First, I am not so intelligent, so I will not try to compete with the sages.
But, be that said, there is a case to be made for the extreme esoteric banter that philosophy invests itself with. I am smart enough to know that, after printing the previous discussion (prior to my query for Andy K) and studying it for about two hours at night, I found myself rather fascinated with the possibilities which mortals usually restrict themselves from even having to entertain the chance of occurring, or even of allowing the chance of being in existence. There really is a reason to question the forms which 'reality' (derived from the 'real', guided by our particular way of translating our perception of logic) can take. It's when philosophers become arrogant and condescending (NOT applicable to Andy K here) that they become a de facto threat to many of the 'lesser' amongst us because they seem to be taking over our comfort zones.
The following morning after such study my mind felt a bit more enlightened and less burdened with the 'semiotic' restriction of what I was 'permitted' to believe. This discussion, pro or con, adds to our structured knowledge but leaves us somewhat disquieted with the fact that what we have determined as 'logic' just might not be the full and complete story. Humans like final resolution. That might yet be unachievable. - David Lyga
Last edited by David Lyga; 02-04-2013 at 08:59 AM. Click to view previous post history.
I take issue with the insistence of imposing a gendered/sexual structure on the process of image-making. I'm not saying you can't make the case (which I think he can argue, but it's certainly not absolute or indisputable). If you want to go down that road, you can open yourself up to a queer theory critique of heteronormatization of the photographic process, imposing a feminine gender on the camera and a masculine gender on the photographer who by virtue of the process as outlined by Van Leir would become the insertor of the content into the camera. The whole world is not organized into phallic and vaginal dualities - there are things which are clearly neuter (rocks, rivers, oceans) and things that are utterly gender-defiant (are all trees phallic and all caves vaginal? what about trees with knotholes? Stalactites within caves? Is the dome of the US Capitol phallic? Is it a female breast? what about trans-people/hermaphrodites?). The camera would certainly fall into that hermaphroditic tradition - the function may be genital/vaginal, but the object itself is outwardly phallic. The process of taking the photograph has been described throughout the history of photography as an invasive, dominant, penetrative act, which makes the decision to locate the act of photographic creation as genital/vaginal rather counter-intuitive. As a photographer, regardless of personal physical gender, I must employ a phallus that is in turn itself penetrated and impregnated by the action of taking the picture? No matter the locus of and relationship of genders of the subject and the photographer, the camera becomes a queer object because it both penetrates and is penetrated. It is both intimate and alienating by interposition between the photographer and the subject.
I refuse to buy into the "unknowable black box" approach to describing the camera and the photographic medium, because we can and do know absolutely what happens when each and every photograph is made. If we did not, cameras would not work. They would work as well as magic does - upon performing the ritual, if the ritual succeeds, it is because we performed it correctly, but if it fails, there was something we did not take into account or failed at, despite everything being performed in a scientifically controlled environment. I CAN take the exact same picture twice in a studio. I cannot guarantee the harvest with a ritual sheep sacrifice, even if I were to do everything in my power to control equally consistent with the first time I sacrificed a sheep and got a good crop.
Please note that I am highly seperating the artist from the practitioner here - even if they both perform the same action, the intentions of the person determine if they are being an artist or a practitioner.
Originally Posted by cliveh
I am pivoting slightly here in my assertion - I have a well-developed philosophy of the artist (not of art or aesthetics) where I distinguish what is an artist as opposed to a hobbyist or practitioner. For me, if you want to claim the mantle of an artist, you need to develop an independent voice which you believe to be valuable, not only in what you are saying but how you choose to say it. An artist can be solitary (e.g., never show their work to anyone else) or communal (e.g., show everybody everything) but fundamentally, the artist is somebody who is trying to speak about the reality of themselves or about the reality of how the world presents itself to them. Beethoven went deaf at the end of his life and his work at the time reflects the frustration and anger of the situation; Michelangelo, regardless of the financial or political reasons for his work, must have had a rich spiritual inner-life in order to paint the Sistine Chapel; Ansel Adams was overwhelmed by the beauty he saw in Yosemite and wanted express what that beauty meant to him in a more concrete manner than simple snapshots allowed. The question for me is why did they choose to use the medium that they did - Beethoven was forced into music by his father but why did he choose to compose symphonies as opposed to just sonatas (I know he did both but nobody writes 9 symphonies without some love of them). Michelangelo was often pushed into certain commissions by his patrons but could have chosen to work solely with paint or fresco or stone (would the statue of David be as inspiring if it had been a fresco as opposed to a sculpture?).
But why did the photographer choose photography? Why does the painter choose painting? Surely, they could choose a different art and with sufficient sweat and time, become proficient at it? If you chose to be a photographer because it allows you to most accurately express your voice, I accept that. If you chose photography because you think it is easier than other arts, then you are not really making art, regardless of how well it sells. Yes, that is snobbish and I accept that. But, if you are truly trying to be an artist, you must give your all to your craft, including your mental sweat as to understand why it is what you do. I suspect there are a lot of practitioners of photography who will take offense at these statements but my communication with artists (of all mediums) seems to uphold these thoughts. I have dabbled in other arts and the compulsion to return to photography keeps driving me back to the camera - if some of that compulsion one day drives me to making cabinets or baking bread, perhaps I will be an artist in those mediums but I am a photographer because I am inwardly driven towards it and it allows me to express myself in the way that my "soul" demands.
If you want to be a photographer as a hobbyist, I have no problem with that and I am glad you get some satisfaction from the practice. But if you want to be a photographer as an artist, you must give more. Some of my photographs are art, some are not and only I know the difference - but I know that difference!
I still might chuck the whole book out as meaningless but I refuse to do that without giving it a fair and honest reading.
