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Michel Hardy-Vallée
07-09-2007, 08:03 PM
Here's another one of these Big Questions, but it always need more tackling. It's been bugging me for a while because most academic papers I've read seem to be one-sided.

When people write about photography, they often take the transparency position about it.

Its briefest summation was given by Gary Winogrand: "I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs." (*) In other words, that we do not look at photographs, but through them, like the late John Szarkowski said.

This means two things:

a) That we have a different interest in the photograph of a thing than we do for the thing if we were to actually encounter it

b) That photographs have a privileged relationship to the world that painting or drawing do not have.

Claim a) is not controversial to me, I think it is fairly obvious to most people who either appreciate or produce photos. Claim b) is where the meat is.

We've all heard (or taken) positions to the effect that photography is a trace, whereas a painting is an interpretation, an act of will. Fiction in painting is indeed more accepted than it is in photography.

But what if we actually had an interest in painting because we like to see how things look when they are painted? Did not Monet paint the same cathedral over and over because he wanted us to appreciate its changing appearance through painting?

The problem with b) is that it actually prevents any meaningful creation of fiction in photography. Why would a painting of a Cyclop be a painting of a Cyclop, whereas a photo of a person dressed as a Cyclop will never be a photo of a Cyclop? Why would Cindy Sherman's "untitled film stills" be only self-portraits, whereas a movie with Marilyn Monroe is not a portrait of her?

No swearing, no name calling, discuss!


(*) He also said "A photograph is the illusion of a literal description of how the camera 'saw' a piece of time and space," so I don't want to say that he believed in photographic transparency.

bdial
07-09-2007, 08:27 PM
Are you saying that photography demands a literal interpretation?
Or, that people are pre-disposed to apply a literal interpretation to a photograph?

copake_ham
07-09-2007, 08:33 PM
..... Why would Cindy Sherman's "untitled film stills" be only self-portraits, whereas a movie with Marilyn Monroe is not a portrait of her?
....

I know naught of Cindy Sherman - but a movie with Marilyn Monroe is a movie wherein Marilyn Monroe is portraying a role in a story that is scripted. How could it be a portrait of her - when she was portraying a fictional character in a story?

As to your greater point.

I'll leave that one for the rest of you. :munch:

Pinholemaster
07-09-2007, 08:48 PM
And how many angels dance on the head of a pin? And are they doing the Twist or a Waltz?

CRhymer
07-09-2007, 09:30 PM
Trucking,

Cheers,
Clarence

Kino
07-09-2007, 09:41 PM
Here's another one of these Big Questions, but it always need more tackling. It's been bugging me for a while because most academic papers I've read seem to be one-sided.

When people write about photography, they often take the transparency position about it.

Its briefest summation was given by Gary Winogrand: "I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs." (*) In other words, that we do not look at photographs, but through them, like the late John Szarkowski said.

Maybe...

When I go out actively to photograph a landscape or other subject, I tend to adopt a differing attitude and look at the World in a much more intense manner, thus actually seeing what is there rather than 'interpreting' the scene through my normal data smoothing filters.

My theory is that these filters allow me to acknowledge what features of my environment I find important to function in a basic manner, avoid danger and allow my brain to function more abstractly, but they often dither-out subtleties that become important 'artistically'.

I might adapt that quote to say, "The act of making photographs makes me look at the World in a different manner, a more clear manner than routine functioning and I try to capture that unusual state in my photographs".

But maybe that is the same thing, in a way...




This means two things:

a) That we have a different interest in the photograph of a thing than we do for the thing if we were to actually encounter it

Perhaps, but not necessarily; I think it would depend on if the photograph was a 1. "realistic" (oh boy what a can of worms that opens) or 2. Abstract interpretation of the object/subject.

By "realistic", I mean a means of producing a photograph of a subject that is generally accepted in the mainstream of society as a photograph that is a truthful representation of the object/subject. (Don't stroke-out, give it a chance) More along the lines of documentation...

