The Best Philosophy of Photography? (Intelligible Ontology and Semiotics)

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by andy_k, Jan 30, 2013.

  1. andy_k

    andy_k Member

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    I've done a lot of reading about photography over the last two years or so--beginner "how-to"s, intermediate and advanced technical texts about chemistry and optics, histories of the medium, piles of monographs of the masters, collections of contemporary practitioners and living masters, and lots of philosophy (about representation, epistemics and ontologics of aesthetic, etc)--and without a doubt, the absolute most singularly important book I've read is Henri Van Leir's "Philosophy of Photography." His work has transformed how I think about myself as a practitioner of conventional optical-chemical photography, how I understand the digital "revolution" in image making, and has made obvious to me how I must proceed to explore my work. I would like to present his ideas here that perhaps someone would like to talk about them with me, because so far in my life I'm up to (prospectively) one other person.

    Van Lier's philosophical musings on the epistemic nature of photography use the word "indice" as something that is a physical mark in the universe that is connotative (like the latent image on film captured through the lens), void of intention that is required to make it denotative. He uses the word "index" as the intended denotative content of a photograph, which comes from the thematic or contextual aspect of the "spectacle" that the photographer intended to capture.
    *the bolding is my emphasis, italics as original.

    "After having been scrutinized all of its characteristics, it might be said that photography is best understood in light of the opposition often made today between the real and reality.Reality designates the real inso far as it is already seized and organized in sign systems, thus assuming the forms of intentionally, contentionally and systemically defined signs accordingly distributed in objects and actions, which are the designates that denominate or represent the signs in question. By contrast, the real is that which escapes this conception of reality. It is all that is before, after and underneath reality, it is all that is not yet domesticated by our technical, scientific, and social relations, and which Sartre, for instance, dubbed the quasi-relations of the in-itself.
    Indices hover between the real and reality. They are the chaotic, unnamable and unrepresentable quasi-relations -- mostly suddenly -- constitute relations: schemas, words, drawings, or digits. From there, they enter into relaity, but often only hypothetically, partially and fragilely, in overlap with other possible relations, and consumed by other quasi-relations. In their emergence, indices are not only aided by the internal decision of their more or less analogical or namable texture and structure, but also by the index which, by designating indices, increasse the latter's likelihood to be viewed in a particular context, and thus to be seen as either this or that. Therefore, to start with,indices belong to the real, and only appertain to reality in the final stage, which is furthermore rarely decisive. Moreover, photographic imprints are indices of indices with respect to possible spectacles. They are (very direct) indices of the imbuing photons, and, through their multiple abstractive meditaion, they are (very indirect) indices of external objects and actions. As such, a photograph is not merely a blend of reality and the real. It is a phenomenon where what is represented of reality comes to us across the frame of the real. Moreover, this is a double frame involving the chemistry of the film and the physicality of the lens. However, the termacross is still inexact. One has to use the term within, since the photograph is infintely slender and lacks a before or after, back or front. In a figurative sense, photographs are therefore fragments of reality within the (double) frame of the real.

    It is true that, in the case of advertising, pornographic, industrial, and family photographs, extremely imperious indexes and remarkable analogies may ensure that we forget this frame and can only percieve stimuli-signs. However, even in this case, the quasi-relations of the real do not border on therelations of reality; the former can be seen as the mould in which these relations are in continuous and precarious germination. This confirms the priority of perceptual, motive, semiotic, and indicial field effects. Indeed, why is ti that between the quasi-relations of this matrix and the created fleeting relations there is no soliditifaction at any time, as their place of reciprocal conversions, field effects, curvatures and fluctuations? In a figurative sense, a photograph is reality emerging from the real. Conversely, it is reality gnawed at by the real.

    One can rephrase this by introducing a different set of categories. The Greeks opposed Chaos -- non-information and noise -- to Cosmos -- (cosmetic) order, which was translated alsmot literally in Latinas Mundus, the cleanly (the non-filthy). In this frame, Chaos pertains to the real, while the Cosmos-Mundus belongs to the realm of reality, of which man could indeed be the ruler and the semiotic epitome, the Microcosm. According to Cicero, Latin had the virtue of introducing a more comprehensive notion, namely that of Universe, the turn-towards-one, capable of embracing Cosmos and Chaos, order and disorder, information and noise, negentropy and entropy, improbabilty and probability, refinement and obscenity, scene and non-scene. One can now clearly see the place of photography. Through its indexes and certain more or less indexed indices, the photograph offers fragments of the Cosmos-Mundus. However, the chemistry of its latent image and the abstractive configuration of its lenses belong to the Universe World of which they are states. The tips of the Cosmos-Mundus therefore appear as states of the Universe.

