Are You Pursuing Answers or Establishing Questions?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by unrealnature, Apr 4, 2009.

  1. The real creative question is: How can I best create or recreate the reality of my poetic occasion and subject -- by pursuing an answer or by establishing the questions? By solving the problem or by representing the depths of its mystery?​
    -- poet David Baker talking about writing poetry
    Apply that quote to photography, where your "poetic occasion" is the occasion when/why you take a picture.
    When your picture is supposed to show what "This is . . . " or say "This makes me feel this way," then it's an answer.
    For example, W. Eugene Smith: "My photographs at best hold only a small strength, but through them I would suggest and criticise and illuminate and try to give compassionate understanding."
    On the other hand, where you took a picture to ask, "What is this?" or "What does this mean?" then it's a question.
    For example, Garry Winogrand: "I photograph to see what things look like photographed." (It's debatable whether that's a question or an answer. How do you take it?)
    Which are you doing when you take a picture, any picture -- a portrait, a street photo, an abstract, a landscape, a snapshot of your dog, your children, flowers, sunsets ... anything at all? Are you thinking 'this is what this is' or are you thinking 'what is this, really?'
    Answer or question? Both?
    (I don't think you can claim neither -- else why would you take the picture at all?)
  2. "I don't think you can claim neither -- else why would you take the picture at all?"
    Sorry Julie but I completely disagree with this comment; photography is photography and poetry is poetry (although they can blend and one can certainly have aspects of the other). I think you overlook the fact that many photographers, including me, take photographs out of nothing other than curiousity to see what they would look like or because they think what they are seeing would make a nice image. cb :)
  3. In photography
    As in making love
    analysis is
    Best left for later
  4. I am not sure, until I've thought it through, whether I agree that it's not possible to "claim neither", Julie ... I shall have to pupate (!!!) around the idea for a while.
    To Charles, though...
    (1) Taking photographs "out of curiosity to see what they would look like" is surely posing a question?
    (2) Less obviously, isn't taking photographs "because they think what they are seeing would make a nice image" also posing a question: "will this make a nice image?"
    (3) On the assertion that "photography is photography and poetry is poetry" I am firmly with Julie, but don't you also undermine your disageement by conceding that "they can blend and one can certainly have aspects of the other"? I agree, they certainly can (I would say do , personally, but...) and therefore how can they be so definitely separated as your comment suggests?
  5. To William Kahn, who posted as I was framing mine:
    Now or later,without it where would the philosophy strand be?
  6. Felix-my comment with regard to poetry and photography could probably have been better expressed. A photographer may come upon a scene where some or all of the elements are already there for a possible photograph and he/she takes the picture to see if in fact it does translate into a useable image. I'm not a poet but I don't think that they find a bunch of words lying around and think, "hey I wonder if I can string those together and make a poem out of it?". My point was that I think it quite possible to create a photograph without the same forethought required by a poem. I am always bemused by people who always think that the photographer must have had something of signifigance in mind when they pressed the shutter button. Re (3) poetry and photography differ but that doesn't prevent them from overlapping so no, I don't think I undermined myself. cb
  7. jtk


