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  1. #41
    stormpetrel's Avatar
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    I'm quite happy to see this kind of thread on Apug but I'm quite aware of the sentence Plato wrote over the doors of its academy: "Let no one destitute of geometry enter my doors".
    The fact that the language used by those philosophers is the natural language does necessary mean it is accessible to the profanes like me. It requires a lot of effort to understand the concepts involved here however you teased my curiosity enough to read the books of R. Barthes and Van Lier!

  2. #42
    andy_k's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rudeofus View Post
    ...it is beyond me how light would have any of the naturality of water, air or rock.
    He says here the "local naturality," which I think he means to say the (holistically) elemental quality that light has of our inhabited natural environment, like soil, water, air, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rudeofus View Post
    Most animals would completely ignore photos regardless of what they show. We have gained some insight into how our brain sees but that understanding is still too shallow that we could teach a machine vision system to detect non-trivial objects in changing scene lighting. I don't think one can derive the importance and significance of photography without considering the specific importance of the visual sense to us humans. Deriving it from superficial knowledge of modern physics is bound to create a mess, regardless of how much philosophical lingo is used to hide this.
    Yeah, for real. I think he does a good job of introducing his ideas on this in the excerpts I included in the OP, and gives extensive treatment to this exact issue throughout the text.
    Last edited by andy_k; 02-03-2013 at 04:26 AM. Click to view previous post history.

  3. #43
    Kevin Kehler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stormpetrel View Post
    The fact that the language used by those philosophers is the natural language does necessary mean it is accessible to the profanes like me. It requires a lot of effort to understand the concepts involved here however you teased my curiosity enough to read the books of R. Barthes and Van Lier!
    It is difficult because it is a precise way of thinking and thus, very demanding since you have to understand what someone is saying and not what you think they are conveying. It requires very disciplined thinking which can only be gained with time and practice - this is in no way to say that others are undisciplined but rather to say that philosophers take it to a new level. I write government regulations and guidelines for a living and a misplaced comma or a plural where there should be a singular can cost hundreds of thousands, even millions. I need the discipline of my philosophy background to do my job - a wedding photographer missing a shot might upset the couple, but they are still married. I miss a reference and somebody could lose their house.

    Please understand that I am not trying to stifle anyone from contributing - the point of my last thread is that we have 1.3 million threads here on APUG and maybe a half dozen are on the philosophy of photography (I mean that in a formal sense, not the generic "we have a philosophy of care in the hospital" meaning of the word). Nobody ever suggests when people are discussing agitation cycles, pre-rinse procedures, stop bath preferences or exposure logs that this is somehow not real photography and that they should stop these discussions and just take pictures. For some individuals, understanding how a developer works on a chemical level helps them take pictures since they know what is going to happen before they hit the shutter - for me, understanding why I am taking the shot is what helps me fire the shutter.

    If we have contributed to someone being more curious or thinking more deeply about something, then it is worth it. I probably won't get around to reading the book till next week but it is nice to be able to have a discussion.
    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

  4. #44
    stormpetrel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler View Post
    It is difficult because it is a precise way of thinking and thus, very demanding since you have to understand what someone is saying and not what you think they are conveying. It requires very disciplined thinking which can only be gained with time and practice - this is in no way to say that others are undisciplined but rather to say that philosophers take it to a new level. I write government regulations and guidelines for a living and a misplaced comma or a plural where there should be a singular can cost hundreds of thousands, even millions. I need the discipline of my philosophy background to do my job - a wedding photographer missing a shot might upset the couple, but they are still married. I miss a reference and somebody could lose their house.

    Please understand that I am not trying to stifle anyone from contributing - the point of my last thread is that we have 1.3 million threads here on APUG and maybe a half dozen are on the philosophy of photography (I mean that in a formal sense, not the generic "we have a philosophy of care in the hospital" meaning of the word). Nobody ever suggests when people are discussing agitation cycles, pre-rinse procedures, stop bath preferences or exposure logs that this is somehow not real photography and that they should stop these discussions and just take pictures. For some individuals, understanding how a developer works on a chemical level helps them take pictures since they know what is going to happen before they hit the shutter - for me, understanding why I am taking the shot is what helps me fire the shutter.

    If we have contributed to someone being more curious or thinking more deeply about something, then it is worth it. I probably won't get around to reading the book till next week but it is nice to be able to have a discussion.
    I couldn't agree with you more. It was not a critic but just to highlight a fact. It would be difficult for most of us to participate to a true philosophical debate as we do not know most of the concepts involved in philosophy but that does not mean it should not happen on Apug! I would find quite interesting to follow such debates!