    There is a third way of formulating this. In ancient times, what mattered most was the event, to the extent that, since the times of the pharaohs and of the Romans, many lived for their tomb or posthumous glory, that is to say, for the final consecrations of the event that they had been. Thepossible, uncertain event was distrusted. For the most part, the photograph belongs to the latter. The contingency of the photographic shot and its development. The possibility of indicial imprints, and the possibility of indexed indices. The contingency of re-cuts and ulterior layouts. An event implies a certain emphasis, or else value judgment, and willy-nilly seems to refer to some banality. The possible, as situated between imprint and the indicial, between indices and indexes, between reality and the real, between Cosmos and Mundus, is more readily accessible, and, as is the case with a process, is situated in a course (things have to run their course, as Beckett would put it) that does not necessarily have an end or goal. Moreover, the latter are even discouraged. Reality is comprised of events and objects while the real is characterized by process and relay.

    Therefore, the photograph is in every sense a matter of black. What is most important for photography -- as with interstellar space -- is the night. In film rolls and blank paper, the camera, darkrooms and printing laboratiries, it is the night, the darkness and non-light out of which luminous eventualities manifest themselves punctually and incidentally, emerging out of the dark only to return to it. The photographic photon traverses the night of the device only to take hold again of shadows, in the form of negatives and latent images. And this darkness is contained in a room with its secret and genital workings. Here, only solely speaks of spools, paper impregnators, baths, and developing. The photograph is more uterine than phallic. The architect, the dancer, the painter, the sculptor, the artisan, and the writer all work in a lighted room; even their nights are filled with light. By contrast, the photographer inhabits the camera obscura, and he ultimately and always draws in the future viewers with him.

    The photograph is even the most vivacious experience of what physicists call the black box, where one can clearly percieve the entrance (input) and the exit (output), without ever knowing quite well what takes place between the two. The function of reality and the cosmos is to dissimulate black boxes, to make us believe that everything can be reduced to signs, referents, objects and events, and therefore to links that clarify and reveal causality. The apprehension of the real and the universe is to dare to confront black boxes wherever they might be, which is to say, almost everywhere when keeping in mind that there are fewer clear-cut cases of causality than what Heisenberg called series of probabilities. These series of probabilityes are statistically claculatble and predictable; however, this does not entail that they are uninterruptedly describable. No matter where it is taken, a photograph renders place and duration, which are peculair to reality, in the form of space-time, non-duration and non-space, which are characteristic of the real. Invented and used by earthlings, the photograph is the stuff of extraterrestrials."
    -- Henri Van Lier, "Philosophy of Photography" (2007), 36-38.


    "In its lenses, the photographic process gathers and makes use of the main messenger of the universe, electromagnetic waves. These have remarkable characteristsics. Their movement is linear, apart from an enormous gravitational effect. Their refractivity, when passing from one environment to another, is goverened by fixed laws. Their interference fringes are continuous and calculable. They are isotropic: in a vacuum, their speed is constant in every direction. According to the theory of relativity, this speed is insurmoutnable and gives rise to the cosmic constant c. Because of this, simultaneities are created and thus also a coordinated space and time, a space-time. Through the electromagnetic waves between the space-time islets prodigiously moving away or drawing closer, a kind of unity is instituted which ensures that any event belongs to the Universe, to the turn-towards-One. Working on this set of features revolving around c is, for the lens engineer as well as for the photographer, in itself a remarkable way of connecting with the nature of things.