    Many things are properly described as "poetic." Paintings, dance moves, musical performances, and certainly that small amount of photography that transcends "pretty," "snapshot," and "rendition."
    "Poetic" or "poetry" or "poem" seem to me to describe something that evokes something from memory, but something ephemeral, not immediately grasped. There may be something poetic in grass that's bursting through a crack in the sidewalk.
    Smith's "Tomoko in her bath" evokes Michaelangelo's "Pieta" for many, some without being able to name the connection. I doubt Smith consciously made the connection at the seems so emotionally loaded that he might have had a hard time just framing the image. Michaelangelo surely made his poetic connection to what he knew about Jesus and Mary, which itself came from poetic writing (the Gospels in Latin).
    I don't think significant photography is ever accomplished "without forethought," not even Winogrand's. He walked in certain kinds of environments, knowing from experience that certain kinds of things would attract his attention. He had the forethought not to wander in many other environments and the forethought to carry a camera, expecting to make photographs. With forethought, he selected images for printing and prints for display... selection is central to photography.
    Poets seem to know they'll find something when they look...poetry isn't just a matter of assembling patterns of words. Gertrude Stein said poets noticed and gave significance to details that others didn't...details like grass growing from cracks in sidewalks. Winogrand was a lot like Gertrude Stein.
    My photos don't ask questions or suggest answers... I'm at the edges of poetic challenges but don't know if I'm accomplishing poetry.
  8. Charles, in looking at your own pictures, I think there's more than curiousity there. You've taken a lot of time to choose and compose. What? Why?
    William. Okay. (*looking at my watch for five minutes*) Now it's later. Please answer the question.
    Felix, I will be waiting, impatiently for your conclusions. I hope this is the accelerated pupation schedule, not the one where I'm still waiting six months later (there are quite a few still in the oven -- don't think I've forgotten about them). I shall keep my own answer secret until I hear yours.
    John, thank you for the thoughtful description and elaboration on connections between poetry and photography. I thnk that poets are very much like photographers in that they are receptive. They are looking; they are sensitized; they are receptive as in they are prepared to open up and receive.
    If your photographs are neither questions nor answers, then what are they? What are you doing? Why did you look, why did you stop, why did you fiddle the controls, why did you move just a little this way and that? Or, conversely, why did you look and stop . . . and then not take a picture?
    I am interested in the motivation as you are taking the picture; not after and not as viewer of other people's pictures.
  9. I think it is all for intertainment basically, plus some business on the side.
  10. jtk


    All I seem to care about currently are portraits. I'm not thinking of anything beyond the technical and the relationships. I'm actively engaging subjects (who look directly into my lens) and helping them be as open as possible. It's more like an intense, brief love affair than like making a photograph. I'm good at that with people like myself: grown up, broadly educated, curious, created comfortable lives for themselves. We spend a lot of time and clicks getting past frozen faces, big smiles etc. The good photo seems to take fifteen minutes and perhaps 30 exposures. Plain background. I'm hoping soon to start with local Hispanic roots people who aren't likely to be as comfortable with Mr. White Guy as my current subjects. I have an idea for an opener (the easily understood reason I want to photograph them). I do know some things about them, as a culture, that may let this work. Or it may not...and on to the next. a nutshell, my photographs are gifts in which I'm also a participant.
  11. JH> Felix, I will be waiting, impatiently for your conclusions.
    OK ... I hear HMV and obey! :)
    On consideration it seems that you are, at the most fundamental level, right: one cannot take a photograph and not either ask or answer a question. One may be unaware of the framing and/or response to the question, but not avoid their existence.
    In fact ... there may well be, and often are, multiple questions ... but I'm not going there, for now at least.
    If the photographer is a conscious being, then the bottom line is that s/he cannot help answering at least the one question: "what do I notice, photographically?". That doesn't seem to me at all a trivial question, though it may not strike everyone the same way.
    Even (taking an extreme case) if the photographer were a robot, deliberately designed to photograph in a truly random way, the results would still answer the question "what was before the robot, at the moments when photographs were exposed?"
    I'm not sure whether that's the level you were thinking of, though? If not, then my answer may change with the level – in particular, the level of conscious mentation involved in the framing or answering of the question.
    Shifting to your main question ("Which are you doing when you take a picture, any picture ... [answering] 'this is what this is' or ... [asking] 'what is this, really?'") and responding purely for myself: I am usually doing both, in plural ways at different intensities, in different proportions on different occasions. I think...
    I hesitate over your word "motivation", though. I might be more comfortable with something like ... oh ... impetus, or impulse, maybe
  12. John,
    It's been a long time since I've done any portraits, but it seems to me that your description is more about exploration than conclusion or more question than answer
    It's impossible for me to know whether what you finally zero in on when you make your pictures is some truth about the person or whether, instead, you are framing the "depths of the mystery" of that particular being.
    (*adding motivation to the long list of Felix-ations*)
    Answer implies a preceding question, so in every case there was a question somewhere. The difference is whether or not you feel the need to resolve that question in order to make a picture. Or, I should say, would like to have resolved that question.
    Which leads me, as promised, to my answer, now that you've given yours. I prefer (and wish that it could be always the case) that my pictures are answers, not questions. But small answers. Very small answers. Very, very, very small; local, particular, personal. I like to whittle and pare and polish until it's clean, if that makes any sense.
    But, but . . . I take many pictures that are questions. Because questions are everywhere; because uncertainty compels attention ("is that a sabre-tooth tiger in the bushes, or not?"); because I can't figure out the answer. Though I take these pictures, I don't like them. I futz about with them after the fact, trying to turn them into answers, but that doesn't work.
  13. Julie: in specific response to the end of yours ... I, by contrast, would probaby prefer that my photographs were predominantly questions but, but ... in reality I probably produce more answers.
  14. Felix,
    Well, thank goodness you've come to your senses and are once again the opposite of me -- which is as it should be, after all.
  15. jtk