By "abstract", I mean a means of producing a photograph of a subject that, while it may or may not be recognizable as the actual subject/object, is generally accepted (or reviled) by the general public as an "artistic interpretation" that could never likely appear that way in nature. More along the lines of impressionistic photographs.

Of course there is no clear delineation between the two states, which makes it very amorphous and calls (to me) to the forefront a question; which came first, the urge to document or the urge to express oneself through the item?





b) That photographs have a privileged relationship to the world that painting or drawing do not have.


Not really. The frame is a contextual construct and demands input from the artist. Why would a photograph hold any privilege over a painting or a drawing unless you strictly demand it to be "realistic"?

In fact, I would say 90% of all photos in the gallery are NOT in the slightest, a "realistic" representation of the actual scene they are photographing, but are the representation of an aesthetic the photographer projects onto the scene via their tools -- the camera, film, and darkroom processes.

Even the purely documentary-type of photograph that strives for pure "realism" is hopelessly rooted in the film stocks, chemical processes and aesthetic underpinnings of "modern" photography. Want proof? Just go back a decade and look at any and all photographs. We are defined by our time, materials and processes, which are as biased and unique to our time as to the 1920's, or 30's or whenever...



Claim a) is not controversial to me, I think it is fairly obvious to most people who either appreciate or produce photos. Claim b) is where the meat is.

We've all heard (or taken) positions to the effect that photography is a trace, whereas a painting is an interpretation, an act of will. Fiction in painting is indeed more accepted than it is in photography.

But what if we actually had an interest in painting because we like to see how things look when they are painted? Did not Monet paint the same cathedral over and over because he wanted us to appreciate its changing appearance through painting?

I maintain that all of photography is a fiction (no two people see anything exactly the same way with the same resonances upon viewing) and that we all photograph the same images over and over again -- just look at the gallery. Not that I am putting anyone down; repetition is a major part of any artistic expression. We refine, hone and search for like images that more perfectly express the concept we are trying to express, whatever that may be...




The problem with b) is that it actually prevents any meaningful creation of fiction in photography. Why would a painting of a Cyclop be a painting of a Cyclop, whereas a photo of a person dressed as a Cyclop will never be a photo of a Cyclop? Why would Cindy Sherman's "untitled film stills" be only self-portraits, whereas a movie with Marilyn Monroe is not a portrait of her?

I think a photo of a person dressed as a Cyclops can certainly be a graphic representation of Cyclops, and interpreted as such, as long as there are "artistic" clues that allow the viewer the right of suspension of disbelief -- all contextual and, gosh darned if I can define them, but you know they are there. If they weren't, how can motion pictures function very effectively on that level?



No swearing, no name calling, discuss!

(*) He also said "A photograph is the illusion of a literal description of how the camera 'saw' a piece of time and space," so I don't want to say that he believed in photographic transparency.

Oh NOW you trip me up with this bit of philosophy! :p Got to think about this...

HerrBremerhaven
07-09-2007, 10:13 PM
Cindy Sherman is a good example of fiction in still images. Jeff Wall would be another example, though perhaps we should just include nearly all advertising photography of the last several decades.

There is a believability of photography, something about an anticipated truthfulness, or honest accuracy. Much as Cindy Sherman stated "I learned that photographs lie". Thomas Demand (http://www.cmoa.org/international/html/art/demand.htm) is another example, constructing models of scenes reminding us of news events, or social commentary, made mostly out of cardboard.

I would state more of divisions being realistic, representational, surrealistic, or abstract. While maybe photojournalism could be realistic, many images would probably fit more easily into being representational. A good example is any B/W image; unless you have some unusual form of colour blindness it is likely most people see the world in colour. Longer time exposures are another easy example, since our eyes cannot see what takes place over that period of time in the same way as film.