  5. #45

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler View Post

    Please understand that I am not trying to stifle anyone from contributing - the point of my last thread is that we have 1.3 million threads here on APUG and maybe a half dozen are on the philosophy of photography (I mean that in a formal sense, not the generic "we have a philosophy of care in the hospital" meaning of the word). Nobody ever suggests when people are discussing agitation cycles, pre-rinse procedures, stop bath preferences or exposure logs that this is somehow not real photography and that they should stop these discussions and just take pictures. For some individuals, understanding how a developer works on a chemical level helps them take pictures since they know what is going to happen before they hit the shutter - for me, understanding why I am taking the shot is what helps me fire the shutter.

    If we have contributed to someone being more curious or thinking more deeply about something, then it is worth it. I probably won't get around to reading the book till next week but it is nice to be able to have a discussion.
    I'll try and think more deeply for a second. If you'll humour me.

    Sometimes I wish we had a master photographer or two to weigh in on these discussions (or a committee of such people to refer to), because I feel our judgement can become warped, working in obscurity - as the OP alludes to. I suspect many great contemporary photographers, who depend on their critical facility, would consider this, like you mention, as vital as fantasy football. This is coming from someone who has spent more money and time on photography literature and monographs, over the last year and a half, than making photographs.

    Is there a philosophical question to be asked, as self-taught photographers and perhaps thinkers; where should we look for wisdom? It's a question I often ask and one that makes me wonder if I'm doing photography for the right reasons. We have philosophers (or ex-philosophers) here and political science students, but what about people with photography educations - those who have received guidance in tangential areas like this? This kind of discipline, after all, is why education and mentoring is so valuable. We're taught, not to indulge, but to remain clear headed in the way we assimilate. You'll notice the language the OP uses referring to the text (not to make a psychological assessment) - his attachment to it and his need, in making the thread, to find validation for his attachment to it. What I've taken from this thread is how dangerous it is to aesthetisize ideas and especially, rewarding others for doing so.

    Some intelligent people have responded to this thread with dismissive comments, as Kevin did initially, perhaps with brief clarity of judgement.

  6. #46
    Rudeofus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by andy_k View Post
    He says here the "local naturality," which I think he means to say the (holistically) elemental quality that light has of our inhabited natural environment, like soil, water, air, etc.
    Sorry, I'm lost here. What does he mean by that? That light is transformed by our natural habitat? Or that light is as much part of our habitat as rocks, water and air are?
    Quote Originally Posted by andy_k View Post
    Yeah, for real. I think he does a good job of introducing his ideas on this in the excerpts I included in the OP, and gives extensive treatment to this exact issue throughout the text.
    Sorry, but the excerpt from your OP don't say much about these issues. The author seems to be fascinated by modern physics to the point where he assigns ethereal properties to electromagnetic waves. He hangs on to some catch phrases from physics 101 (or the science section of daily newspapers) to derive a very odd theory of what goes on in photography.

    Yes, electromagnetic waves connect the cosmos as we know it, but so does gravity which is not recorded by cameras. We have reasonably good eyes well suited for life in the Savannah during daylight, and a brain that can make incredible images out of what we see, but that does not mean "man captures light in a most balanced and integrating manner.". Cameras are certainly no black boxes to those who make or service them, and the fact that case and shutter let only those few photons in that are meant to be recorded does not make a camera "secret and genital". A video camera is quite illuminated inside while it records, BTW.

    And that's one of the weird things in many of these "philosophy of photography" tractates. Authors go through great length to derive a very solid train of thoughts, including lingo that is nearly impenetrable to humans not trained in that subject, and then base their whole train on thoughts on a very fuzzy image of modern physics, brain science and aesthetics.
    Trying to be the best of whatever I am, even if what I am is no good.

  7. #47
    cliveh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler View Post
    If it is because as an artist, you have something to say and this is you way of saying it - congratulations, you now need to understand why photography provides you with your artistic voice and you are a philosopher.
    Why do I need to understand that, as I don't wish to be a philosopher? I would suggest many photographers may ask the same question.