    ".... it seems to me that your description is more about exploration than conclusion or more question than answer....whether what you finally zero in on when you make your pictures is some truth about the person or whether, instead, you are framing the "depths of the mystery" of that particular being." - Julie H

    Julie, for my own purposes I can't accept your "question" vs "answer" perspective.
    It's not that I disagree, it's just that I don't find it relevant to what I'm doing.
    Perhaps you're right...maybe I'm "framing depths of mystery"... everything important seems that way specifically because it hints at is different from decoration only then. :
  16. For me, questions often have answers and a good answer will often bring up more questions. Good photographs may participate in both. Rather than thinking of my photographs as simply posing or answering questions, I might prefer to think of them as discussions.
    I often think our "interpretations" of others' photographs are too specific . . . because viewers tend to seek answers where the photographer didn't pose the kind of question that requires one. A photographic question, indeed even a philosophical one, may be seeking the kind of truth that is expressed not with a proposition deemed to be "p" or "q" but rather with an emotional response. That's truth on a different plane from "is this an accurate representation of reality?" that so many seem to concern themselves with when it comes to photography.
    The best way to answer your question, Julie, may be to say that photography renders some questions meaningless. Which is not to say yours is a silly question. It's a good one. For me, it leads to a question like, "Are feelings questions or answers?" because a good photograph will often awaken feelings.
    It seems to me that what John is talking about is not seeking some truth about a particular person, the subject of his photograph. It seems he is forming a relationship. The photograph is both a stimulus to and a result of that relationship.
    Exploration is, sometimes, the answer as well as the question. Like John, I don't see the question/answer dichotomy as necessarily pertinent to photography per se, though I respect the fact that it will be significant for some.
  17. While I can see that it's not necessary (as opposed to not "pertinent" or not "relevant") to think about the question/answer dichotomy (none of philosophy is, really), I do think that it is a genuine divide in intent.
    A question is a beginning; the formulation of a 'quest'. The tensioning of the bow, the pointing of the arrow before its release.
    An answer is a conclusion, and ending, the arrow stopped.
    Here is more from David Baker, this from just before the previous quote at the top of this thread:
    I hope to infuse a kind of speculative dis-ease into the simple linear imagination. I want to trouble our thinking, to make it self-aware, at odds with our more typical analytic pardigms. Too often we read -- if we read at all -- with laziness, inattention, satisfied by the cliched and familiar, soothed by the conventional, the facile: the sloth of the typical newspaper, the despicable formula of the popular novel, the mere condescension of most daily discourse. We want answers without understanding the questions; we want clarity, pure and simple, without dealing with the more natural disorders.
    I want a poem that resists the tyranny of order, of easy clarity, of sinigle-mindedness. Consider the possible rhetorical paradigms of the hallucination, the dream, and all the circular, associative working of memory. These are the mind's most accurate and natural methods in its search for meaning. To give voice and appropriate form to these less orderly, these messier, conditions is to attempt to depict the mind in its fundamental environs.​
    At the end of Baker's essay, there is this:
    But whose job is it to explain?
    Deconstruction and its murderous pretense that "the author is dead" notwithstanding, I wrote this poem. I planned it, constructed it, changed it, loved it, fought it, thought and thought about it. I am its author. But who holds the responsibility for this poem's interpretation and meaning? I am the author, but who is the authority? Not me. I gave that to you.​
    I don't agree with Baker -- which is why I find his position interesting to think about. (I enjoy disagreement.)
  18. Fred – I agree with much that you say, but in the interests of discussion I'll concentrate on one of the differences.