    Furthermore, the solar system privileges particular electromagnetic waves. As the sun's surface temperature is 5800 degrees Kelvin, its most intense electromagnetic radiation has a wavelength of about 2.9mm (the length of a privileged wave of a black body at 1 degree Kelvin) divided by 5800, or in other words, 500 nano-meters. Thus, Evolution selected the human eye for its adaptation to waves between 400 and 700 nano-meters; 500 for green at the centre, 400 for blue, 700 for red. As a consequence, and in return for other optic capabilities, man captures light in a most balanced and integrating manner. This remarkable ability is one of the elements - together with the standing posture, the hand, the larynx, the neocortex, and the omnivorous diet - contributing to his transformation into the signifying animal, this mammal where analogical and digital signs blossomed, or, in short, humankind as the place where signs originated. The integrating gaze is the fundamental practical, scientific, and aesthetic experience bespeaking the concord between humankind and the solar system, and beyond. In other words, these abilities render man the cosmic and universal animal."
    -- Henri Van Lier, "Philosophy of Photography" (2007), 59-60.

    the rest of the book is here, online, for free forever:
    http://www.anthropogenie.com/anthropogeny/an_semiotique_philo.html
     
  2. andy_k

    andy_k Member

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    It's been a while since I've read him, and just cruising over those quote (which I'd prepared for friends on a note in facebook a year ago) I got chills.
     
  3. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    It leaves me cold, too. Too much philosophy; not enough photographs. It's even harder to appreciate than Susan Sontag's On Photography.
     
  4. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Well, I've just made a suggestion that Ethics and Philosophy threads should be user rated from 'Neanderthal' to 'Socrates'. This is pretty heavy stuff.
    I'll need to come back to this and give it some more thought, I've only skimmed over it - let's see how far the discussion gets! :whistling:

    But for now I'll say that, through my own self directed study over the past year or so, I've recently come to understand photographic perception - in regard to symbolism and cultural reference - in two spheres; objects and information. Objects I feel are what most photographers think in terms of and critically, are at risk of becoming disillusioned by ("everything has been photographed"). Thinking in terms of 'information', in that oft-quoted 'state of heightened awareness', is where the most interesting work, post-Steven Shore has headed. I'm interested in the uncanny in photography - which is nearly always, it seems to me, a contextual construct - as opposed to an overtly authored message (I'm thinking Minor White specifically for that). This kind of investigation seems to be bubbling under the surface of contemporary photography. Thanks for the link.
     
  5. andy_k

    andy_k Member

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    hmm. i'd intended these little exerpts to be the appetite wetter for the whole text--on their own I don't think they have enough to really be thoroughly discussed.
    Barthes, Sontag, Flusser and others all have their contribution and are worthy reading in their own right, but for whatever reason I connect with these ideas in a tremendously powerful fashion.

    btw, don't think that this is anything other than very hard; it took a few re-reads per page my first time through the book, and every revisitation of the text reveals new meaning. this isn't the Monday morning commuter newspaper.
     
  6. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    A photograph is neither taken nor seized by force. It offers itself up. It is the photo that takes you. One must not take photos. (Henri Cartier-Bresson)
     
  7. mcgrattan

    mcgrattan Member

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    There's philosophy and philosophy. I am (or was) a philosopher,* but in a different philosophical tradition, and I find that style of writing pretty heavy going. Fairly heavy going, and often fairly -- and apologies here to the original poster, because I understand that it's worthwhile for you -- vacuous, or literal nonsense.

    * I don't mean that in a figurative sense. I mean I was paid to teach philosophy, have published (albeit not much) as philosopher, etc.
     
  8. Maris

    Maris Member

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    Van Lier's philosophy of photography is typical of non-photographing philosophers philosophising about photography. The language, the confusion, the jargon, the irrelevant tangents, and the misunderstandings are echoed in similarly arcane outpourings from Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, and even Susan Sontag.

    It's many years since I was paid to do philosophy and in the interim I have made a full time career in photography.

    Since there seems to be a lot of anxiety about reality I would offer the observation that there IS something particularly realistic about a photograph that separates it from virtually any other kind of representation. A photograph is generated when a physical sample of subject matter travels across space (at 300 000 Km/sec!) and penetrates the sensitive surface, lodges in it, and occasions changes that result in marks. This arrangement of marks, if it coheres as a picture, is a photograph.

    A number of corollaries follow.

    Only real things are capable of delivering physical samples. Photographs cannot be made of imaginary things, past events, or things that have not yet happened.

    A photograph and its subject must simultaneously exist in each others presence for the physical connection to be possible. A photograph confirms the existence of the subject. A subject is a necessary (but not a sufficient) precursor to a photograph.

    A subject that gives off a physical sample of itself gets lighter. A film receiving an exposure gets heavier. For the record a 8x10 sheet of 100 ISO film absorbing a middling exposure (zone V if you like) experiences an increase in mass of about 10 to the minus 24 kilograms. All of those kilograms come from the subject. This mass does not sound like very much but it is incomparably greater than nothing at all. And if that 10 to the minus 24 kilograms hit you in the eye you would surely feel it. After all it arrives with a muzzle velocity of 186 000 miles per second.