    “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”

    Francis Bacon

  8. #48
    andy_k's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rudeofus View Post
    light is as much part of our habitat as rocks, water and air are?
    Yes, light is an essential quality of our natural habitat; we would not be the same kind of creature, and interact with one another and the universe in the same way, were it not for (what we perceive as) light.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rudeofus View Post
    The author seems to be fascinated by modern physics to the point where he assigns ethereal properties to electromagnetic waves. He hangs on to some catch phrases from physics 101 (or the science section of daily newspapers) to derive a very odd theory of what goes on in photography.
    Well, light is ethereal, isn't it? Only because we have deduced its behaviors to elegant theories and equations doesn't deprive it of its 'magical' effect on our minds and bodies. Also, don't assume that this guy ( <- his CV, use google translate if you can't read french) doesn't have a reasonable grasp on physical theory. He's attempting to relate the empirical elements of environmental examination with subjective elements of our lived existence, and hypothesizing about how these things come together in photos.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rudeofus View Post
    Yes, electromagnetic waves connect the cosmos as we know it, but so does gravity which is not recorded by cameras. We have reasonably good eyes well suited for life in the Savannah during daylight, and a brain that can make incredible images out of what we see, but that does not mean "man captures light in a most balanced and integrating manner."
    It's not about connection, but the transmission of information. The thing about light that makes it special is that it is a rich spectrum of EM radiation which moves from one place to another, and can be influenced by (and thus can carry information about) the things it interacts with--gravity, or any other natural perceptible phenomenon (like sound, or smell) cannot carry information in this way, we cannot 'see' with it alternatively. The integrated manner in which our physiology has been selected to interpret the information that light carries, balanced well around the spectral intensity of our star. I don't see what's confusing about this.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rudeofus View Post
    Cameras are certainly no black boxes to those who make or service them, and the fact that case and shutter let only those few photons in that are meant to be recorded does not make a camera "secret and genital". A video camera is quite illuminated inside while it records, BTW.

    And that's one of the weird things in many of these "philosophy of photography" tractates. Authors go through great length to derive a very solid train of thoughts, including lingo that is nearly impenetrable to humans not trained in that subject, and then base their whole train on thoughts on a very fuzzy image of modern physics, brain science and aesthetics.
    Cameras are, in fact, designed to be black boxes which we employ without being able to fully know and fully control (to the extent possible with manugraphic modes of object and image making). Of course, technologically we understand the principles and designs, tradeoffs and comprimises and mechanisms inherent in a tool, but it is almost impossible to completely fathom what is happening, all at once, inside of it while we use it. In the heat of the photographic moment, it is just a thing that we twist a knob, turn a crank, depress a plunger, slide a frame in and out of, knowing that at the end of it all we get an image that more or less precisely describes the world we point it at according to the skill of the user. Although we are a part of an instance of photographic activity, the camera itself handles the capture, registration, recording (the key aspect of the act) of the spectacle on its own; despite very complete technical knowledge and involvement, in the same sense as using a computer or the internet, these technologies mask their inner workings which we are not privy to in the action of their function.

    It is secret in its exclusion, it is genital in its technological creative primacy; and here in the excerpt from the OP he's speaking more specifically about the (often solely inhabited) darkroom. I think your biggest problem with the book is that you're not actually reading it, content to (as a few others are, it seems) dismiss his ideas out of hand and without adequate inspection. Your first reaction to the text indicates to me that I think you'd find some value in there if you spent some time, I feel my first reply is still very valid. His theoretical grounding and explication is very precise, at least well enough suited to purpose, and if you gave it a read through over a couple weeks will definitely uncover some surprises.

  9. #49
    andy_k's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by batwister View Post
    Is there a philosophical question to be asked, as self-taught photographers and perhaps thinkers; where should we look for wisdom?

    You'll notice the language the OP uses referring to the text (not to make a psychological assessment) - his attachment to it and his need, in making the thread, to find validation for his attachment to it. What I've taken from this thread is how dangerous it is to aesthetisize ideas and especially, rewarding others for doing so.

    Some intelligent people have responded to this thread with dismissive comments, as Kevin did initially, perhaps with brief clarity of judgement.
    I'm sure that there are more than enough unthinking and unreflexive 'master' photographers (how would that even be defined? technical proficiency? theoretical proficiency? notoriety? earnings as a professional?) around who would scarcely consider reading far beyond those required in art histories and classes in 'critical attitude.' I look for wisdom on my library bookshelf; I open, scan, leaf through, and sometimes devour books, one at a time moving through the relevant section. I inspect them for their structural approach, their rigor, their readability, and relevance to my interests. You might try that, it's a lot cheaper than buying.

    What I said in the OP was that this book has a singular importance to my practice, and have found it especially influential on the way I think about what and how I do this stuff. I definitely don't need anyone's approval on the internet (I haven't needed it to keep making pictures), and am more than content to make you (many?!) who would blanch at the idea of reading a book about photography see how silly you're being. I don't idolize him, or revere him in the same way that (it seems) 98% of APUGers do the major personalities of the American formalist movement, but he is certainly a major influence and teacher. What I want to do is to talk about his ideas, the ideas I've generated as a result of my encounter with him, and the ideas other people have; this is impossible without a place to start (ie, a bunch of people reading the same thing to be able to talk about it). I need other people to interlocute with insofar as I can only get so far myself. If a dozen people read this thing cover to cover and came back to publish excoriating five-thousand word literature reviews on the structural and conceptual deficiencies of this text I would enjoy re-evaluating my thoughts about the book, and defending the value that I see in it.