    While photography (or anything else) may make certain questions (and, for that matter, answers) meaningless for a particular observer or viewpoint , I can't see that it can be said to do so in general.
    Questions can be meaningless, but if they hold any validity to start with then it cannot be removed by a particular medium ... though it may cease to be conceded by particular hearers.
  19. Julie/Felix--
    I didn't say that photography makes questions in general meaningless. I said it makes SOME questions meaningless. And, yes, I mean for me, not everyone. In this case, for me, it makes the question "Does photography pose questions or answer them" meaningless. Because, for me, photography isn't so linear. I agree with what Baker is saying, at least in this later quote Julie supplied, to a large extent. In moving away from single-mindedness and toward dream and hallucination (which is where I believe much about art lies), he seems to be in a similar place to me. The simplicity with which he draws the dichotomy between question and answer in the first quote is rejected in his more complex explanation later. For me, photography, as Baker claims in the second quote, is messier than a simple dichotomy between asking or answering questions. For me, Julie, it is not pertinent because it's not the kind of paradigm that I apply to painting, music, or photography of the type I endeavor to do. It's more, for me, than not necessary. It simply doesn't apply. It's a different language and the question/answer split doesn't translate. It's like trying to translate verbatim an idiomatic expression. It simply doesn't work for me. With regard to most photographs that I love, the question and answer are one. They absorb each other.
  20. Fred: I'm sorry, I worded mine badly. I meant that I don't see how photography (or whatever) can in a general sense make a particular question meaningless.
    I do agree that it can make that particular question meaningless for a particular person , but not for everyone.
  21. There are only two kinds of people in the world; those that divide the world into two kinds of people, and those that don't.
    Isn't the "question vs answer" dicotomy the same kind of statement? As everyone knows, all duality is falsely imagined.
  22. Larry: "As everyone knows" ?
  23. Well ..... maybe not everyone. But I'm not alone.
    Is a coin made of two sides, a head and a tail, or is a head and tail really just two sides of one thing? I think there are many complex philosophical discussions that, in the end, argue that kind of question, and I think this is one. The original quote assumes a duality that doesn't exist.
  24. Julie, I'm afraid I have to side with the rest of the nay-sayers here. I just don't see a clear cut dichotomy bewteen "question" and "answer" in either poetry or photography. For instance, one of your "answer" examples, "This makes me feel this way" can logically be followed by one of your "question" examples, "What does this mean?" in the same breath, as part of the same emotional response.
    In any case, it's certainly not something I consider evern briefly when shooting. What draws me to a particular scene is a strong visceral reaction, or a sense of deja vu, or perhaps a combination of the two. If I stop to consder the meaning of what I'm doing, I'lll never get the damn shot. That's the point I was trying to make in my first post.
    Of course, there have been times when I've looked at a negative or a scan later and wondered what in the world I was thinking.......
  25. it's an "observation" questions, no answers
  26. I guess there always has to be a contrarian and I'm it in this case. I never photograph in a way that is driven by questions or answers. If I find confusion coming on I put the camera away until it passes. Film is too expensive, fine photographs are too hard to make, to burn sensitive materials while in the throes of unresolved mental forces.

    An important aspect for me is the moral responsibility I bear to the viewer of my photographs. Asking people to take some time out of their lives (which they don't get over) to look at my bad photographs is no way to reward their attention. And my bad photographs don't become good photographs because I was in the grip of some motivational dilemma at the time of exposure.

    Instead of my analyzing my own innards I target the emotions of my audience. To borrow some cliches, if I want to traffic in "creepy drama" I'll photograph Gothic castles at night during thunder storms. If I want "cool tranquility" I'll photograph glacial streams flowing through forests of mint; and so on.

