"Static image immortalizes famous people"

Pol Capdevila, professor of aesthetics at Pompeu Fabra University will be the speaker of the conference ‘Vanitas vanitatum. Time and celebrity: Bachelard and Warhol ‘on February 4, 2020, at 7:00 p.m., at the Vila de Gràcia Library in Barcelona.

The conference is part of the ‘Cycle of philosophy. Time and existence’, which Capdevila coordinates with Francis García (UDG), and is held from January 9 to February 26, in collaboration with the Association of Philosophy Studies of the UAB.

What does time have to do with famous people?
There is a very direct relationship. We tend to think of famous people from the timeless image provided by static images, photographs or paintings. A portrait represents the essential personality of that character, which has made him famous: beauty, charisma, power, etc.
The capture makes the properties we attribute to the character eternal and, in this way, it becomes divine. In Greek mythology, divine beings were beings out of time. With static images, today we continue to simplify famous people, as if they were immutable.

How do normal people become famous?
Leaving the temporality. Portraying a person through some heroism, a new cultural product or a masterful soccer play. The normal person goes from mundane to famous through a feat framed by which he will be remembered. The snapshot immortalizes famous people.

And, on the other hand, can cultural icons become everyday people?
This video shows how artist Bob Dylan visits the art studio of painter Andy Warhol in New York in 1965, when they were both on the crest of the wave. Warhol recorded Dylan in a Super 8 movie with his insecurities and doubts. Suddenly, rehumanize it.
With the video, the famous re-enters the continuity of time so that he is seen in motion. My thesis is that filming humanizes celebrities and lowers the condition of divinity. They become closer.
Social networks today collaborate. We talk about teleproximity, even if it looks like an oximoron. Rosalía, for example, is an artist loved for her spontaneous, friendly and close character. It transmits proximity with its gestures in videos on Twitter and Instagram. And this strategy humanizes it. I don’t follow her too much but I hope she doesn’t become a slave to this game.

What factor does time play?
In our perception of time two factors play: continuity and discontinuity. We lose continuity where there is change. Time is the perception of continuity or movement, according to the philosophical school. I’ve been around and both schools are part of the reason. In time, things that evolve remain.

What are the bases of the temporality of human visual perception?
Our perception identifies patterns that involve gradual changes. Perceiving a person has a very easy pattern to recognize and, when he moves, we feel that time is running out. It is the combination of a visual pattern with visual changes. In a sunset the changes are slow, for example. Color changes allow us to reflect on moods.
After all, with this natural phenomenon we see a round shape that varies in color as it approaches the horizon until it hides. Without the ability to perceive the passage of time, we could not perceive the difference. What is the first chicken or the egg? There’s no answer. It is the changes that make us aware of the passage of time.

So that pass of time, movement, is the determining factor for a person to become famous or recover the earthly dimension?
Taking up the initial thread, yes. The celebrity is to take a person and turn it, through a fixed image, into something out of time: the Marylin Monroe, as an object of male desire, Stalin as a cruel man or Messi as the best soccer player in history. As if they didn’t change these attributes that have enthroned them.
On the contrary, in this video we can see the effect of the passage of time on an ordinary person, Noah, who has made self-portraits daily for 12 years. The movement, the evolution, is what gives it the quality of everyday life.

Text: Marta Rius (Colectic for Time Programs, of the Department of Gender Transversality, attached to the Municipal Management of the Barcelona City Council)

Photograph: courtesy of Pol Capdevila