Seeing For Others

Fatma Bucak, Omne Muem, Nihil Muem II, 2012. Image copyright belongs to the artist.

Edited by the London based photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg, Seeing For Others brings together the work of 21 individuals studying photography at the Royal College of Art between 2011 and 2012. The concept for the book is at once simple yet also equally complex: the students were asked to anonymously write down their dreams, ‘real or invented’ as it says in the manual to the book. They selected a dream blindfolded, while this random selection would then become the starting point for a series of photographs produced in response to the dream. The two elements in the book, the original dream and the photographs derived from that dream, are each connected by a text written by the German philosopher Alexander García Düttmann. Via this quasi-social experiment, the book can be seen to uncover, through word and image, the latent meaning of dreamscapes.

Theo Niderost, Nebule I, 15.43, 16/12/2011, 2012. Image copyright belongs to the artist.

The viewer will feel the urge to search for key passages mentioned in the dream: the dreamer’s father, a black cat, a sexual encounter and so forth. The interpretation of the dream is however rarely straightforward and these imaginary subjects remain unrepresented in the photographs. Rather, the students appeared to have interpreted the dream on a metaphorical and psychoanalytical level. In response to a dream about the opening of doors and entrances for instance, in Nebule I & II Theo Niderost photographed lusciously green fern growing in mist and fog. The photograph is devoid of any detail as the viewer tries to distinguish where and how the image was taken. This lack of clarity signifies the uncertainty of not knowing of what lies behind the imaginary doors of the original dream.

Jolanta Dolewska, Beginning to stir I, 2012. Image copyright belongs to the artist.

Another dream addresses the notion of feeling out of sync with the world. In the dream this impression is triggered by a bus driver who, unusually, accepts foreign currency. The photographic interpretation appears less concerned with the detail of the narrative of the dream, than it is with the lasting feeling the dream has evoked. To achieve this, Jolanta Dolewska photographed the barren concrete walls of what appears to be an industrial site. The walls are lit by a lamp, the wires of which precariously dangle from the ceiling. The harsh lines of the interior architecture are visually penetrated by the haphazard lighting system and the awkward wires attached to it. In this case, the out-of-syncness is evoked by the light, which, although not entirely out of place, does not completely ‘fit’ into its environment either.

Tereza Zelenkova, Untitled (Collage), 2012. Image copyright belongs to the artist.

Given that dreams are often strung together from multiple experiences and encounters, a number of students responded to the dream in the form of a collage or images layered upon each other. Here, in other words, the deconstructed and perhaps confusing narrative of the dream is in fact emphasised in the very format of representation. Considering that the dreamers are artists and photographers, it is perhaps unsurprising that many of the dreams are inherently visual. One student wrote his dream in the form of a mini screenplay which even included the type of cinematic shot (medium long shot, close up etc.) the dream was perceived in. This particular case vividly illustrates that the division between image and word is perhaps more blurry than might first be assumed. Here, the initial starting point for a visual interpretation is not as much based on words, but rather, it is based on words describing an imagined visual experience.

An essay at the end of the book, written by the head of the Royal College of Art Photography department Olivier Richon, adds a thought-provoking art historical and philosophical dimension to the project. As a result of the various visual and textual elements in the book, Seeing For Others can be read and looked at like a puzzle of the imagination – a puzzle that will never be fully completed yet the viewer is still absorbed in putting the different pieces together. III Originally published at

Seeing For Others is available as a book.

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