Perception in Motion

One of my absolute favorite pastimes is people-watching. That may sound creepy; yet, it’s something that never becomes boring, since no two people will look or act exactly the same. When I people-watch, I feel as if I’m a receiver of information rather than a creator. To put it simply, I enjoy people-watching because it can be an entertaining, passive kind of activity.

At the same time, there have been days when I chose to add a new aspect to my people-watching game. I was recently sitting on a bench at Dupont Circle in D.C. with a friend, and we decided to pick a passerby at random and “invent” a life for him or her. It’s astonishing when I think about the number of attributions we were able to come up with, based exclusively on our first impression of this stranger.

Since “Looking Black At Me” has been in show, I’ve been thinking about the difference between simply observing a person versus actively making assumptions about them. I think that there is a very fine line separating the two things, and this line falls in different places for different people. In my own experiences, I’ve found that it’s sometimes hard to even be aware of crossing the line. It just seems to be a natural human inclination to attach a personality and a characterization to an unknown face.

When I stand in front of the monitors in the gallery and (seemingly) make eye contact with the people in the video, I challenge myself to ignore the impulse to characterize them right off the bat. I particularly like the notion that the person in the screen is essentially looking right back at the viewer, but without making any sort of judgment. It really gets me thinking about the give-and-return that comes with making judgments.

Even when I feel positive that I’m not characterizing someone on first sight, it sometimes happens subconsciously. I think this is why it’s so easy to develop an impression of someone and then stick with it. Something that I’ve taken away from Larry Cook’s work is the idea that perception can be considered fluid. Larry’s exhibit has reminded me that our immediate characterization of someone isn’t set in stone by any means. When visitors come to this show, I like to think that they walk away with the awareness that perception is changeable.



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