Photography - Self Discovery

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Donald Miller, May 7, 2003.

  1. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I have a question or perhaps a consideration, to be more accurate, that I have been embroiled with for some time. I would appreciate the input of those who care to contribute their views.

    I have long thought that certain physical objects depicted in photographs have meaning far beyond the purely physical depiction. This would best be described as the difference between symbolic language and literal language. I think that is why some images speak universally to the majority of us. It seems to me as if there are archetypical symbols that are universal in effect.

    Recognizing that stepping away from purely egotistical interpertations of myself is something that takes most of us a lifetime and perhaps many lifetimes, I wonder if my photographs are messages from the personal and collective unconscious that convey messages to me, or to us, on this road of self discovery. In other words, what do my images, the nature and content of them, communicate to me?

    What are your thoughts? Have you considered the basis of your images, as photographers, from this view point? Is there a possible basis to my consideration? I would enjoy hearing from you.
     
  2. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I think that for many who are serious about photography, you go through stages. Early on is the snapshot, create a memory mentality. Then if one becomes more serious they begin to look closer at the selection of subject matter, compositional style etc. I think I can look back on most of my photographs and wonder, why did I take that? What part of me finds this to be interesting enough to explore with a camera? We create many images that reflect something of our inner selves, yet we don't really understand why or exactly what we are trying to express.

    Those that make it to the next stage (Brett and Ed Weston, Strand, Callahan, Evans or Morris to name a few) understand what it is within them that makes them photograph and have learned to use the medium to create a window into how they see the world and the image is their commentary. I think the great ones see something or search out something to photograph that resonates with them, and they know why it does. They know the real work involves taking that subject and creating an image that translates their inner self into something that conveys that message to others.

    In the final stage, the photographers best images become the equivalent of another artists poem or short story. Maybe the photo conjurs up cool jazz sounds or African rhythms.

    I am like dnmilikan. On that road of self discovery, learing how to use the medium to express a feeling, a point of view, present my ideas on paper, and in the process show a little bit of my past, present and future.
     
  3. Thilo Schmid

    Thilo Schmid Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (dnmilikan @ May 8 2003, 01:11 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>It seems to me as if there are archetypical symbols that are universal in effect. </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>

    Yes. However, every culture has not only its own symbols, but may as well have a different interpretation of each other's symbols.

    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (dnmilikan @ May 8 2003, 01:11 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>In other words, what do my images, the nature and content of them, communicate to me?</td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>

    An almost religious question. There has always been something that moved you to press the shutter. It might have been an impression (e.g. of a landscape) or it might have been your expression (e.g. a still life you have arranged). But it is always something personal. Your pictures are a means to learn something about yourself.
     
  4. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    The definitive work here is "Man and His Symbols", by Carl G. Jung. I think you'll find a LOT of support there.

    I have a somewhat different viewpoint, in that I think I lean, strongly, to the "mystical" rather than "scientific" origins of my work. There are those that are deconstructionists - analyzing each and every particle of a work - most critics that I've come across fall in that niche. These tend to the classic rule: "If it cannot be explained logically, it does not exist".
    The "mystic" is really one who accepts things s/he cannot explain/ understand.

    I remember an interview (from the "Beat" era) where a *wonderful* jazz musician was being asked about his work.

    Interviewer: "Just how are you able to add those nuances, that shading ... that sense of sophistication, into your work?"

    Jazz Musician: "I just pick up my axe (trumpet) and blow."

    I: "No, no, I mean, what system do you use... what philosophy do you follow ... whose work do you compare to your own?"

    JM: "I don't do any of that. I just `squeeze my axe'."

    I doubt that the musician was being evasive. He had just reached that plane where he had truly "learned his craft" ... and the most telling indication of that was that he did not have to dwell on each individual point ... as it has been said, he did not "know" how he did it, and did not have a clue to how he had learned to do it in the first place.

    To me, there are strong parallels in all art. If you want to "improve" your figure photography, enroll in a "Life Class" with newsprint and pencils. I did that a while ago ... (another story) and found it to be a *wonderful* learning experience that had a massive effect on my photography. *MOST* useful were the one- and two minute poses. There you do not have TIME to be self-critical and "fussy" about minute trivia. True, each work will not be perfect, but you wiil be surpised at how good it WILL be.

    The same holds true in music. The musician does not have TIME to "fuss" over each and every note, and NO piece will ever be performed "perfectly". If he does fuss and squeeze, the performance will, almost certainly, be lifeless and "robotic".

    My theory is that, in photography, as well as music, it is possible to "over-try" - to "squeeze" so hard that the necessary rythym and "flow" is destroyed.

