Visual Cartography.

By Oscar Guzmán


For over 35,000 years, we have been representing what we see and imagine, what terrifies us and what we desire. In dark caves, ancestral shamans used orthogonal projections to cast the canonical profiles of terrifying beasts and undecipherable geometries onto sacred stones and rocks. Like a powerful conceptual telephoto, the shamans compressed distance, creating the world’s first visual cartographies..

Trees © Oscar Guzmán

The universality of this representational form and its extraordinary perseverance through time confirms that, in the grand spectrum of human history, visual cartography based on orthogonal profiles and mysterious marks characterizes us as a Graphic Species.

Sacred Space © Oscar Guzmán

New visual strategies arose after the era of simple, planar representations. In Asia, axonometric perspective developed, while in Persia, and during the splendor of the Byzantine era, exotic projection methods were used. It was not until the Renaissance, 600 years ago, that linear perspective was used – thanks to the work of Alhazein, Roger Bacon and Brunelleschi.  Renaissance artists, and their successors, came to use the camera oscura and camera lucida extensively as tools to create visual cartographies.

Acuatic Space © Oscar Guzmán

Fortress © Oscar Guzmán

Over the following centuries a kind of natural selection took place among the projection methods used to represent space, with some visual cartographies becoming extinct and others fusing to form graphic hybrids. By the end of the 19th Century the Renaissance perspective became the most accepted for representing the world.

Juanes´ Library © Oscar Guzmán

It was around the same time, in the mid-1800’s, that the invention of photography exposed the representative rigidity of academic painting. In the 20th Century artists once again adopted their role as visual researchers and, through their painting and photography, audaciously redefined the existing parameters of visual representation. The Cubist and Abstractionist movements and artists like Rodshenko, Moholy-Nagy and Kandinski reclaimed the ability to invent vibrant and coherent visual cartographies. Their visual research continues to have a resounding impact in today’s artistic pluralism.

Ariel´s Studio © Oscar Guzmán

With the appearance of the personal computer in the late 20th Century a revolution occurred in our ways of thinking and representing; photography was profoundly affected. Three-dimensional design programs were created that made it possible to generate cartographies of imaginary spaces, opening the possibility of creating virtual realities. The computer/camera juxtaposition also inaugurated the possibility of creating new forms of visual representation.

Red Stairs © Oscar Guzmán


The Visual Planisphere.

The 360° panorama is an example of what the computer/camera system can attain. Using just a camera the entirety of the visual sphere is impossible to capture photographically. However, when a large number of photographs of a space are taken from a single point (for example, the visual equator, north visual latitude, visual zenith, etc.) and digitally assembled, a total representation of the space is created: The Visual Planisphere. This is an image with total representation in which the forward, behind, above and below coexist. This representation includes discrete units of time. Though taken individually with a single optical instrument, the result, after its digital synthesis, is a conceptual representation of Space and Time.

In the Visual Planisphere, the observer interferes in the Space/Time representation of the world. He is an obstacle because he occupies a place in the space he wants to represent, and so he must cede “his” place in it. In a way, his presence is felt in his absence.

Space with Mirrors © Oscar Guzmán

The computer/camera system has transcended the purely optical system of the camera alone and offers a new way of codifying the continum of Space/Time. In juxtaposition, these two technologies have opened the doors to the invention of new forms of representation, free of the limits imposed by earlier technologies. These new codes lead us into new enigmas and invite us to engage in new reflections.

White Interior © Oscar Guzmán

And so, we enter anew the world of Visual Cartography to encounter new surprises and paradoxes.

Like our ancestral shamans and artist predecessors, we keep making new maps and codes as part of our fascination with contemplating, exploring and understanding what surrounds us.

Oscar Guzmán
Merida, Yucatan,
México, August 2004


For a full portfolio of images, click on the following links. Please note that you need Quicktime version 6.5 or later.