Perception and the self

It’s not the photograph that disturbs you it’s you don’t understand what photography is. Photography is disturbing said Geryon.

Photography is a way of playing with perceptual relationships. Well exactly.

But you don’t need a camera to tell you that. What about stars? Are you going to tell me none of the stars are really there? Well some are there but some burned out ten thousand years ago.

I don’t believe that.
How can you not believe it, it’s a known fact. But I see them. You see memories!  

Have we had this conversation before?

Geryon followed Herakles to the back porch. They sat on opposite ends of the sofa.

Do you know how far away some of those stars are?

Just don’t believe it. Let’s see someone touch a star and not get burned. He’ll holdup his finger. Just a memory burn he’ll say
then I’ll believe it.


When Herackles discusses photography with Geryon, we begin to understand his ideas about memory and reality. Geryon has a difficult relationship with perception and throughout the book we’re forced to consider what it means for someone who’s considered a monster to interact with the rest of society. Geryon is physically marked with his wings and his skin as ‘other’ but he also has a different relationship with learning and with words. Photography speaks to him because it’s a medium which he can understand and control and manipulate in ways he isn’t able to do with words and language.

While re-reading this passage, I couldn’t help but think about the poem we read in class by Adrienne Rich, Diving Into the Wreck. Rich brings up ideas about longevity and mythology, and she really hits the audience with thoughts on memory and belonging. She begins the poem, “First having read the book of myths, and loaded the camera…” before diving into the ocean to explore, and the journey to the ship wreck she begins preparing herself with what she thinks she’ll need, and it’s only after beginning her journey that she realizes that she’s not looking at the wreck from an outsider perspective, but rather she is a part of it and has to confront it within her own perceptions. She ends the poem,

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.


Geryon develops through the story in similar ways to the narrator in Adrienne Rich’s poetry; by diving up close to the wreck, he’s forced to consider how he fits into his own story, rather than viewing his role in his own story as passive. His own mythos is only clear to him because of his work with the camera.

One thought on “Perception and the self”

  1. I love the connection you made between Autobiography and Diving into the Wreck. I wanted to ask, what is different about the two, and what is Herakles doing in this passage? Like you said, the diver brings tools they think they’ll need to enter an unknown space that turns out to be the diver theirself. In a very similar, yet almost entirely opposite way, Geryon uses the tool of photography to describe, capture, and understand things that are “disturbing”. I think of this as the opposite of the diver because in the passage you quoted Geryon gathers his tools and shares his truth, but is met with the opposition that is Herakles. He doesn’t even leave any space to consider photography and what it means to Geryon that you can manipulate relationships and reality with the medium. The diver doesn’t meet opposition, only a reflection of themselves. Rather than introduce a barrier or difference the poem reveals a duality, a palimpsest. Yet Geryon is in another cage; he himself can look inward but Herakles won’t let him take this consideration outside of himself.

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