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  1. #11
    SchwinnParamount's Avatar
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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.

  2. #12
    Brian C. Miller's Avatar
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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.

  3. #13
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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

  4. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by David Allen View Post
    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.

    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?
    Last edited by batwister; 01-31-2013 at 10:01 AM. Click to view previous post history.

  5. #15
    Kevin Kehler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mcgrattan View Post
    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.
    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.


    Quote Originally Posted by Maris View Post
    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.
    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.


    Quote Originally Posted by Maris View Post
    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.
    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.
    Once a photographer is convinced that the camera can lie and that, strictly speaking, the vast majority of photographs are "camera lies," inasmuch as they tell only part of a story or tell it in a distorted form, half the battle is won. Once he has conceded that photography is not a "naturalistic" medium of rendition and that striving for "naturalism" in a photograph is futile, he can turn his attention to using a camera to make more effective pictures.

    Andreas Feininger

  6. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler View Post
    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. .
    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?

  7. #17
    Dan Henderson's Avatar
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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.


    web site: Dan Henderson, Photographer.com

    blog: https://danhendersonphotographer.wordpress.com/

    I am not anti-digital. I am pro-film.

  8. #18
    Kevin Kehler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by batwister View Post
    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?
    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.
    Once a photographer is convinced that the camera can lie and that, strictly speaking, the vast majority of photographs are "camera lies," inasmuch as they tell only part of a story or tell it in a distorted form, half the battle is won. Once he has conceded that photography is not a "naturalistic" medium of rendition and that striving for "naturalism" in a photograph is futile, he can turn his attention to using a camera to make more effective pictures.

    Andreas Feininger

  9. #19

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

    Quote Originally Posted by Maris View Post
    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.

  10. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler View Post
    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.
    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?
    Last edited by batwister; 01-31-2013 at 01:41 PM. Click to view previous post history.

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