Re: Photo recognition

Matthew Hill (mhhill@WATARTS.UWATERLOO.CA)
Wed, 26 Jul 1995 08:08:42 -0400

On Tue, 25 Jul 1995, Richard Spear wrote:

> Curiouser and curiouser ... I would think that groups already
> producing lifelike images would be able to recognise a likeness if
> shown one ... the Benin of West Africa at the turn of the century or
> the Moche of eighth century Peru, for example. Realistic depictions
> may be limited to groups identified as chiefdoms or (nascent)
> states. This puts an interesting evolutionary spin on this topic. All
> speculative, of course ...

Richard's point on the ability of peoples from cultures in which
'life-like images' already occur being able to recognize them seems
reasonable if not self-evident. His further speculation about the
social setting of 'realistic depictions'* less so. I doubt that anyone
would suggest that late glacial Europe was organized so complexly as
to warrant the chiefdom label.

It is in regard to these very early representations that I became
interested in the topic. If, as seems likely, so-called realistic
representation is a cultural invention than the apparently sudden
surge of it in the later paleolithic tells us something about a specific
technological development but not necessarily anything about changes in
the soggy wiring (brain) behind it as some argue it does.

Thanks to Sigurdjon Baldur Hafsteinsson for a reference to Bruce Cook's
1981 book Understanding Pictures in Papua New Guinea, which he tells me
reviews all early work (pre 1975) on that subject.

* As Philip Dark used to tell his students, all representations are
abstractions. To be truly realistic or naturalistic presumably demands
feeling and smelling like the thing, not just looking like it.

Matthew Hill (