Whitehot Magazine

Sensing Sensibility: 2 1/2 D: The Stereoscopic Photography of Steven Pinker

Installation view. Courtesy of Sweet Lorraine Gallery.


By ELIZABETH MEGGS April 2, 2024

The limits of our physical perceptual abilities as humans, with miniscule eyes in a vast universe, are profound and significant confines. Our brains compensate for these physical perceptual limits by relying on visual hints, such as the overlapping of objects, to create an understanding of three dimensions. In "2 1/2 D: The Stereoscopic Photography of Steven Pinker" at Sweet Lorraine Gallery, curated by Nicholas Cueva, a series of photos, straightforward single and double images primarily of individual flowers, serves to advance understanding about what it means to be a two-eyed seeing human organism in relation to a visible world.

The "2 1/2 D" of the exhibition's title refers to the imagined or mental space rendered by the human mind's ability to transform a projection onto the flat surfaces at the back of our two eyes into a perceived view of the world that is not exactly three-dimensional, but rather a mental visualization of three-dimensional space. What we see, or think we see, of the world, is essentially an informed imagination of the world. 

The flower images are viewable using various apparatus in the exhibition's interactive presentation. The on-site gallery experience includes a fun, hands-on history of the technology of stereoscopic photography, from its 1838 origins to the present. From a hand-held wooden viewing device with angled mirrors, representative of Charles Wheatstone's first 1838 stereoscope, through familiar red and blue 3D glasses and plastic View-Master toys, and into the latest advanced technology of computer monitors that utilize microscopic ridges and eye-tracking, the poignant and at times playful human attempt through history at understanding sight and perceived dimensionality persists through the exhibit. 

Complexity is made easy to understand, marking Pinker's adeptness as an educator. Not widely known as an artist, Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker's current renown comes from his work as an author, scholar, educator, and experimental psychologist. Pinker's investigation in the art exhibit is to understand ourselves via the logistics of our perception and cognition, human vision, and why and how humans might find something beautiful.

Installation view. Courtesy of Sweet Lorraine Gallery.

The flowers in the photographs are found natural ephemera from manifold sources: spotted during travels, purchased at flower vendors, or from Pinker's own garden. Most are shot with a reductive black background in a carefully lit studio setting, distilling the floral forms to a potent visual clarity. Through his eyes, the camera becomes an alembic. A few flowers are pictured in their natural habitats. From a multi-colored lantana to a pale pink rose, the striking shapes and dramatic colors intrinsic in the flowers are the most likely aspect of the work to evoke an emotional response amid the objective context of the stereoscopic technology of the exhibit. A poignant divergence from flowers exists in a stereoscopic photo of a dead hummingbird Pinker found in his driveway. In his writing about the exhibit and artist talk at the opening, Pinker raised the question of why humans might have an emotional response or find beauty in flowers, when, objectively speaking, flowers evolved to seem visually attractive for insects and hummingbirds. In his exhibition statement, Pinker wondered, "If species that are so widely separated in the tree of life independently evolved to find flowers ravishing, might beauty be not just in the eye of the beholder, but an inherent feature of reality?"

Pinker does, in fact, rely on this understood beauty of flowers to bring expressive and emotionally communicative qualities to the artwork featured in the exhibit, while still maintaining an explicative and logically analytical position in creating the works included. Without the inherent beauty of the flowers, the exhibit would be more scientific and technological demonstration than art exhibit. This intersection of art and science is a welcome collaboration.

Courtesy of the author.

Our eyes intake and perceive information, but they also have outtake in their ability to be expressive and connective. Just try staring into the eyes of your widowed mother at your father's funeral, making long and strong direct eye contact with your romantic partner, or looking deeply into the eyes of a starved rescue dog, and you'll doubtless know that our eyes are not purely about intake, but may also be a window to our hearts. 

Pinker demonstrates, through his stereoscopic photographic investigation, reverence and wonder toward ourselves, what makes us human, how we see, and how our brains express themselves to ourselves. It is in this demonstration of reverence for humankind, and his careful craft, that he reaches a respectable level of artistry. At this juncture Steven Pinker is poised, if he allows himself to run a bit wild, to develop his artistic investigation to unleash an even more profound, meaningful, intuitive, and emotional understanding of what makes us deeply human, opening the window to his own heart. He has put many parts together to unlock understanding, and an expansion of this sense into heightened sensitivity and personal expression as an artist might yield exciting and unpredictable results.

"2 1/2 D: The Stereoscopic Photography of Steven Pinker" runs through March, by appointment only. Please contact the gallery at tiartstudios@gmail.com. Sweet Lorraine Gallery, 183 Lorraine St., Brooklyn, New York, 11231. WM 

Elizabeth Meggs

Elizabeth Meggs is a Brooklyn-based artist, writer, and designer, whose most recent work includes paintings, public art, and designs such as clocks. In recent years, she has exhibited her work extensively, including at Go Brooklyn! with the Brooklyn Museum, Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center, Galapagos Art Space, Edward Hopper House, Pratt Institute’s Steuben and Dean’s Galleries, and more. In 2021, she was one of 78 artists selected to create a cow for CowParade New York City. In 2022, she was selected as one of ten artists in New York City to create an ice sculpture for the Inaugural Governors Island Ice Sculpture Exhibition. In 2022, she was one of 20 observers selected to be on-site on September 26, 2022 at the Johns Hopkins applied Physics Laboratory for NASA’s DART Mission spacecraft-asteroid collision, humankind’s first ever test of planetary defense.

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