• Email
  • Print

Detaching the Retina

In response to:

Proto-Photo from the December 3, 1981 issue

To the Editors:

In their review of Before Photography [NYR, December 3], Charles Rosen and Henri Zerner list curvature of the retina among the traits of “natural” perspective, and contrast it to the flat plane of projection in “artificial” perspective. Likening the retinal surface to the picture surface in this way is completely mistaken. There is never an image as such on the retina. Even if there were, the mind does not “see” what is on the retina in any way remotely analogous to the way it sees what is on a picture surface. What has come to be known as the homunculus theory of vision has long been discredited. Curvature of the retina plays an important role in optics, but in perception its role appears to be nil.

This is a small if important lapse in an otherwise interesting review, and the article on Realism by the same authors seemed outstanding, and gave me much to think about.

Norman Turner

Queens College, CUNY

New York City

Charles Rosen and Henri Zerner replies:

Mr. Turner’s point is well taken. We should not have given the impression that we were contrasting linear perspective to a recent theory of visual perception which, as Turner points out, is divorced from optics. This is true and important. But it does not affect our argument, that linear perspective is an artificial device, and not a fact of nature, and that this was understood from the sixteenth century. In the history of this distinction between pictorial perspective and actual vision (sometimes called natural perspective) the curvature of the retina has played a role, even if a mistaken one.

  • Email
  • Print