To compare with painting, it might be easy to think of the detail information, though it is not necessary for photographs to have detail. Even in painting, when you provide enough information (detail), then the minds eye of the viewer fills in the rest. I approach large format photography in this manner, more with the idea of enough information, and letting the viewer imagine the rest. I only mention this in regard to large format due to my slower approach and the usage of selective focus, though that is not all I do, nor my only method.

It can be fun to show people something unexpected, that is a photograph. The expectation of reality is strong enough that only something a little bit different can change perception. Of course there are historians and photojournalists who want the most realistic view possible, though even then the camera points both ways. We might have a view of a scene, though in reality we have a view of the photographer.

Ciao!

Gordon Moat
A G Studio (http://www.allgstudio.com)

Michel Hardy-Vallée
07-09-2007, 11:12 PM
Great answer so far guys, and I'll answer when I have more available grey cells.

Just one thing I want to underline: I'm presenting the argument mostly as I find it in the literature. It is not my own way of thinking. I'm presenting it for discussion, if you disagree with it you're not agreeing or disagreeing with me. I'm still trying to figure out my own ideas anyway...

Michel Hardy-Vallée
07-10-2007, 11:56 PM
And how many angels dance on the head of a pin? And are they doing the Twist or a Waltz?

Here's a hypothetical case. You were walking late at night, and some bugger made a mugger out of himself. He left with your wallet and your sense of safety. Consider now the following two possible course of events.

Situation 1: luckily, a neighbour is a peeping tom photographer and he had his Exakta with a 200mm f4.5 lens loaded with Delta 3200 at the time of the incident. Because he lives on the third floor and has a plaster cast, he was only able to take a photo of your mugger from the side.

Situation 2: luckily, you have a good memory. At the police station (wow, they actually have time to take care of your case!) you sit down with the guy in charge of composite pictures. Based on your memories and his craft, he reconstructs the face of your mugger.

Which of the two evidences should have the better value in court and why? Is it the photography because it is "inherently true" or is the composite portrait because it has much more details that can actually identify the mugger?

DrPablo
07-12-2007, 08:42 AM
Where is it established that we don't look "through" paintings and drawings? In fact the more abstract the painting the more I find myself looking through it.

Michel Hardy-Vallée
07-12-2007, 10:30 AM
Where is it established that we don't look "through" paintings and drawings? In fact the more abstract the painting the more I find myself looking through it.

My point exactly. What I mean is that implicitly, when people argue for the transparency of photograph, we reject the idea of seeing through paintings.

On APUG itself you will find a certain number of arguments to the effect that a drawing is a product of the mind while a photograph is a direct trace of the real.

I don't think we disagree much you and I so I'll go back to answering the other concerns in the thread! :)

Daniel_OB
07-16-2007, 01:50 PM
Fiction in painting is indeed more accepted than it is in photography.

There is no fiction in photography.

www.Leica-R.com

Michel Hardy-Vallée
07-16-2007, 02:38 PM
Fiction in painting is indeed more accepted than it is in photography.

There is no fiction in photography.

www.Leica-R.com (http://www.Leica-R.com)

I would gladly like to have your explanation for this argument.

Matthew Gorringe
07-18-2007, 12:17 AM
When I choose to photograph in black and white it isn't out of a sense of nostalgia but because I want the abstraction that comes from reducing things to shades of grey. Given that any photograph or painting portrays only what it does and not the rest of the world it is at best an edited or constructed truth. I guess you could think about NASA or spy plane images as the ultimate truth showing all of the world in an objective way. So I think most people accept that there are degrees of transparency in photography.

As to a hierarchy in visual images I think that this has been true in the public mind, that photography has been thought of as an accurate depiction of reality. The use of photography as a tool in the hands of NASA etc has given people a sense of the documentary value of photography.

The example of the photo vs identikit in court is a moot one because you would probably have to identify a suspect from a line up. Your memory would likely be much better accepted than either image.

As digital photography and image editing matures I still think people will still accept the photos they take as a true representation of their memories but are likely to become increasingly cynical about the truth contained in images in the public domain.