    At the moment of exposure the camera rocks backward due to the physical impact of light. The effect is not large but it is not zero. It's a fun calculation. Try it!

    One could continue with film getting hotter when exposed, latent images being heavier than no exposure, and so on but the central argument is this: The core of photography lies in an event that takes place in physical reality and many people, not just philosophers, would assert that this physical reality is the only kind of "reality" that actually exists.

    Oh, and another outcome is that non-photographing philosophers end up ruminating about their own perplexity and bewilderment rather than the deep values of photography itself. I should think that Van Lier would have done better to sit down and have a good long read of APUG and THEN written his book.
     
  9. AgX

    AgX Member

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    Well, I too thought something of this kind...

    And I'm not sure whether I ever go into such endeavour of reading this text.

    However the text did no come into the world totally un-linked to photography. The book is published by the Flemish Lieven Gevaert Research Centre for Photography, who approach photography mostly from a philosophical viewpoint. But some of their publications have photographs too, one is even technical...
     
  10. andy_k

    andy_k Member

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    To begin with Maris, it's not clear whether or not you've actually read any of the authors that you dismiss en bloc out of hand. Assuming you have, is your contention with all of them that they wrote on photography, or that they wrote at all? The accusation of esoteric language and complex argument I could understand as a criticism of Derrida or Baudrillard (who I love, for his entertaining flights of insanity and bombast), but absolutely not of Barthes or Sontag. To that end, I reject your (implied) assertion that meaningful inspection of ourselves and our activities (photographic or otherwise) can be adequately executed without the invention of specific language to contain and communicate the novel ideas that a thinker presents us with. Are the confusions 'they' generate an aspect of their flawed thinking, or inattention of the reader? What unrelated tangents are you finding in works of dedicated philosophy?
    The pursuit of knowledge is a worthy, but difficult endeavor, and I think you should at least pretend you're interested in accepting the burden before attempting to claim that you've got a singular insight or contribution that these others are somehow missing. On that note, your remarks are somewhat in line with Van Leir's observations, but might be one percent (generously) of the range of the subject that he covers in his relatively short book. If you gave it the time, I'm sure that you would find a lot in there that would resonate. For those concerned, there are even pictures to go with the text on the site!

    To benefit the interpretation of the exerpts above, I'll make a few more explanatory remarks which should draw some initial contrast between Van Leir's understanding and Maris' remarks.
    Van Leir begins with The Real is all of the universe that exists whether or not people exist to see it. Reality is what we people see and know of the universe, and Reality contains all kinds of meaning that we impose on the Real. He reveals through a short exploration of our cultural ancestors' linguistic constructions (semiotic genealogy and deconstruction) the various ways that we have, and can, think about the natural environment we inhabit.

    Photographs are interesting objects because they're so very unlike other kinds of images that people have made. They contain indices (which are like an animal's track in sand) and indexes (which are the patterns that we see in the world, like seeing series of animal tracks and observing how it was moving, where it was going, etc) in a complex fashion which is unique to their nature. When you take a picture, you are using your camera to make an object that contains the indices (the 'footprints' of the world in front of you, over a specific amount of time) of a scene that you found interesting, which means something to you because of the way you have indexed the scene. If your picture is a success, you would feel that it describes the world through the indexes that you wanted to show, captured as physical marks by accident of the universe.

    Maris' remarks make a few imprecise missteps about the representative quality of a photograph, its epistemic quality, and that it is somehow privileged in happening in 'physical reality.' First, representation is something that is indexical (in Van Leir's language, denotative in Barthes'), it is a sign which contains meaning--I usually defer to Jonathan Friday's ideas on photographic aesthetics on this point, and don't want to confuse the issue further right now. But, what Maris is talking about is specifically indicial (connotative in Barthesianese) which is something else entirely, and to the point, the more important and distinctive quality of photography.The physicality of chemical photographs is not in itself special: all digital images, and other manugraphic (paintings, drawings, etc) images as well, are physically extant. However, this last aspect is something that I was hoping would come up, to present a notion I had about digital images and imaging technologies.