    So ... with me (and your mileage may differ, depending on crcumstances) - I just pick up my camera and DO it. I don't "understand my "style" ... I know it is there, but how and why ... not a clue.

    There is an interesting concept to mull over here -- Photography as a means of "self-discovery". I think "self-discovery" certainly happens - I don't think it can be avioded - along with "discovery of others"- but I don't think that is a primary motivation for ME. A stronger drive for me would be that possibility of "mingling" my "being" with the "beings" of others. That could be described as a sort of "communcation without words, communication through images, or music, ... on a very intimate plane ...

    OOO!! This is deep. I'm going to grab a cup of coffee and chill out.
     
  5. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Don:

    Perhaps you have cabin fever after a long hard winter indoors. It almost seems that you are thinking too much. I agree with Ed, sometimes we just need to take out the camera and take photographs and forget about all the motivations. Enjoy the moments, from the planning stage to the printing stage.

    As I stated in the "style " thread, let someone else with more time on their hands figure out style and archetypes and motivational theories. I'm getting too much enjoyment taking pictures.

    As for images that speak to the majority of us, I almost exclusively, photograph faces. The universal language of facial expression.

    Later,

    Michael McBlane
     
  6. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Ed,
    It is interesting that you should mention "Man and his Symbols". It is a work with which I am familiar. As I recall, the premise which Dr. Jung proposed is that certain symbols are indeed universal and archetypal.

    I certainly did not mean, nor do I think that I did, communicate that this question of self discovery or self revelation through photography was my sole overriding mental focus. It is just a consideration which has existed for some time. Do I consciously think about this when composing a scene or making an exposure? Quite certainly not. It comes up at times when I look at one of the images which I have printed.

    I posed this as a question to those who chose to contribute. To see whether in fact others thought of this at all. Apparently some of you do and some of you do not. That is as it is.

    Michael, it has occurred to me at times, that those who have the least difficulty in life are those who are the least aware. To be honest with you, I have had a relatively mild winter and I was not confined due to constraints of the weather. So there must be another reason for your observation. I took no offense, it is just that I found it an interesting view and judgement.
     
  7. fhovie

    fhovie Subscriber

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    As much as I try to see it in my mind and create it, so often it is really created in the darkroom. The last two that I have been working on - and then working on some more - would have been very tough to pre visualize and therefore tougher to see a more primal message in them. One was a scene, shooting into the sun over a marsh with cloudy skys. The film captured the whole range of hues and my eyes could only take in a piece at a time when I was there. It was when I was in the darkroom that I saw the image and previsualized how the print needed to look to say what I felt. The other example was in infrared - I had no idea that the image would look as it did. I knew from experience that the sky would go black and plants would lighten but the image I got made the mountains look like tinker toys and the cactus illuminated like lightbulbs giving me a new idea when I started printing.

    I do, however, try to capture on paper what goes through my heart when I am presented with a collection of things to photograph. Most common for me is when I do old buildings; I try to make the photo ask the question, who lived here? What was life like, what did they think of this place? And then I add my cast - There are those that see mankind as smart monkeys and those that see man as a spiritual noble being. Being the latter, I have no desire to record man at his worst. Plenty of folks have that covered. In any situation, I would like to portray man at his best - even if in challenging circumstances. So, when I photograph a building that is a ruin, I don't want it to show the despair of when they left, but the dream of why they built. It is my challenge to get that idea into the photo - especially if the object is a ruin.

    On the other hand, being in Southern California, a lot of times I take the picture because what is see is just TOO COOL MAN. ----life has no dress rehersal----
     
  8. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (jdef @ May 8 2003, 06:38 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> We all speak, but we're not all poets. The differences between using proper grammar, and weaving our souls into our words is something akin to the differences in a properly framed and focussed image and a meaningful and expressive photograph. They are both composed of the same elements, but the art lies in the careful and deliberate use of those elements to speak from our souls. It may be that earnestness and expressiveness are too easily confused. If we photograph as we speak, honestly and frankly, our work may be accurate and descriptive, but will it ever rise to the level of poetry?</td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    I may be mis-reading this - I do not see a fine line of demarcation between "Proper grammar - properly framed and focused" and "weaving our souls into our words - meaningful and expressive". I don't think they are mutually exclusive.

    I think all the possible permutations "work" here ... It is certainly possible - and it has happened many times - to make an "expressive and meaningful" photograph *BOTH* with and without "fine technical characteristics" - as it is to make "wonderful poetry" with both "good" and "bad" grammar.

    I hold the opinion that *my* best work comes from my preconscious, not as the result of careful and deliberate positioning and framing.... but as a "flow" from my "innards".
    I'm in no way "putting down" or minimizing the effect or importance of good technicals ... but I DO think there are more important considerations ...