    My photographs have to say what I want them to say. Being clear-headed and purposeful is a good first step in the chain of consistent creativity. Statements rather than questions or answers are the way forward for me.
  27. "Which are you doing when you take a picture... Are you thinking..."
    No one can form a complete thought at 1/500th of a second.
    "I don't think you can claim neither -- else why would you take the picture at all?"
    It's the "when you are taking a picture" that is wrong. You mean "when you are thinking about taking a picture". I don't think either Smith or Winogrand quotations support your post.
  28. A lot of responses seem to be missing the pint of a "philosophy of photography" forum.
    The question or answer question doesn't mean "do I sit down and vocalise a debate between the two at the time of exposing each picture?"
    We all have drives and assumptions and aims in our make up. Even for the least introspective of us, those come to a head, usually but not always subconsciously, at the moment (Don E's 1/500 sec) of exposure. For some photographers, they do play a more explicit and conscious part; for others they are detectable as what Fred has characterised as "a feeling"; there is a continuum of psychologies and practicalities here; but it's true of all of us.
    Philosophy is not something that only occurs in that 1/500 sec ... it is something which mostly plays out in retrospect. One (among many) of its rôles is to analyse, in later tranquillity, the factors which were in play during that moment ... another (again amongst many) is to inform those factors which will be in play during future 1/500 seconds.
    Another, of course, is be itself: to consider what happens in many such 1/500 second impulses, as a class, without any necessary link to practice, simply because such such consideration is valuable in itself.
    We all have the perfect right to opt for "an unexamined life", and that can be just as rewarding and valid as an examined one ... but if we do make that decision, then a philosophy forum is not an obvious place to live it.
    I don't agree with Julie that image making boils down to one simple question/answer duality ... but she has persuaded me that its particulate structure may well consist of large, possibly infinite n D networks of such dualities. Whether she s right, wrong, or somewhere between, is far from the point though. The concern of philosophy is to consider the idea and where it leads.
  29. I find it interesting that so many adults are so uncomfortable playing with conceptual ideas.
    You can ask a group of kindergarteners to think about almost anything -- say for example, "Are you a snail or a kangaroo?" and they'll have a field day "trying on" the two sides of the question and thinking about which one they are more like; in what ways and why -- and, I think -- learning from this imaginary exercise.
    What you will almost never find is any one of the children saying, "I'm a human being. Therefore, I am neither a snail nor a kangaroo."
    Correct. But that wan't the point.
  30. Julie--
    If I must endure being likened to a child because I respond to your question in a way that you don't like, so be it. I took your question seriously and answered it within a framework that works for me. Is it really me and the rest of us that are so uncomfortable here?
    I agree with you about how Philosophy takes place and that such thoughts as Julie has proposed do not have to take place within the split second of shooting. On this point, I agree with you that Don has missed the mark. I don't see that "many" have. My answer to Julie's question was not a rejection of the question, by any means, though I do think dualities can be problematic. I come to this forum to discuss and engage ideas but, as I said to Julie, I don't feel obliged to do it on the questioner's terms if I feel the question is making assumptions that don't pertain to me. In my experience of Philosophy, analyzing how we pose questions and what assumptions underlie questions can be as enlightening if not more enlightening than what answers we give.
    Julie, as I said above, the paradigm of question/answer assumed in the original proposition of this thread does not work for me. For me, it is not the language of photography. That answer does NOT mean that I disrespect your question.
  31. Fred,
    I would have been likening you to an adult, not a child.
    But I wasn't addressing you. I respect your previous explanation of how you feel about the subject as proposed.
  32. Oh dear. Time to wrap up and bale out, I think.
    Thank you, everyone - it's been stimulating.
  33. Right behind you, Felix. But first.....
    Photographer and poet
    Striving to capture
    Both light and shadow
    Flirting with my lens
    Cardinal promised a pose
    Laughed, and flew away
    Cogito, ergo sum.