    This feeling of realness that photographs possess, which I'm sure we almost all perceive as their distinctive trait, is a result of their nature as changed objects that carry with them an essence of the "possible spectacle" that is recorded on them. Specifically, this belongs to the negative, but Van Leir addresses that much better than I can remember off the top of my head (so read the book). What I want to say is that the key difference between a film picture and a digital one is not about the medium of capture, because digital chips generate analogue signals in a fashion not totally unlike the ionized response that illuminated silver salts--the 'latent image' on boron doped silicon is no less physically real. The difference comes in when the information on the chip (or film, in a scanner bed) is translated into human language--machine code which very, very precisely interprets and records the closest likeness to that real information that we find sufficient for its adequate reproduction.
    The difference between "reality, trapped within the double frame of the real" and very precisely generated likenesses from machine code is the difference that people do (or don't) think is the important aspect in the film/digital debate and all that.

    Hopefully I haven't been confusing or indulgent, and that I'm helping to make the argument that this text (and many others) are very worthwhile for anyone who wants to practice photography as something more than a technical and nostalgic fetish act (not that I'm saying that's bad).
     
  11. SchwinnParamount

    SchwinnParamount Subscriber

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    As Ansel Adams once said; "the negative is the score and the print is the symphony". As the print is a deliberate attempt to interpret the negative, I would say that at best, a print is a quasi- reality and the negative is another interpretation of reality. Neither is real. The image in the negative is very much a product of the darkroom worker's manipulation of the development values of time, temperature, dilution, agitation, and chemicals.
     
  12. Brian C. Miller

    Brian C. Miller Member

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    Andy, have you ever read any of the books by Bill Jay? I heartily recommend On Being a Photographer, and Negative / Positive. Both books are short and concise. Which is what philosophy should be.
     
  13. David Allen

    David Allen Member

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    If people are stimulated to make images as the result of reading philosophical or semiological texts that is great. Many people want or desire to work within a given concept. Many of the most important art movements have been driven by a philosophy (albeit rarely using the language of philosophers) or a set of 'rules'. Many of the greatest artists, photographers, film-makers, authors, etc who have subscribed to such movements quickly 'broke the rules' because their creative development demanded it.

    In the early 1980s I read Freud, Bathes, Sontag, Benjamin, Kant, etc and found them interesting. However, they did not 'inspire' me to make images in the way that looking at images by other people did. At the same time at the Polytechnic of Central London, Victor Burgin was in his ascendency on the MA Photography course and I well remember meeting students who were almost paralyzed in terms of making images because of their not being able to square the circle between the philosophical texts they were reading (with the very noticeable exception of Mitra Tabrizian and Karen Knorr) and the desire to make images. In short they were at a point where every single thing in a potential image was being considered for it's semiological meaning to the regrettable point that the shutter was never depressed. I was always perplexed that most of the images that were being 'decoded' were always journalistic images and nobody thought of considering the indexical, denotive, punctum, etc aspects of Adams' manipulation of reality (I vividly remember Burgin saying that Adams was a 'glorified postcard photographer' which, to me, demonstrated a notable lack of understanding of how much Adams actually manipulated - through technical prowess - his prints) in pursuit of his support for the environmental movement.

    These comments are not intended to imply that I think that APUG is the wrong place for such discussions. Far from it! - I would love to see more discussion about image making here but do also realise that, for many, APUG is a highly valuable 'database' for those starting out on the enjoyable journey of engaging with analogue photography.

    If such philosophical texts help you to improve your photography - fantastic. However, for me, my inspiration will continue to come the development of my own personal photography and from looking at images by other people.

    Best,

    David.
    www.dsallen.de
     
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  15. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Great post. This is really important. The best philosophies are developed through personal practice, and the most inspiring musings about photography I've read have been written by photographers. Dialogue With Photography is a great example of this and Wynn Bullock's interview in particular is profoundly enlightening. There's no danger in getting involved with a photographer's ideas, as, for the purpose of assimilation as a photographer, they are directly transferable. Ultimately, I'm not sure there's much to be gained from purely objective outsider considerations of photography, if we're to be actively engaged and self-directed in our own investigation of photography. It might be best to seek commissioned work or specifically ask viewers (or philosophers) what would make our images better. Unfortunately, much contemporary work has been warped this way - it can become a visually translated appropriation of the ideas of others, as opposed to a visual investigation informed by our own.