    I think I'm probably trying to say that there is NO "cookie-cutter" way to produce ART. If there was, we could simply write a program for this infernal machine, marvel at the wonderful works of our printers, and go home.

    I'm not too worried about that happening.

    "If we photograph as we speak ... will it ever rise to the level of poetry?"

    In my opinion (and note that this is only my opinion - I don't advertise it as some absolute truth) that is *precisely* the way that has the best chance of "poetry" happening.
     
  9. SteveGangi

    SteveGangi Member

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    I try not to analyze. As in music, if you have to think about what you're playing, you've already missed it. Maybe it's like Louis Armstrong said when asked to explain jazz. "Man, if I have to explain it, you just don't get it" or something along those lines.
     
  10. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    ..
     
  11. fhovie

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (Aggie @ May 8 2003, 03:17 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> Well, I like to photograph old decaying and junk, throw in a good measure of sh** and you have me. What kind of symbols and images does that say about me? </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    I am facinated with ruins ... of course ruins in California are decaying abandoned structures from 60 or 70 years ago. I shot some photos today of a diner made from stones just outside of Las Vegas. it was at least 200 sq feet inside and there were four stone cottages with fireplaces all about 100 sq feet. The wind was blowing the doors open and shut and cats were wandering around inside. I figure it was abandoned when the freeway went in (40 years ago?) and people didn't stop 30 minutes from Vegas to stay in a tiny little place. This was really a pre-shoot. Kind of like circling the wagons, I go in and shoot a roll all around just to get the feel of the images of the place. Then I go back with more camera and more time (less wind) and make the shot I really want. I want the place to look dignified - those that built it made a really cool place - I don't want it to become completely ephemeral art. But it is what it is - memories of a diferent time - in decay.
    Frank
     
  12. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    In studying the work of Aristophanes, the Greek playright, I came across an essay (citique?) describing his work. Written in some rather flowery syntax:

    "They are the strains of not an artist, but of one who warbles for pure gladness of heart in some place made sweet by the presence of a God."
    He went on to describe his work as "dithyrambic".

    Given my level of understanding of EVERY word in the English language, it was an immediate GO to the "Funk and Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary" - bear with me here;

    Dithyramb - n.
    1. In ancient Greece, a wild, passionate, choric hymn or chant sung in honor of Dionysus and constituting the direct forerunner of Greek drama.
    2. A highly emotional or rhapsodic speech or piece of writing.

    and:

    Dithyrambic - adj.
    1. Pertaining to or resembling a dithyramb.
    2. Passionately or wildly lyrical; rhapsodic.

    I think, somewhere inside of me, I had a sort of diffuse definition of the "way" I was following in my work. Reading the above, that "vision" was crystallized into a much sharper focus.

    The second defintion of "dithyrambic" - THAT is the direction I WANT to follow- my hope that my work will be like that - and my "target" for the future - "Passionate and wildly lyrical: rhapsodic".

    Comments?
     
  13. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Is it I that bring voice to this melody or is it the melody that gives voice to me?
     
  14. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Wherever this belongs ...

    The question of "Is Photography Art?" has another answer, from a participant here - Thomas Sauerwein's web site has a statement-definition that I agree with - a ton!!

    I'll repeat it here ...

    "Through a chosen medium, a visual artist's responsiblity is to go beyond a skillful use of the craft and give the viewer something mental to carry with them, a place to revisit always."

    I visited his web site recently - and to me it is one of the best - uh .. a wonderful place to BE - with lots of great work everywhere.

    Something from his site to remember:

    "The day I stopped chasing great photographs and started chasing the light, I understood that photography is art."

    Where is my chisel? ... I've got to carve that in stone somewhere.

    Check it out ... http://www.thomassauerweinstudio.com
     
  15. SteveGangi

    SteveGangi Member

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  16. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    ...and can discover equally-valid attributes about one's self through, say, carpentry, parenthood, or poker playing.

    Over the past couple of centuries "art" has come to occupy much of the spiritual function formerly controlled exclusively by religion in western society -- the longing for undestanding of the unknowable other, connection to the universe (including, potentially, a universe populated by "pure signs" in a Jungian or Platonic-ideal sense), etc. Artist as shaman has been a dominant form for at least 150 years. In this respect, photography can be a path to personal knowledge -- but it's difficult to say if any disciple would gain more from working on Photoshop or simply mumbling ancient texts onto the stone floor of your monk's cubicle before undertaking a day of hard labor in the fields.
     
  17. Thomassauerwein

    Thomassauerwein Member

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    I really have a lot to say on this But right now I really need a Shower. But I agree with Ed's first response in this tread, absolutally! Also to visiting my sight I really enjoy hanging out there myself! Thanks Ed.