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  1. #21
    Kevin Kehler's Avatar
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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".
    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

  2. #22
    andy_k's Avatar
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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 ) 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.

    Quote Originally Posted by David Allen View Post
    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.
    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.

    Quote Originally Posted by David Allen View Post
    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.
    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.

    Quote Originally Posted by David Allen View Post
    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.
    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.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler View Post
    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).

    I don't think it is a philosophy beyond the common understanding of the term.
    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?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler View Post
    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.
    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.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler View Post
    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.
    Thank you, this is precisely the falsely attributed epistemic quality of the photographic object that I was alluding to.

    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.
    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.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler View Post
    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.
    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.

  3. #23

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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.

  4. #24
    Kevin Kehler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by andy_k View Post
    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.
    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!)

    Quote Originally Posted by andy_k View Post
    this is clearly analytic philosophy in the mainstream of the continental tradition.
    At the Universities I attended, these were fighting words - 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.
    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

  5. #25
    Kevin Kehler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by batwister View Post
    It's unfortunate that desperation and pleading has never worked too well in influencing. It's kind of... you know... a little self-serving.
    Play nice now.
    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. #26
    MattKing's Avatar
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    I find these threads both difficult and interesting.

    I have, however come to only one clear conclusion though: all who like to write about philosophy must surely be touch typists.
    Matt

    “Photography is a complex and fluid medium, and its many factors are not applied in simple sequence. Rather, the process may be likened to the art of the juggler in keeping many balls in the air at one time!”

    Ansel Adams, from the introduction to The Negative - The New Ansel Adams Photography Series / Book 2

  7. #27
    andy_k's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler View Post
    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.
    Thanks Kevin for your earnest and sincere engagement. Now, yes, these passages are well out of context--he is speaking very specifically about black and white photography at the outset, because of its technical purity and innocence of claim to be 'truly' 'representative' (which color processes may or may not have--he addresses color neg, polaroid, slide in their turn). But, in these two passages I've selected I don't think he's talking about blackness as a necessary environmental quality of the process, but the blackness as the absence of record, that in photography the important (philosophically distinctive) part is all of the whole of creation that you omit (says Nietzsche's Zarathustra, every Yes is an even greater No). The lighted room of the non-photographer visual artist attempts to pull in everything they can of reality (pertinent to their message) they see to build a further reality for us to see, where the photographer only samples reality through dispersed and intermittent penetration of the real (or rather, by the real); being in the darkroom, employing the camera obscura, blocking out everything but what is essential. It is a contrast between the certainty of signed reality, of myth, of story, of narrative, contrary to the photographer's working in possibility and brushing by the ineffable. So, I think that I meant to present here one area of his thinking that would be especially appealing and reassuring to the analogue practioner, troublesome though it may be.

    Your comments would be very valuable as both a place to ponder and better understand what is worth holding onto out of this thing I've read and love, but also necessary for me to procede. Understand, that if I could do this all on my own I absolutely would; my brain doesn't do well outside the lively company required of the Socratic method (talking to myself gets depressing and confusing, but I do it all the time anyway).

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler View Post
    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!)
    Two points; this level of discourse I enjoy with you at present is all I had hoped for. Should one or two other brave souls open this (or any) book (or webpage, pdf, whatever) and join us it would exceed my highest expectations. Also, the chemical technical side of darkroom work is really not that hard, and mostly worked out for you. APUG being what it is I'm sure you've heard of Phil Davis' BTZS book (the absolute best exposure manual ever written), and if the whole quantification thing is appealing but bamboozling, that is the one book which will sort it out for almost anyone.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler View Post
    At the Universities I attended, these were fighting words - 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.
    Yeah, I'm obviously not a student of philosophy itself (political science) but I recognize the difference in branding Anglo v. Non-Anglo schools of Eurocentric thought, and meant to describe the work here as analytic philosophy to contrast it with the kind of "philosophy" (self-help/'spirituality'/how-to books) that the likes of Bill Jay and others produce, noting that it's from the continental tradition. I know you know that I knew that you'd know what I meant. But, also, I think that he means to bridge the gap between epistemic positivism (and its claims to more scientific and certain claims) and phenomenological thinking with his very acute appeals to the physical properties of our being, and the universe; critical-realist, or interpretivist, I'm not sure. BUT, I think on that account you're better equipped than I am to evaluate, so I eagerly but patiently await the time when you can spend the time, and to then let me know what you think.

  8. #28
    andy_k's Avatar
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    Towards a Philosophy Instigated by Photography

    Perhaps I should have started at the beginning? (I wanted the OP to be to-the-point, but seem to have filled nearly 2 pages on my own trying to overcome its imprecision)

    In his own words:

    When once the availability of one great primitive agent is thoroughly worked out,
    it is easy to foresee how extensively it will assist in unraveling other secrets in natural science.
    Elizabeth Eastlake, Photography, 1857.

    A philosophy of photography could be taken to mean the act of philosophizing on the subject of photography. That is to say,
    one can examine photography by using the concepts philosophers have accumulated over a period of two thousand five hundred
    years. One could inquiry into its links with perception, imagination, nature, substance, essence, freedom and consciousness.
    The danger of such an approach is the projection onto photography of concepts created long before photography's emergence,
    concepts which might prove to be ill-suited. In effect, many respectable philosophers following this path concluded that photography
    was a form of painting or minor literature. This judgment was foreseeable since the concepts of western philosophy precisely
    subscribe to a pictorial, sculptural, architectural and literary outlook. But the philosophy of the photograph can also designate the
    philosophy emanating from the photograph itself, the kind of philosophy the photo suggests and diffuses by virtue of its characteristics.
    All materials, tools and processes employ, through their texture and structure, a specific mode of constructing the space and
    time around them. They engage "to a greater or lesser degree" specific parts of our nervous system. They induce certain gestures
    or operations, while excluding others. As such, they endow those who use them with a certain lifestyle. There is no reason why film,
    devices or photographic paper should be deprived of such action. Undoubtedly, they suggest an unforeseen space and time, a distinct
    manner of capturing reality and the real, action and act, event and potentiality, object and process, presence and absence, in brief,
    a specific philosophy.Evidently, the term philosophy is here taken in its most common meaning. A psychology, sociology or anthropology
    of the photograph would have been equally suitable. And why not an epistemology, semiotics or indicialogy of the photograph?
    It is vital to ask what the photograph itself imposes or distills, rather than what wedemand from it.This undertaking will therefore
    be anything but easy. Because not simply our philosophies, but more importantly our languages were originally forged to speak about
    painting, architecture and literature. On different occasions, God was a painter, a sculptor, an architect or a poet, only because man
    had been. We therefore do not have the words to describe a photograph adequately. But specialized terminology would be even
    more fallacious, as only common language has the power "through its bricolage" to re-encode itself so as to touch on new objects.
    That is why one should forget all jargon here, and particularly that of linguistics. When encountering terms such as signifier and signified,
    reality and the real, indices and indexes, perception and sensation or act and action, the reader is called upon to rediscover a naive
    English that will define and redefine itself according to circumstance.
    Henri Van Lier


    Um, much more readable through the link above. I don't know how to (or if I can) change font and spacing. :S

    Also, noticing a lot of Canada love up in here. F--in' eh rights.
    Last edited by andy_k; 02-01-2013 at 02:00 AM. Click to view previous post history.

  9. #29
    David Lyga's Avatar
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    see following (mea culpa)
    Last edited by David Lyga; 02-01-2013 at 02:44 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  10. #30
    David Lyga's Avatar
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    mea culpa, redux
    Last edited by David Lyga; 02-01-2013 at 03:07 PM. Click to view previous post history.

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