    For one to get seriously involved with this kind of text, to get 'the chills', is perhaps to understand your pull from photography, towards art criticism or even philosophy. I feel it's important to put some distance between it - to be conscious of the perspective from which you approach it. It's difficult, especially with the internet, but I try not to mistake my curiosity for academia. I can still find it an interesting read.

    It has to be said that this text is basically out of context on APUG, which seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the context of the text by the original poster. For me, that mostly puts into question; where is the original poster coming from? What are his concerns?
     
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  16. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    I have a very similar background except that I never published. I also agree, this is fairly vacuous as he seems to be trying to define what a photograph is, not necessarily what a good photograph is or how photographs can convey emotion/ideas/meaning. In doing so, he is trying to use prose and philosophical language to describe a scientific phenomena, which is the reason for the obscurity of his description and why it fails (in my opinion).

    If it inspires you, use it! But I don't think it is a philosophy beyond the common understanding of the term.


    Going to have to disagree with you here - photography is light interacting with a sensitive surface and is therefore not a physical sample of the subject matter since the light is reflected by the surface and not generated by the surface (a photograph of a light source being exempted). When the light hits me and reflects towards the camera, it does not carry a piece of me with it and I am not diminished by it - rather, my clothing, skin and the physical characteristics alter the light to produce the image. Put it another way, if theoretically you could take an infinite series of photographs of me instantly, I would not disappear since you are not taking anything away from me.


    I really enjoy these statements but they need a bit of clarification - I think what you mean is that a subject must be present for a photograph to be made. I can make a photograph of a space alien in my backyard and that does not confirm the existence of space aliens, it confirms the existence of a bi-pedal creature with the appearance of a space alien in my backyard which may or may not be my son in his Halloween costume. So, you are right in that you can not photograph place/people/things which remain only in my imagination, but photographs can "lie" in that they confirm the existence of a subject, not what that subject purports to be (i.e., the interpretation). The Lord of the Rings movies were shot in an imaginary world (Middle Earth) but it is a real movie and I actually watched it. So a photograph confirms the existence of a subject, not the subject.

    Semantics I know, but an important distinction.
     
  17. batwister

    batwister Member

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    It confirms the existence of light, which is then understood as information, and the information we speculate about can't be restricted to the dominant information - at least, I guess, not in philosophy. If your alien son is on the lawn, why isn't the grass 'the' or even 'a' subject? Is the grass real?
     
  18. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    I tried and failed to read and understand the quotes in the original post. Maybe it is all too deep for me; I never really understood Sontag, either.

    I am reminded of a story I read somewhere about Ansel Adams giving Winn Bullock a densitometer and encouraging him to do exposure and development testing. After awhile Bullock supposedly stomped up the stairs from his darkroom, threw the densitometer into a trash can, and mumbled something to the effect of, "to hell with all this testing. I'm going out to make some pictures." That seems like a pretty straightforward, understandable philosophy to me.
     
  19. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    Could you define "dominant information"?

    Not trying to dodge here but the grass being real depends on what you mean by "real"? Does it mean that there is something in the universe which is commonly understood as grass, some of which is located in my back yard, my son is standing on it and the photograph accurately represents that situation to the best ability of both the photographer and medium (i.e., film)? Then yes, it is real. If you mean that the photograph contains literally grass in it, then no, the grass is not real. The grass is not the subject since I am imparting meaning into the picture to make something else the subject - if I was at a convention of grass seed sellers, the subject would be the grass.

    The photograph confirms the existence of light but not information since information is subjective to the viewer. You are also right in that I am interpreting meaning into the picture since I am assuming: (a) there is a reason for the photograph, whether it is historical record, artistic expression or for the purpose of information which I may or may not comprehend; (b) the meaning is contained within the medium; and (c) the artist means to convey something. A lot of photographs fall down in my opinion since they fail to account for these requirements - a photograph of my grandmother is meaningful to me but not to anyone outside of my family - thus, if criticized for any reason, some photographers take the criticism as a critique of their subjective meaning/interpretation as opposed to the actual photograph. There are no objective interpretations of anything - even saying something is black is subjective since I might be colour-blind or have a genetic abnormality that reverses white and black.

    If we really wanted to get Gestalt, we could say the photograph confirms the existence of the photograph and nothing else, since the image could be completely fabricated and represents the intention of the creator of the photograph. But that is a very cynical view that my ex-wife hated when I took it with her. My point was that a picture of something does not confirm the existence of something, a picture of something confirms there is a picture of something - it is the viewer that implies meaning and the artist who tries to convey meaning but there is no meaning independent of the two.

