Where Are We In This Picture?

When we watch a film, we experience it with eyes and ears, but also connect with it in a way that awakens our senses of touch, movement, and emotion, says Jennifer M. Barker, author of The Tactile Eye. In her interview on ROROTOKO last week, Barker illustrates how a film invites us to see and feel the world through its eyes, as if the film had a body of its own. Barker explores the three areas of touch—skin, musculature, and viscera—that are engaged between cinema and spectator, and illustrates how watching a film is a kind of mutual possession. Film and viewer are not entirely separate entities, but engulf one another for a time and then emerge again, as she shows in the example of James Williamson’s 1901 film, The Big Swallow (below). This scene, says Barker, embodies perfectly the all-consuming yet transitory nature of the encounter between film and viewer: “The Big Swallow forces the question, where are we in this picture? The ambiguity of Williamson’s film suggests the tactile, corporeal, reversible contact between film and spectator, who embrace or even ingest one other—in both directions—and yet do not disappear into one another entirely. The Big Swallow depicts quite literally and imaginatively the intimate and tactile crossover of the inside and the outside, of the subject and the object of this tactile vision.”

Read Jennifer M. Barker’s ROROTOKO interview.