks us to engage with the unfolding mysteries we so often dismiss and surrendering to the unseen wonders among us.

— michael graf

Details from a frozen stream.