    I completely realize these types of posts is beyond what 99.9% of most APUG members desires on a forum but I enjoy these types of discussions. For me, "just make photographs" is as fun as telling a mechanic "just drive cars" - the fun is in the why and how but the enjoyment is in the doing.
     
  20. Mark Crabtree

    Mark Crabtree Member

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    If you decide to write a book about photography, I expect that would be something worth reading.

     
  21. batwister

    batwister Member

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    By dominant I simply mean that which is first and easily read, after which everything else - depending on our relationship to the dominant information (and perhaps mood/receptiveness) - might be ignored, like reading a headline.

    In this analogy, some people might learn to read between the lines - at which point, they may seek out more challenging 'reading'. Your alien son picture (as much as I like the sound of it!) might be deemed superficial - too literal in its signs and cultural reference - "great... a still from E.T!" I might then look at the grass, in searching for some deeper context - the grass might tell all, if in a series of images set at this 'grass convention' for example. That was the gist of my subject question.

    I didn't say 'a photograph confirms the existence of information', I said 'it confirms the existence of light, which is then understood as information'. Light is processed by us as information, is all I meant. In my first post, I mentioned photographers either think in terms of objects or information. For photographers who are only concerned with appearances, light is seemingly processed as objects. Landscape photographers for example are obsessed with birches and very specific types of rocks - they think in terms of objects and locations that contain 'photogenic' objects. I'd suggest your theoretical picture wouldn't mean anything to anyone else, if you thought of your grandma as a photogenic object. Photographed with the acceptance (and admittedly coldness) that she is information, the resulting picture may allow for more readings, have more of a subconscious impact and have a better chance of transcending the 'old people have nuanced faces' convention.

    "Is the grass real?" was just a provocation regarding what we question in a photograph. As if all we're doing when looking at photographs is ticking mental boxes; tree - yep, fence - yep, rainbow - yep, leprechaun - nope. Whose to say the mystery isn't in the fence?
     
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  22. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    Thank-you for your clarification and a very good post. But I think we could agree on "it confirms the existence of light, which is then interpreted by the viewer as information".
     
  23. andy_k

    andy_k Member

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    It's a little disheartening to read not just one, but three or four accounts of people who've been in contact with serious thought about photography and refuse to give this book a half an hour or an hour on its own before deciding whether to procede or not. As well, there's an overwhelming confusion about whether or not this is philosophy(?!) which is greatly confounding to me; this is clearly analytic philosophy in the mainstream of the continental tradition. I get the feeling that the majority of what you folks are talking about, with reference to your preferred topic of inquiry, is a very constrained area of applied aesthetics. I know that if anyone would take the plunge and trust me, they would find that yes, these aspects of "what makes a good photograph/being a good photographer" (chapter 12, and it begins with a quote from Minor White <-- click the link) is very uniquely and interestingly considered, but there is also a huge range of attention paid to what photographs themselves are, what makes them special, and what makes us special to think of doing it in the first place.

    I'd much rather talk about a book, than talk about why you should be reading a book (books are good for you, read more); first things first I guess. I have always meant this thread not to be a busy, instantly responded to thing (although, it's a message board) but something more at the regular tempo of this community, which is slow as hell--by necessity! The kinds of large projects that a great number of the regulars here undertake need a lot of time, and so too is the same with this kind of activity, even for just one book! I could have brought up and suggested any book among dozens and dozens I've read lately, and this one I feel is especially good, and especially valuable to the analogue practitioner.* Sales pitch over for the moment. Given airspace I can say a lot, and given that my last post was roundly ignored (although I thought the points I made were interesting :whistling:) I'll make a habit of breaking things up to keep them bite-sized.

    *footnote: the essay was first published in 1983, the 2007 date cited on my original post was the publication date of the english translation I'd read, and I presume the time it appeared on the website in english as well.

    Yes this is what I mentioned in my reply to Maris, that this kind of investigation is important for people who want to improve their art, rather than conduct a fun nostalgic hobby.

