The body of the image

By: Michel González

Distortion 49  (1933), André Kertész

Distortion 49 (1933), André Kertész



This text elaborates an analysis on the practices and representations of the body in the environment of the visual arts, making a journey through the principles of the image, through its analogue creation and its transition to the digital, taking into account factors such as movement - which was integrated through the use of video - and the temporality - which is a latent element in performance or in developing an act -. I start by asking myself: What happens inside an image? there is a place of transformation in it where a restructuring process takes place, from which, what appears is a transposition of the represented object; displaced in time and space, where the form is a tool of exploration through the viewer's gaze.

One of the main proposals in this essay starts from the premise; the image is experienced from the gaze, a point of reference from which there is a kind of recognition and exploration beyond physical limits. The gaze offers us the referent from which to experience the body, beyond its flesh, experiencing itself from others. In a system of interrelations that surpasses the notion of body as a unit. This essay aims to investigate the relationship that develops with images from our own body, in such a way that it is another with which we collide, "the body of the image" is built through its contact part of our gaze and It takes place in our perception.

Building a perspective about perception

Through the Theory of Gestalt, it became clear that the world requires a reciprocal play between the properties provided by the object and the nature of the observer (Arnheim, 1979). It is what happens between an image and the viewer: a kind of exchange in which each one contributes part of himself so that a perception system is created.

In this sense, the image works as a tool that formulates a new method of experiencing the world. Judith Butter affirms that corporality is not the static condition of the subject; but a constitutive part of his being, materialized by the performativity of his bodily practices.

The real world is intervened through the simultaneity of spaces. This is how a new relationship between visual products and the viewer is forged. Through its various manifestations, new aesthetic experiences can be built, which culminate in sensory experiences in the body.

This defines our relationship with images, through which we have been able to use them as a means of experience. That is, to be able to feel through what can be seen. For J.T. Mitchell, the images are an imaginary entity. A construction that starts from an interpretation system.

A perspective of the body

This exploration of the body consists in considering it beyond a unit.

Based on authors such as Bataille and M. Ponty, I find that the body is, in its interaction with the world and, in turn, with the other bodies that compose it, susceptible of appreciating beyond its physical limits, beyond its meat experimenting from others.

Now that the images are participants, it is in the encounter that we experience through them; It is in our recognition that we articulate a thought. And we generate a new way of thinking about the body, beyond the limits of the flesh; more than a unit, as an object in development.

Artists have previously reflected on the limits of the body, and we can observe it in works of photography; as in the image of André Kertész, in his series: Distorted. Series in which the artist contributes a visual discourse that awakens a question: how is abody created when it appears in an image?

André Kertész is one of the first photographers to propose new dynamics within the photographic exercise; since it places a scene in front of the camera, as usually happens in a representation exercise. However, he begins to introduce objects that propitiate an optical distortion, as are crystals that he places in front of the lens; reflection that will take place only in the image. Therefore, in these portrait exercises, he begins to displace the thought that revolved around the photographic image as a method of representation, seeking a result: the deformation in the body of the model; what will manage to displace a thought around the body.

Distortion 51  (1933), André Kertész

Distortion 51 (1933), André Kertész


As we face a body that has lost part of its naturalness, our gaze travels that form, while a sensation over our body invades us. From the abject, as the point of experimentation of the image, it seems to drive us out of it. The image wants to make us look back; to look at ourselves through it, presenting a corporeality different from the one we possess, which starts from the deformation that is only possible within the image. This one turns towards us, from the sensations that are propitiated when facing it.

The image implies an experimentation beyond the limits of photography, throwing more and more places; thus, generating new dynamics from the production of images, whose purpose is to create points from which to rethink the limits of the body, and the relationship we maintain with the sense of sight in the present. In this way we can access dynamics in which images have been sought sometimes for protest purposes, disengage from reality and explore space and temporality.

A brief genealogy about the body in image

This text presents the analysis of visual works that has led me to make a categorization of the properties of the bodies that appear in the image. Then, these bodies will be incorporated into a system of existence that starts from the imaginary; that has reinvented a being that is no longer an animal, but a body that has emerged from a condition that makes it be based on an exercise derived from an image.

“In the image the body is still present, in a place of friction, friction, no image is contained by its support, there is an echo by the same closeness to what happens outside". (Sontag, 1977) starting from a principle of abstraction, isolation and deformation, the body is structured from the hybrid.

Dying bodies

Salvador Elizondo (1969) mentioned that, being a body in image, appears displaced in time, retaining the characteristic of presence within the image, but away from reality. Therefore, it tells us that the body, being photographed and moving away from the movement, is neither alive nor dead; but he is dying within the photographic image, a discourse that he displaced through the visual production of Bill Viola.

There, the body is preserved in this moribund state, where natural temporality is appealed and restructured within the image from the assembly and manipulation of the video. Bill Viola, in his video performance The reflecting pool, allows us to explore new dynamics in the form; given by the position that the body adopts as an object that is static, displaced in the time of the video.

The reflecting pool  (1977-79), Bill Viola

The reflecting pool (1977-79), Bill Viola


It can be assumed that the image has always been part of the perception of the human being. In this sense, we can analyse this perception and the way in which a thought is articulated from it.

"There is a double body relationship in the middle of the images. On the one hand, there is an analogy with the body in understanding the medium as the symbolic body of an image. On the other hand, it is affirmed that the media circumscribe and transform our way of perceiving images. That is why the body is spoken of as the 'medial subject' "(Moreno, 2007)

The material limits of the image, which initially demarcated the photographic technique, have been surpassed. We managed to abandon the frames of the negative and the photographic paper, to rethink the space of the image. Beyond a possibility of representation; crossing our bodies of this relationship that is established, between viewer and image.


It can be assumed that the image has always been part of the perception of the human being. In this sense, analysing this perception and the way in which a thought is articulated from it, we allow ourselves to propose a new way of seeing today. The modernity that gave rise to our contemporary relationship with the images brought about a new way in which we treat them today; thus, the image emerges from us.

Now is the moment from which the images are in relation to space; they are no longer contained in a support. Now the limits of the object are based on the spectator.

Digital art is one of the currents where these new dynamics have taken place. Explorations on technique have managed to develop approaches based on interactivity and the relationship with the viewer. It is not really that this relationship did not exist before: The viewer and his relationship with the work of art has always been of crucial importance. Now in times of technology development, the arts have been transformed by it. These new tools have been used by artists, to the extent of the development of theoretical approaches that manage to break with the limits of the old techniques.

The image, as a new place from which to experience the body, allows us to investigate this new relationship through the new manifestations. This is how the images are now in our body, make the visible overflow and overcome the disabilities of the eye.

The current thinking that revolves around images starts at the beginning of our historical relationship with them. It is from these places where photographic technique has been considered as an interdisciplinary process; where space and interaction with the viewer have generated new ways of making images; where the body and its contemporary relationship with images has become a fundamental actor in the processes of creation. Now, the images are moving in space, finding new places of appearance each time.

There, the photographic is transferred to the current space, from which our encounter with the world will make the images present. Where now we are the new place of images, and we are agents that produce images for the vision of others.

In conclusion, we can affirm that our relationship with new technologies displaces our thinking. Thus, we can sophisticate the conceptual relationships that had been maintained with previous representation techniques.



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