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.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.

... 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.
To begin with Maris, it's not clear whether or not you've actually read any of the authors that you dismiss en bloc out of hand. Assuming you have, is your contention with all of them that they wrote on photography, or that they wrote at all? The accusation of esoteric language and complex argument I could understand as a criticism of Derrida or Baudrillard (who I love, for his entertaining flights of insanity and bombast), but absolutely not of Barthes or Sontag. To that end, I reject your (implied) assertion that meaningful inspection of ourselves and our activities (photographic or otherwise) can be adequately executed without the invention of specific language to contain and communicate the novel ideas that a thinker presents us with. Are the confusions 'they' generate an aspect of their flawed thinking, or inattention of the reader? What unrelated tangents are you finding in works of dedicated philosophy?
The pursuit of knowledge is a worthy, but difficult endeavor, and I think you should at least pretend you're interested in accepting the burden before attempting to claim that you've got a singular insight or contribution that these others are somehow missing. On that note, your remarks are somewhat in line with Van Leir's observations, but might be one percent (generously) of the range of the subject that he covers in his relatively short book. If you gave it the time, I'm sure that you would find a lot in there that would resonate. For those concerned, there are even pictures to go with the text on the site!

To benefit the interpretation of the exerpts above, I'll make a few more explanatory remarks which should draw some initial contrast between Van Leir's understanding and Maris' remarks.
Van Leir begins with The Real is all of the universe that exists whether or not people exist to see it. Reality is what we people see and know of the universe, and Reality contains all kinds of meaning that we impose on the Real. He reveals through a short exploration of our cultural ancestors' linguistic constructions (semiotic genealogy and deconstruction) the various ways that we have, and can, think about the natural environment we inhabit.

Photographs are interesting objects because they're so very unlike other kinds of images that people have made. They contain indices (which are like an animal's track in sand) and indexes (which are the patterns that we see in the world, like seeing series of animal tracks and observing how it was moving, where it was going, etc) in a complex fashion which is unique to their nature. When you take a picture, you are using your camera to make an object that contains the indices (the 'footprints' of the world in front of you, over a specific amount of time) of a scene that you found interesting, which means something to you because of the way you have indexed the scene. If your picture is a success, you would feel that it describes the world through the indexes that you wanted to show, captured as physical marks by accident of the universe.

Maris' remarks make a few imprecise missteps about the representative quality of a photograph, its epistemic quality, and that it is somehow privileged in happening in 'physical reality.' First, representation is something that is indexical (in Van Leir's language, denotative in Barthes'), it is a sign which contains meaning--I usually defer to Jonathan Friday's ideas on photographic aesthetics on this point, and don't want to confuse the issue further right now. But, what Maris is talking about is specifically indicial (connotative in Barthesianese) which is something else entirely, and to the point, the more important and distinctive quality of photography.The physicality of chemical photographs is not in itself special: all digital images, and other manugraphic (paintings, drawings, etc) images as well, are physically extant. However, this last aspect is something that I was hoping would come up, to present a notion I had about digital images and imaging technologies.

This feeling of realness that photographs possess, which I'm sure we almost all perceive as their distinctive trait, is a result of their nature as changed objects that carry with them an essence of the "possible spectacle" that is recorded on them. Specifically, this belongs to the negative, but Van Leir addresses that much better than I can remember off the top of my head (so read the book). What I want to say is that the key difference between a film picture and a digital one is not about the medium of capture, because digital chips generate analogue signals in a fashion not totally unlike the ionized response that illuminated silver salts--the 'latent image' on boron doped silicon is no less physically real. The difference comes in when the information on the chip (or film, in a scanner bed) is translated into human language--machine code which very, very precisely interprets and records the closest likeness to that real information that we find sufficient for its adequate reproduction.
The difference between "reality, trapped within the double frame of the real" and very precisely generated likenesses from machine code is the difference that people do (or don't) think is the important aspect in the film/digital debate and all that.

Hopefully I haven't been confusing or indulgent, and that I'm helping to make the argument that this text (and many others) are very worthwhile for anyone who wants to practice photography as something more than a technical and nostalgic fetish act (not that I'm saying that's bad).