“All photographs are illusions”

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by cliveh, Nov 13, 2013.

  1. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    In a previous post Michael R made the point that “All photographs are illusions” and he is probably correct. However, I thought this statement maybe a good topic for discussion. My own feeling is yes, but perhaps as a photographer, I live in a world of illusions, but hopefully at times grounded in reality.
     
  2. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    It's complex.

    It's an illusion because it's a representation of something on a piece of paper. Not the real thing. Obviously.

    It has a point of view that is the same as the photographer's.

    It's a selective view, cropped and angled to achieve it's goal. It could be of a mountain with nobody in the picture, very stark and lonely, but perhaps I cropped out all the people. So what I show is not exactly what was there.

    If I take a picture of someone batting a person over the head. It creates a response from the viewer. It's real. Not an illusion. But it only shows it happening once, not necessarily the number of times it actually happened. He could have been hit over the head 10 times. He could have deserved it. Maybe or maybe not. So while the photograph is real, it tells only a part of a story, making it less real. Or less factual.

    If I take a picture of a mother lovingly holding a baby. You see the love. Very moving. What if the "mother" is an actress and the baby is not her's. You were duped. Happens every day in movies.

    Look at migrant mother. We see defeat and anguish. What if the mother is just bored that the photographer keeps taking shot after shot and is getting sick of it and wish she would bugger off so she can go and make dinner.

    In reality we are all vibrating energy. Not what our eyes see. What are eyes see are an illusion.

    So what we re-create with a camera is probably an illusion as well.

    So what is reality?
     
  3. Shawn Dougherty

    Shawn Dougherty Member

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    You've already worded it almost perfectly for me. Photographs are illusions, illusions grounded in reality which makes them so believable... and that is one of the qualities I love most about the medium.
     
  4. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    Complex to say the least. It is often said that reality is perception... but perception can be either real or an illusion, or even transitory between those states.
     
  5. Chris Lange

    Chris Lange Member

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    It is my personal belief that the power of a photograph lies not in its ability to describe, but its ability to interpret and distill.

    [​IMG]
    courtesy Daido Moriyama and the ICP Library

    I am not attracted to "perfect" depictions of subject matter...whether that subject matter is perfect in its own right or otherwise. An inquiry is always much more interesting to me than a superficial exaltation.
     
  6. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I would say the power of a photograph lies in its ability to ask questions.
     
  7. Chris Lange

    Chris Lange Member

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    I knew I liked you, Clive.
     
  8. batwister

    batwister Member

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    'Illusion' isn't a word I'd use to describe seeing a photograph. You have to suspend your disbelief to get at what a picture is trying to communicate, which is usually something emotionally or intellectually meaningful - if ambiguous. Whereas an illusion is something that causes you to sustain your disbelief - a brick wall to understanding. We've matured since the very early days of photography, when pictures were magic tricks with light. If we still held that same sense of awe every time we saw a picture, all the cat photographs on the net would be masterpieces. If pictures were just illusions, the content would be incidental.
     
  9. Chris Lange

    Chris Lange Member

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    One day someone is going to take this discussion too far and be found dead, buried underneath a mountain of copies of "On Photography".

    Then someone will take an iphone pic and caption it with "WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?"

    They'll end up dead too.
     
  10. pbromaghin

    pbromaghin Subscriber

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    They still are for me.
     
  11. batwister

    batwister Member

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    You might describe this picture, as an artistic statement, as illusionary. It plays on our idea of the 'phenomenon' of illusions, the half glimpsed.

    I suggest you put down your copy of Camera Lucida for the night. :laugh:
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 13, 2013
  12. Maris

    Maris Member

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    The contrary case can be put.

    Photographs, unique among known picture making processes, are securely immune from the hazard of illusion. All other pictures, paintings, drawings, and digipix, are generated from coded descriptions stored in a brain, either a human brain or a computer brain. And to change the picture all that is needed is to change the description. This is freely possible without reference to any external reality.

    Photographs, on the other hand, are initiated by a physical sample of subject matter penetrating a light sensitive surface and occasioning in situ marks. This pattern of marks, the photograph, arises via the impersonal operation of the laws of chemistry and physics. A photograph is never virtual. A typical 8x10 photograph (for example) weighs about 15.7 grammes and is 0.28mm thick. An honest photograph is inherently incapable of depicting figments of the imagination or hallucinations. The other picture making processes, paintings, drawings, digipix, and what have you, promise that whatever can be thought of can be depicted. Here is a dramatic and decisive difference that sets photography apart.