    Generally, to the "I don't see the point" crowd, read Kevin's last post again. Read Van Lier's intro to the book (on page 3). Decide if you want to read it, make the decision, and give it a rest; you all sound like a broken record and it's page five. Your collective attitude is to regard him (because you don't recognize the name) as some whimsical hack know-nothing, which is not only absurdly insulting to his memory and academia generally, but a little to me as well; I know that I know a great deal more than you all seem to think I do, and for whatever reason believe that my favourite hobby is wasting my time in tractionless sophistry. Although my activity in this thread might indicate otherwise, I promise it really isn't.
    Last edited by andy_k; 02-03-2013 at 10:55 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  10. #50
    Rudeofus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by andy_k View Post
    Well, light is ethereal, isn't it? Only because we have deduced its behaviors to elegant theories and equations doesn't deprive it of its 'magical' effect on our minds and bodies.
    These "magical effects" are made "magical" by our brains, not by specific magical properties of light. Attributing these effect to some ethereal qualities of electromagnetic waves sounds quite esoteric. Once you accept something as "magic" or "ethereal", you stop asking, you stop trying to understand and that is (in my opinion) the opposite of what philosophy aims for.
    Quote Originally Posted by andy_k View Post
    Also, don't assume that this guy ( <- his CV, use google translate if you can't read french) doesn't have a reasonable grasp on physical theory. He's attempting to relate the empirical elements of environmental examination with subjective elements of our lived existence, and hypothesizing about how these things come together in photos.
    Yes, I do assume that Van Trier has no formal education in physics and his CV does nothing to claim otherwise. That's ok, lots of people don't have one and get along with their lives quite nicely. But if one bases one's philosophy on things one doesn't really know beyond trivial facts, that's just another Alan Sokal event waiting to happen.

    Van Trier claims that light and its associated information transmits through the whole universe but ignores that most of that light and information is lost somewhere in between. You do not connect with a distant monument by pointing a smart phone's led flash at it, billions of failed night photos prove it every year. Once you take that huge loss of information into account, that ethereal quality of light quickly disappears, and your philosophical view of light changes inevitably (or should at least).
    Quote Originally Posted by andy_k View Post
    It's not about connection, but the transmission of information. The thing about light that makes it special is that it is a rich spectrum of EM radiation which moves from one place to another, and can be influenced by (and thus can carry information about) the things it interacts with--gravity, or any other natural perceptible phenomenon (like sound, or smell) cannot carry information in this way, we cannot 'see' with it alternatively. The integrated manner in which our physiology has been selected to interpret the information that light carries, balanced well around the spectral intensity of our star. I don't see what's confusing about this.
    One interesting difference between light and gravity is that you can't shield or reflect gravity. Light tells you about the surface, gravity about volume. Gravity lets you see behind and inside things, and it is necessarily omni directional and isotropic, at least much more than electromagnetic waves.

    Because of this omni directional property, our inability to mask it or focus it, we can not "see" it (in the way of images) but very much sense it (see vestibular system). Funny thing is lots of people get sea sick if these two senses disagree in what they "see".

    Quote Originally Posted by andy_k View Post
    Cameras are, in fact, designed to be black boxes which we employ without being able to fully know and fully control (to the extent possible with manugraphic modes of object and image making).It is secret in its exclusion, it is genital in its technological creative primacy;
    Yes, agreed, one interesting property of cameras is that they can create detailed images regardless of what the photographer knows about their internal workings. Note that a tape recorder can also create accurate sound recordings of whatever the microphone was pointed at. Also note that a whole class of microscopes creates images by throwing and recording electrons (their wave property doesn't make them electromagnetic waves). If you look at Mandelbrot sets (and their popular pictorial representations) you have an even stronger form of creative primacy: the computer not just records but also manages the subject matter.
    Quote Originally Posted by andy_k View Post
    and here in the excerpt from the OP he's speaking more specifically about the (often solely inhabited) darkroom. I think your biggest problem with the book is that you're not actually reading it, content to (as a few others are, it seems) dismiss his ideas out of hand and without adequate inspection.
    The philosophical concept sounds interesting and a lot better founded than the author's theories of the ethereal qualities of light. Which is not a surprise because philosophy is the author's stronghold, not theoretical physics. I sure hope the book puts more emphasis on this than on pop science electromagnetic theory.
    Trying to be the best of whatever I am, even if what I am is no good.

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