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AS YOU SEE Jayne Wilson

Looking at Television Our senses can be trusted but can also be easily fooled

Science & Illusion

Rapid advances in technology during the early twentieth century saw the enquiring minds of scientists and inventors exploring the possibilities offered in the worlds of engineering, electricity and photography. The technology of the industrial revolution was now being employed in entertainment and domestic roles. The manually operatedVictorian optical toys, whose animation entertained in many a parlour, were being replaced by devices that mechanically leafed through photographic images to create moving pictures. These machines grew from the principle of persistence of vision examined by Muybridge and Marey in their timed photographic studies of movement. The emergence of moving pictures followed with the cinematic experiments of Edison, the Lumiere brothers and The Hove Pioneers, exploiting the same principle, persistence of vision.



The flickering images of post war television and the advent of digital appear far removed from those early breakthroughs, but the innovators of today exploit the same phenomenon of persistence of vision. The weakness in human vision that tricks the brain into seeing movement where there is none. With the retina holding onto an image for a fraction of a second after it has gone the next image appears to merge into it. Using itermittent light impulses to literally build a picture; the scanning in analogue television was rapid enough that the eye was unaware of the process. ‘High-definition’ television, following Logie Baird’s humble 30 line picture, introduced 405-line pictures. An electron beam scanned the lines from top to bottom, 25 times a second on odd lines first then returned to the top of the screen to scan and interlace with the even 2,4,6 lines.

technology advanced to 625 lines pictures and onto the pixel lines of today screens. Our eyes play tricks on us every day. not only in the merged motion television but to simple optical illusions that present us with distorted impression of size and movement. Persistence of vision interprets apparent motion, we have blind spots, change blindness and a constantly distorted perception of time. An alarming reality is that our brains subconsciously acknowledge things that our eyes fail to see. ‘…Our minds take shortcuts,’ writer Melissa Hogenbloom tells us. ‘Like betting for the best horse in a race, our brain constantly chooses the most likely interpretation of what we see’. Seeing then, it seems, is certainly not believing.





The substitution of one object for another at progressively different positions fools the eye into seeing motion where there is none



As You See takes the illusory nature of television, and mesmerising qualities of the screen, beyond the imagery of dramas and documentaries, to play with the truth that the television ‘picture’ in fact does not exist. The film purports to be an explanation of the 405 linesystem adopted by early television. It appears to describe basic engineering principles and persistence of vision. In reality the growing aesthetic play of the patterning of dots and lines, verticals and horizontals drawing us into a playful game, whose hypnotic and mesmerising effect is not dissimilar to our absorption in television. The near constant presence of dots varying in size, darting in rows and shifting between graphic pattern and ‘live action’, convey the sense that they are essentially the same thing. Light on our retinas.


We are continuously reminded of the presence of these illusive and invisible points of light with a driving musical motif carried through the soundtrack. Insistent and repeated rhythms register with the changes in the visual. Shifting with the footage of television pictures to the imagined and hidden trickery of their inner workings. Rapid and heady their appearances surge through to the melodic finale of merging images. Leaving us slightly baffled, dispite its simple origins, as to the actual engineering principles behind television. At the point of the demise of analogue and high definition that has come with their digital counterparts. As You See is a timely reminder that since those Victorian masters who borrowed from the conjuror’s playbook and the photographers who immortalised movement we are still so easily tricked when it comes to moving pictures.

A signed edition flick book is available. For details see This publication and limited edition wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Arts Coucil England, Chris Mullen, Suzy Plumb, Rachel Adams, Brighton & Hove Museums, Darren Connolly and Benjamin Connolly


As You See  

A simple but oblique look at the illusory nature of television

As You See  

A simple but oblique look at the illusory nature of television