    None of this argument closes off the richness and perversity of the human imagination. People are free to entertain their own illusions, delusions, misinterpretations, and hallucinations about photographs as with any other aspect of the material world.
     
  13. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    Surely that depends on what you photograph, the way you frame it, how you light it, ad infinitum.
     
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  15. Chris Lange

    Chris Lange Member

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    So the consensus is that such a generalization serves only to spur on further pedantry and lip-blubbering when we should be drinking wine with a pretty lady.

    Or handsome fellow, take your pick.
     
  16. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Seriously????

    I somehow envision you out on the street corner arguing this theory with anyone walking by, pontificating how your brand of photography is the only TRUE path to heaven.
     
  17. Chris Lange

    Chris Lange Member

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    Bottom of my M2, just in case of memory lapse.
    [​IMG]
     
  18. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    a lot of the great photographs are FULL of incidental content.
    random people places and things that were important enough to the
    operator of the camera to put on film and paper ..
    making photographs is still a magic trick
    no so much a rabbit and a hat but other stuff ...
    and using traditional materials has almost become something sacred ..
     
  19. Shawn Dougherty

    Shawn Dougherty Member

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    Nice. :D
     
  20. cowanw

    cowanw Member

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    Is that true?
     
  21. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    At first I thought this was your print and I was astonished...

    Then I saw the tagline...

    At least I still believe this is something you CAN do.
     
  22. hdeyong

    hdeyong Member

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    Photography, like many art forms, is an interpretation. It's not generally a picture of exactly is in front of the lens, but what the photographer thinks or feels is in front of the lens.
    We manipulate our photos from the moment we conceive them by cropping, under or over exposing, the timing of when we push the button, how we develop the film, and in the printing process, we "customize" it even more.
    What we pull out of the final wash is what we think the scene was, how we saw it, and how we put that on paper. That's why photography, in my view, is much more an art than it is a science.
    And to me, art is an illusion.
     
  23. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    What a photograph is, and what a photograph says, are two completely different concepts.

    The former is an objective physical manifestation that proceeds according to the objective physical laws of nature. An expression of the Principle of Uniformitarianism. No subjective input is required. Or even allowed. If one-hundred-million years ago God and random statistics had entertained a moment when all of the necessary ingredients required to create finished Tri-X had miraculously fallen together in the proper order somewhere on a translucent rock, then when the sun arose the following morning a true photographic negative would have been created. No human beings would have been present. Or required. Or even existed. It would have just happened.

    The latter can have as many different interpretations as there are people on this planet. No objective input is required. Or even allowed. If one-hundred-million years later a Neandertal couple happened upon that (archivally processed!) rock negative, then his interpretation of the image as an NFL wide-out reaching back to catch a pass would have been just as valid—and conversely just as invalid—as her interpretation of it as a figure skater performing a pirouette. And if the person reading this post later interpreted it as nothing more than a plate of scrambled eggs, then so be it. It's all good.

    But the ultimate challenge for everyone, which I freely admit has turned out to be a far, far more difficult one to overcome than I ever in my wildest dreams had imagined it would be, is simply not to confuse the two concepts.

    Once that fearsome conceptual hurdle has been successfully negotiated, THEN it's time to gaze into those eyes and pour the wine...

    :cool:

    Ken
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 14, 2013
  24. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Ken:

    This, and your rant from yesterday, make for some serious yin and yang :wink:
     
  25. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    :smile:

    Rants are second cousins to physical pain. Both are God's way of telling you that you're still here. Besides, it's all just a chance way out here on the West Coast to practice some minor creative writing at the end of the APUG day. A well-earned respite from the never-ending search for software memory leaks.

    Except for that Stone dude, almost no one else is still awake anyway. And by tomorrow morning these posts will be buried out somewhere with the kitty litter. No one will ever notice.

    Good to know I have a late evening audience, though...

    :tongue:

    Ken
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 14, 2013
  26. pbromaghin

    pbromaghin Subscriber

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    Naval gazing.

    But very good naval gazing.