Originally Posted by batwister
Last edited by Kevin Kehler; 02-04-2013 at 10:03 AM. Click to view previous post history.
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.
Lewis Baltz frequently says he hates photography. Nearly every self-aware photographer I've read in interview, admits, there's a certain artistic (in the traditional sense) laziness that led them to the camera, which inevitably leads to an intellectually defensive attitude about the chosen medium and in turn, intellectually informed practice to back it up. I think most of us create philosophical justifications for making photographs on some level - especially when we don't create work with visual immediacy. That's not to say putting philosophical emphasis on our practice means we "must be terrible photographers" (as some have insinuated), because there's a kind of plateau that can be reached through a deeply analytical approach - out of which better work can eventually be born - a point of, dare I say it, enlightenment. I think this is what Andy_K is in search of, but through my own searching for this, I've come to understand it's not something that can be achieved alone - even with correspondence with photographers by email or forums. It might actually be intellectual suicide. The most notable photographers with highly critical sensibilities, almost without exception, are the product of a school - whether this is having famous artists as mentors; Stephen Shore and Andy Warhol or Düsseldorf, for example - places where one can be in contact with notable and accomplished practitioners. This is why I've been seriously considering going back to university - I'm not getting the stimulation I need to feed my work. Most self-taught photographers eventually give themselves over to a photographic tradition and let this be their teacher - because the intellectual isolation of a critical approach would be too strained and too insular. This is the risk I see with anyone getting too deep with this stuff, in isolation.
Originally Posted by Kevin Kehler
It's unfortunate that this thread has created this discussion, and I apologise for my part in it, but in a forum made up of 90% hobbyists, it's probably the most searching debate we can have. I share Andy_K's disquiet about nostalgia for formalism/modernism on APUG - but they need a 'gateway drug'. It's interesting then that he's snooty about Barthes and Sontag. Like a crack addict might be about pot heads....
Very interesting and stimulating commentary. I agree totally that attempting to relate the universe to ourselves through physiological gender determination is absurd, and Van Lier doesn't make that claim; rather I think that his postulations on the (very loose) gendered quality of photographic activity is in response to the thoughts of a guy like Vilem Flusser (IIRC, it's been a while since I last read him) employing common english parlance about photographic activity which relates to the camera as male, and photographing as shooting (like a rifle) to think about the act.* The other thing to remember is that we're reading an english translation of a french text, and french being what it is carries along with it certain minimum cultural biases which does gender the world in (highly arbitrary and inconsistent) particular ways.
Originally Posted by TheFlyingCamera
In fact, Van Lier's encounter with this analogical description of photographic activity describes the camera not as a gun, but as a trap--leaving behind gendered concepts and thinking about it again as just an artifice. See ch. 12
*Flusser's philosophy of photography ends up no where near this intial position, imbuing the camera with a kind of technical imperative that subsumes all human intention, and stuff like that. He's pretty cool, but his work doesn't try to connect taking photographs to being human in the way that Van Lier does.
Of course, he's not ignorant of the development of photographic technology, which only came about as our understanding of the physical properties of light and chemistry evolved combined with very very specific and applied intention to create photographs. As well, he's using a theoretical postulate (the black box) as a way to relate his ideas about the unknowable realness of photos to the reader. To that end, it's not even that we can't be in a camera and see with our own eyes what's happening (plenty of room size cameras around these days). The black box aspect of the process, even deeply technically understood, is that it isn't "uninterruptedly describable" in all the aleatory aspects to the process--the way we see light is all at once and not in its infinitely variable wavelengths,* as a reflection from something else and not it itself (but for those blinding instants our eyes are overwhelmed by it), or in the way that we cannot organize the emulsion and the eventual silver precipitate grains with the kind of intention that we can the dithering of inkjet droplets. The black boxness of it all is that there is a perceptual gap, and a knowledge gap.
Originally Posted by TheFlyingCamera
As well, the idea that you can take exactly the same picture in a studio over and over and over is not quite true, at this considered level of the chemical, atomic, temporal, etc. Of course, to our perception it is essentially indistinguishable--but then again so can the visual effect of a hybrid or fully digital photographic image be equally so. But, I'm sure we all here can agree that there is still a difference, although much larger than the difference between two perfectly identically produced, exposed, and developed film negatives.
*Yes, we have only gotten as far as we have with our understanding of the physical world because of experiments with directly observable results, but it's not quite the same as seeing light in the ways that we have deduced it "really" is.
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I absolutely reflect your feelings here, there's definitely a limit to what anyone can get done with endless, fruitless, productivity deminishing inspection. It's lucky for me that I'm in school, and have friends who're artists (though not ordinarily disposed to the kind of philosophical discussion we're starting here), and live in a city which is a hotbed of photographic contemporary art. As well, my studies in politics go a long way to informing my ideas as well (of course). Bringing my thinking into the public light here in presenting Van Lier's really great book is just a way to open up that discourse to another avenue, which is populated with people who do things much more in line with the kind of work that I like to do. There's no need to apologize for 'this' kind of discussion, I'm not unfamiliar with 'message board life' and fully recognized that we need to defend and justify our positions. It makes for a better read through for people who're unconvinced to have the convincers state their case precisely (which can only happen in response to criticism). I was unkind to be short with you, and the remark about people needing to just make up their mind is perhaps a sign that I need to take myself less seriously.
Originally Posted by batwister
I should say, for mocking the 'gateway drug,' I'm also deeply possessed by its beauty. What I wanted the OP to be was a taste of something slightly different that might hook a few of these same people, and drag us all down the hole of addiction to photography to a deeper, darker level. You bet your ass I want this place to forget eating to laugh and groan their way through Baudrillard!
Last edited by andy_k; 02-04-2013 at 10:08 PM. Click to view previous post history.