I mentioned the defamiliar in my post about the photographer Simen Johan, so i thought I’d follow up with abit of theory.
The defamiliar is the normal that in some small way has been destabilised. The core idea of the defamiliar is that which is normal that isn’t. “If the veil of normality produces only the familiar then surely the result of removing this veil provides other visual opportunities.
All images communicate on many levels, we can crudely reduce these variables into primary and secondary levels of understanding. The primary level is purely informative, a closed meaning and benile imagery. The second level is to do with the subtext of the image, using metaphor, myth and narratives to create a further layer of meaning. It is this secondary layer that we must understand is the malleable stuff that makes true creativity, and the meanings that this second layer puts across are in infinite flux because these meanings never stay still. Everything has been done before, but its these new visual decisions that makes old subjects seem new and interesting, the defamiliar is one tool that makes the viewer think they are seeing something original for the first time.
“As perception becomes habitual it becomes automatic.” Victor Shklovsky
“Creatives must do more than see the world how it is; they must create interest by making new visual decisions.” Susan Sontag
Why do certain texts seem different and stand out? (where text can be anything creative) We’re not concerned with anything psychological or mystical. The answer to this difference was the texts defamiliarity and the production of the text. Some images are masked and can’t be readily explained by usual semiotic methods. The defamiliar “transforms and intensifies the ordinary image”. It refuses to be understood and remains curious to our gaze. “Beauty is dimmed by the mist of familiarity” Oscar Wilde
“Image made strange, because of this estrangement the everyday world seems also unfamiliar. In the routines of everyday life our perceptions and responses become stale and automated.” As photographers we can benefit from a conscious decision to escape from the banile and form a conscious mind set of the defamiliar.
As creatives we need to understand the process with which you can engage and clarify between the benile and the shimmer of the defamiliar. This shimmering characteristic of the defamiliar makes it more interesting as the meaning doesn’t stand still but shifts and changes. Part of its beauty is it doesn’t reside anywhere we can readily find it, but it can be found anywhere.
A good example of the defamiliar is the introduction to the David Lynch film, Blue Velvet. The viewer is shown a typical American suburb where nothing is particularly out of the ordinary, but the whole sequence somehow feels odd or uncomfortable to the viewer.