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O Magazine

Reading glasses.

The ultra high definition
myth and other
retinal fantasies
by Rubén Lardín.

is off

The symptoms were many. The first one was inferred from a reduction in my reading time in bed. Instead of the two hours, minimum, invested in that daily pleasure, three quarters of an hour became more than enough. It was three or four years ago, when I had been on this Earth for four decades and I reached what was formerly called the age of melancholy. When I turned forty I started to notice a light eye fatigue in unison with the accumulation of experiences and conquered worlds. I didn’t stop seeing, but it seems I was getting tired of looking.

Despite its denomination between sin and penitence, long-sightedness is nothing more than the waste of the ciliary muscle, a hypermetropia brought about by time that in my case would bring about an obsession for hues, a desire for higher resolutions and a sickening look for something similar to high definition. Back then I had access to an original drawing by Felicien Rops, a simple but very delicate piece in which a woman was attacked by a tentacular and watery entity, very Lovecraftian and almost hentai. In that drawn imagination by one of the most blasphemous agents of the history of art I felt ready to condemn myself. I wanted my eyes to be a deep sky telescope, I pretended to see galaxies and nebulas and tuck my nose against it. My tired eyes were getting dangerously close to the abyss. I forgot that it’s by wanting to see everything that one becomes blind, and in around six months I accumulated at least seven pairs of spectacles, each more powerful than the previous one, each pair ready to overcome a supposed dioptre I wasn’t affected by, and so each new acquisition took me to bend further and further over maps to the point that I suffered from a literal synaesthesia, that is, the substitution of one sense for another: all of a sudden I saw myself behaving like a dog smelling the territory.

Since the first risqué images secretly sold, which would be soon coloured with aniline, to the migration of X movies to home formats (when the conservative sectors, afraid of the reach of the material via VHS, specified on paper which practices could be done on the screen and which would be banned from then on), pornography has always been the laboratory of progress, a concept that doesn’t always analyse what’s left behind. Pornography was the first object of fantasy for virtual reality when virtual reality was seen as a disruptive option, before it turned into the sad substitution of reality it has become today. Pornography sums us up: everything starts and ends with it.

In the beginning of the nineties, working as an errand boy for a couple of small porn production companies, last instances that tried to invigorate a scene that memory still linked with the idea of counterculture, it called my attention a detail that came into conflict with what I understood as pornography: marks left by bras. During shootings, before filming any scenes, make up artists, assistants and other novices made sure no actress showed marks of their lingerie on the screen. In order to avoid them, they massaged the area or waited the time it took for them to disappear from the skin. In my opinion, that was a mistake, since although pornography is pure fantasy, I’ve always found stimulatingly tender to see life’s miseries portrayed on it. I associate that memory with the constant ditty to find the highest definition, which currently, or so I’m told, has reduced the average age of actresses if favour of smoother, shinier images free of skin imperfections. I don’t know if this implies a change in paradigm or if it responds to a natural order of things, but it seems that’s what’s happening.

The thing is that the anxiety to see more and see it better, more clearly, has made us prisoners of a constant perfection of hiding mechanisms. We detect defects more efficiently, the Photoshop monster has become real, there have appeared new canons and for the first time in the history of film, a technological advance is in fact a step behind. We decline film, lose depth of field and have to evoke it in 3D, which in its logical evolution is about to make images tangible thanks to the appearance of 3D printers, a device we’ll place alongside our Nespresso machine so that before taking our coffee substitute we can eat some cookies made of insect flour. All these things might be fascinating, but at the same time we have to recognise that we’re all quite messed up.

Similar things have happened all throughout history. I won’t be able to enumerate all its instances, but high definition has always existed. There was a time, not so long ago, when it became fashionable to paint cartoons with oil: my generation witnessed this. Before, photographs were taken post mortem because the dead were the only capable of not moving. After that, chemicals and silver salts evolved and today Christopher Nolan, one of the most boring directors in our time, and, on top of that, the man who has made Michael Caine cry twice, keeps in his collection a Hasselblad 80mm lens, which in film circles is known as a Nolan 80. What does he want it for when his films are still a piece of shit? A long time before that, at a given moment of the history of art, painters stopped using gold leaf to express holiness and started mixing pigments and bold executions. That is to say, image went from being generated by paint to being created on the eye of the beholder, like sties. It was a manoeuvre which predicted the end of classes and contained a paradox: the future surrender to its own greed of a middle class that would end up hanging on its living room walls or waiting rooms (a whole life of waiting) a reproduction of Klimt’s The Kiss. Sometimes, even, referring to the obscenity inherent to the operation, with the couple lying down.

But we were talking about snacks and genitalia, two conquests of the contemporary audiovisual industry in which both kids and adults have become magpies eager to jump on anything that shines, starting by animation films that reject lines and are exclusively based on simulating light physics. Stuffed with exuberance, our eyes have become gluttons and find their apotheosis in films such as Knights of the Zodiac, an anime a well-formed mentality will find difficult to access. That film, not sure if good or bad, but with an extremely corny epic content, a great amount of fire and based on the exuberance of chromed tones, mythological ectoplasms and boreal allusions, emerged with ultramarine and precious gem aspirations, as a teenage secret that surpassed any type of hyperrealism to achieve a sumptuous kitsch very similar to pornography. Everything on it shines like dolphins’ skin. Each image sparkles like a business tower recently built over miserable surroundings, in a notion of luxury that is reaffirmed by contrast, in pixel art, lo-fi or seapunk disorientation, to the tolerance we have developed towards TV news with mobile phone videos or stinky YouTube and software developments which artificially emulate the film grain digital recordings are devoid of. The following day of watching that inscrutable film I decided to visit an ophthalmologist. A few years earlier, Charles Champlin had dictated his book My Friend, You Are Legally Blind, in which the man who had been the main film critic of Los Angeles Times since the sixties explains his experience with macular degeneration.

But life goes on. One step forward, and one step back. We still can’t watch the Sun, we’ll never be able to, and our addiction to sunscreens instead of illuminated screens might be an indication that we are living dark times. High definition, undetectable if we don’t compare it with a previous precariousness, is here to stay, or maybe it will just disappear and all we can expect of it, I imagine, is for it to reward us with stories. After the fever of multiplying frames with the futile goal of accelerating narrations, the illness of high definition proposes now a voluptuousness of images that, maybe, so that we can stop and contemplate them, will take us back to a previous rhythm devoid of mannerisms, to a certain tranquillity that reminds us that in order to rest our eyes we need to look far way, something we can’t do in big cities because they lack an horizon.