Drawing Antonioni's "Blow Up"

Analytical drawing for a philosophy seminar focused on interrogating contemporary relations with technology at The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), instructor Jake Matatyaou, 2015

Asked to consider the implications of technology in various films, this project undertook an analysis of the use of the camera as a tool for seeing in Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film "Blow Up". Where the film employs the camera to see what cannot be witnessed by the eye, or rather what was neglected, this drawing traces the various perspectives which tie the photographic image of crime back to its spatial and temporal context, thus indexing how this understanding unfolds for the film's main character.

How to Get Inside It

Antonioni posits several devices which can be used to explicate spatial and temporal elements alike through the vantages depicted in the film. In particular, the investigation of the scenes staged in Maryon Park offer ample ground to conceptualize the unique stance with the time that one finds in Thomas’ retroactive inspection of his developed photographs.

While the medium of photography is itself constrained by the linear aspect of time, a recompiling of the frames shown throughout the sequence in the photographer’s loft begins to reveal a novel interpretation of how events unfold in time.

To enact this juxtaposition of multiple frames of the same event unfolding linearly through a narrative is to question their veracity against one another, much the same as the very challenge with which the photographer finds himself in the film.

The spatial mechanism of the grid is employed to smooth this transition between spaces (the space of the observer, the photographer, and that of the content, or the scene in the park). This entire system finds itself within the frame of the drawing on the page, bringing in a further speculative aspect of spectatorship on the part of the audience to the drawing. What might this recomposition of reality have to say about the veracity with which we encounter things? To what extent do we rely on the linear narrative and fluid motion of life to compile our memories? Might these be usefully tweaked?

What It Is

The camera is a device inherently related to time. A photograph is therefore a very precise snippet of passing action as time progresses relentlessly forward. In Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow Up”, a photographer retroactively comes to understand what he has already captured in a series of photos. By forcing the protagonist to rebuild his own skewed perception of the encounter, Antonioni instigates a direct conversation with the essence and material constraints of photography.

The photograph is inherently limited by its single- frame nature of capture. Mere slices of time are transposed onto a reproduced image which purports to reconstruct the “reality” of what was occurring. Because of this inscriptive nature, the photographic image has an innate temporality embedded within it. Particularly interesting in “Blow Up” is the film’s eponymous scene in which the photographer develops his images and first discovers the anomaly about which the majority of the plot drives itself.

Through a sequence of enlargements, the film enacts a two-fold investigation into photography, beginning with the mere act of looking. While the photographer himself had solely transcribed the scene while at the park, the film’s indication that he remains oblivious to the actual reality before him seemingly questions the veracity with which we hold observation to reality. Can we truly trust our senses if we remain fooled or ignorant to what is directly before us? Likewise, what role does the photograph partake in during its reproduction of a specific moment in time? Though the images the photographer gazes across on the wall illicit the exact replication of what occurred, he remains far beyond comprehension of what those mean. That the woman hugs her husband with trepidation or that the pair find themselves at gunpoint are occurrences for which the singular image can offer no justification.

What is more, the photograph merely complicates the reading of these events in its parceling of time and space. Quite intentionally, the scene is staged theatrically in the forced perspective of London’s Maryon Park, the first in a series of elements which indicate that Antonioni uses the photographic medium (alongside the cinematographic method of reproduction) to interrogate the devices of narrative and story. Later on this explicates itself further as the camera pans and zooms between the still frames shot at the park, positing the viewer into a kind of inverted relationship with the filmic reconstruction of an event by telling the story of the telling of a story.

These manipulations of the porous boundaries which separate film, audience, narrative and event crafted throughout “Blow Up” facilitate the precise medium-grounded exposé through which Antonioni sends Thomas, the photographer. Combined, they leave less a specific rumination on a murder than a hypothesis about space, time and memory. Having woven the three through the pictorial space of the park, the retroactive realization of the plot and the uncertainty of the truly witnessed, the film stages a shifting relationship between the image and the content it depicts, thoroughly fertilizing ground by which the themes can be productively misplaced and interrogated.