For people who aspire to make art I think reality is a choice. Many of the photographs I most admire involve some departure from reality.

DrPablo
07-18-2007, 10:21 AM
There is no fiction in photography.

You know the sound that the tie-fighters make in Star Wars? How they kind of scream by?

That sound was created by mixing a recording of a braying elephant with the sound of a truck driving by. And Chewbacca's voice comes from recordings of a caged bear.

These are recorded sounds, just as photographs are recorded light.

But those sounds are all about fiction and imagination. So is photography in the right hands.

Daniel_OB
07-20-2007, 09:40 AM
DrPablo
But those sounds are all about fiction and imagination. So is photography in the right hands.

Everyone see on the photograph what he want to see. It can be and fiction as fly fly my train, but it is not what is on the photograph. Photograph canot show things that was not in front of the camera, otherwise it is not a photograph.

By the way, as you are Americans, no fiction and imagination in American (art) photography. They are straight and read as straight. In American photography camera is "recording" device. See photograph of Avedon (he think that showing just any pore and line on the body can reflect inner soul, period), or see pictures of depression time photog W. Evans, say his church: frontal view with every singe detail, and church filled the frame. No space for imagination, it is simle church at that time and the moment he noticed, today the same church is very different (might in the shape of dust), but it is all. The next example could be Adams A. but too long. It is American literature, film, living,... and today too.

Any "fiction" you can see in photography: go to my site and click on CANADA. See a photograph (actually a scann) of TWO-DIMENSIONAL building (and flying seagull on the right). What I see usually on it is: space ship all over closed windows, just like sealed, and seagull fly is escape to freedom. But my reading have many things connected with me. Actually non of that are fictions, no manipulation, but it can triger fictious thinking. What you see there it was there.

But it is not in America. You shoud not snap such a photograph, nor see it.
When Gary said "I want too see how the world looks on photogrpahs" he means only what he said, too see it, period.

Have a nice day.

www.Leica-R.com

Joe VanCleave
07-30-2007, 10:04 PM
In general terms, all 'media' are abstract; the nature of image-making is a process of mediation and abstraction. Painting an image of hunted animals on the walls of a cave is an abstraction that human-kind has been engaged in for tens of thousands of years. Obviously, you can't eat the painting, since it's only plant dye scratched onto stone.

Yet images, and image-making, seem to hold a power over the human psyche that appears to be on a primal level; so deep that most can scarcely see the abstraction inherent in the process. When we watch a movie on TV, we don't see glowing electronic lights, but rather an abstracted, mentally projected series of images that is almost more real than reality itself, since it seems to come from inside ourselves.

I think therefore that image-making is one property of our species that seperates us from the rest of nature, whose ramifications have not yet been fully explored, despite the best attempts by writers and artists of all ilks.

The making of 'graven images' is something humans have been intimately engaged in since the species was new, it's just us photographers who like to pretend that these issues are all of recent vintage.

There's also something deeper in connection between the words 'image' and 'imagination' besides the obvious common linguistic roots; perhaps we have been falsely termed a 'tool making' species instead of the more obvious 'image making' species that we really seem to be.

~Joe

Michel Hardy-Vallée
07-30-2007, 10:42 PM
I'd like to underline something that Daniel_OB has mentioned with respect to photography in fiction. I'm not sure if it's by chance or by fact of experience, but his interpretation of the Realist-American/Fictional-Canadian difference in photography is very similar to the thesis held by Penny Cousineau-Levine in her book "Faking Death."

She's a professor at the University of Ottawa, dept. of fine arts, and her book is pretty much the first book-length survey of Canadian art photography. She argues that, unlike American's Trancendentalist-inspired tradition of representing the Thing Itself, Canadian photographers represent subjectivity, use fiction a lot more, and are not about "literal" representations.

Cf. for instance Edward Weston's insistence on rendering in excruciatingly precise details his subjects, with John Max's dreamy portraits http://www.netspaceproject.com/john-max/index.html