    Well, tensions-between-conceptual-artists-who-happen-to-be-photographers-and-American-formalist-photographers-who-happen-to-be-artistic aside, I must absolutely reject the suggestion that difficulty in progressing toward a more conscious and deliberate practice is detrimental insofar as it slows creative production. Of course, pure paralysis is not productive outwardly, but demonstrates enormous (and often rapid) internal productivity and advancement. This is what education is about, its difficulty, its cruelty (in this case to less conscious creative production), making you change how you do and think about things.

    I think that given the right combination of a good mood and enough booze, even someone as resolutely condemning of Adams would be able to admit some aspect of artistry in his intention. I think I need to say this to prevent a maelstrom of APUGers conservatively revolting against the kind of self-reflexivity I'm trying to engender here (at least to those who would want to take up the burden), if it meant disparagement of the Most Holy and Revered.

    I agree completely that it was a good idea for me to overcome my usual suspicions of the internet and its internetness. I want to clarify though that this book does not inspire me to make images, but affects how I think about process, and thinking about process affects how I make images. Like you, or anyone, I am inspired to make images to communicate, and participate in the kind of social discussion and circulation of ideas that many of us (I hope) are inspired by. This is different from being inspired to copy the masters, and experience the same kinds of things they did when making an image. This kind of activity is noble and good in its own way, but yes, absolutely does not require the kind of examination of the activity that I think we can have by talking about the ideas in the book I suggest, and related ideas.

    I was thinking of you, and this remark when I was writing the first paragraph. I admonished Maris, though I don't think unkindly, for dismissing things out of hand like this. But, then I quickly realised that there's just some confusion about what exactly you're reading; this passage is not about aesthetics--photography in practice and experience--but rather about the ontological and epistemic character of the photographic object, and how we as animals relate through them to the universe we live in.
    I am going to need some help in seeing the vacuousness of what you're reading--could you provide an example of where you're confused?

    Yeah, I was also suspicious of his physics there, but I didn't want to distract the topic (or seem mean). However, he did make me think about this thread all afternoon. :smile:

    Thank you, this is precisely the falsely attributed epistemic quality of the photographic object that I was alluding to.

    And right here, I knew that in you I (could potentially) find my foil. Please, please, I beg you on bent knee, please take some time for this book. A solid second chance, start at chapter one, and tell me what you think. Please.

    This is the kind of thing that I was hoping to get out of this thread. But, without a kind of common place to begin a discussion on such a difficult subject (for the totally uninitiated) with some discourse about some very carefully considered and well explained ideas, I don't think the conversation could get very far. So, if my desperate and sincere pleading succeeds, I think we could make this a hell of a thread to read.
     
  24. batwister

    batwister Member

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    It's unfortunate that desperation and pleading has never worked too well in influencing. It's kind of... you know... a little self-serving.
     
  25. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    I have no problem reading the book, it just isn't going to happen today - I enjoy reading thoughtful books, as long as they actually have something interesting to say. And I am more than willing to admit that perhaps I have not properly understood the thesis or argument that Van Lier is trying to make.

    An example of the vacuous type of item is his description of photographers working in black as opposed to other artistic approaches - this sounds deep and profound but he is fundamentally describing a working method, not a philosophy or meaning. Change the analogy and see if it holds - a sculptor working with stone, the basic element of our world evokes the more base or primitive feelings of his audience. Bullsh*t! "By contrast, the photographer inhabits the camera obscura, and he ultimately and always draws in the future viewers with him." Bullsh*t! Both are mediums of expression - the fact that the sculptor needs light to see is no more significant than the fact that I don't need a chisel to make a photograph. While his prose sounds impressive and admittedly somewhat poetic, it is not meaningful. However, I will take the time to read the book before deciding on its' value to me. If it has value to you, use it and care not what I think! I don't mean to discourage you, I mean to prod you into deeper introspection.

    However, I would not get my hopes up too greatly for a thread like this - my experience is that people will discuss the precipitation rate of AgN03 in a metol solution for hours or the log of a exposure curve (I have no idea what these things mean, as much as I have tried) but will not read through a thread like this. There is a reason philosophy departments are generally small - not only can't you get a job with such a degree, it is intellectually harder to pursue than a number of other disciplines (I'm looking at you accounting!)

    At the Universities I attended, these were fighting words :D- analytic philosophy is heavily distinguished from continental and it was pretty insulting to either camp to mistake one for the other. Perhaps things have changed in the past decade but I would be careful around certain academics with a comment like that.
     
  26. Kevin Kehler

    Kevin Kehler Member

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    Play nice now:wink:.