    Swell party, Julie. We must do this again sometime.
  34. "On this point, I agree with you that Don has missed the mark."
    I think not because there is no mark.
    "Which are you doing when you take a picture, any picture -- a portrait, a street photo, an abstract, a landscape, a snapshot of your dog, your children, flowers, sunsets ... anything at all? Are you thinking 'this is what this is' or are you thinking 'what is this, really?'
    Answer or question? Both?
    (I don't think you can claim neither -- else why would you take the picture at all?)"
    I am thinking about the light, about what shutter speed and aperture I've got set, how many frames (or how much of the card) are left, what is the movement of the likely subject and when to release the shutter, what am I not seeing that is there but that the camera will see, and so on -- technical things, photography things.
    I am not thinking about the philosophy of photography. That occurs maybe at 3am when I cannot sleep or in the shower, or when replying in this forum.
  35. When I photograph landscapes I want them to look more mysterious. I want to add something, some real stream of life. Photographing architecture, the feeling is the same - have to look different, have to pull the viewer inside wanting my photos to speak.
    When I do portraits, at least there has to exist some minimum connection between me and the subject if it is taken on the street. But I don't take photos of strangers because I only see an empty skin. I like a lot to take the photos of people that I know, and every time I find something new in their expression. Unfortunately, It's all stored in my memory, not on slides.
    The great gift is when your relations with friends evolve. It would be a great portfolio showing all these evolving among old friends, couples. But then, who would live a life? I'm the one who likes to live and that's why I don't have so much photos of my friends or of people that I know.
  36. Kristina,
    When I do portraits, at least there has to exist some minimum connection between me and the subject if it is taken on the street. But I don't take photos of strangers because I only see an empty skin. I like a lot to take the photos of people that I know, and every time I find something new in their expression.​
    That's good -- well said.
    I too like a mysterious landscape. (Is it mysterious because I don't understand it or am I finding it to be so because that is what I believe/intend landscapes should be -- because I "want them to look mysterious"?)
    Thank you for your thoughtful response.
  37. Felix: "A lot of responses seem to be missing the pint of a "philosophy of photography" forum.
    The question or answer question doesn't mean "do I sit down and vocalise a debate between the two at the time of exposing each picture?"
    How do you know? Do you think it is the point of a philosophy forum for posters to assume a meaning? Are you saying it is not the point of philosophical discourse to read critically and expose aporias in the logic or reasoning of a post -- to question?
  38. For me, a photograph is always an answer, and all my photographs are answers to the same question: "What does X feel like to you?", where X can be love, hatred, sorrow, fear, etc. or combinations of complex emotions. Even if the image raises a lot of questions, my purpose for taking the photo is to share an answer. For example, an image of people fighting might raise important questions like:
    "Why do people do this type of thing to each other?"
    "Will it ever stop?"
    "What does this behavior say about our future given our ever increasing ability to harm each other?"
    Fundamentally however, a photo of people fighting is my answer to the question, "What do hatred and violence feel like to you?"
  39. Thanks, Vince.
    It's a progression. Science, for example, stuggles to find solutions. Those solutions, once found then make clear further questions. It's a development; an uncovering, an expansion of the light of what is or can be or might be known. As is a conversation, communication, getting to know one another . . .
    As do you, I find the exposing (in every sense of the word) of the answer in a way that claims or at least suggests its correctness to be very satisfying. On the other hand, formulating or constructing a good question is at least as interesting. And, of course, the questions precede and direct where and how you look for the answers.
    It's a dance.
  40. jtk


    I think unresolved tension is at the heart of the photography that attracts me, just as in relationships...yang/yin...neither question nor answer.
    If you consider work that's virtually perfect, such as Avedon's, there's a remaining infintessimal, unresolved factor that distinguishes "virtually" from "actually" and that infintessimal factor distinguishes it.
  41. jtk


    SOMEBODY should by now have linked birds by Julie's David Baker (who's well known by Google), so I will:
    "By solving the problem or by representing the depths of its mystery?" (Baker, quoted by Julie).
    Many of us (myself included) responded too quickly, assuming Julie or Baker proposed an easy pair of alternatives. We missed Baker's point. Solving a problem makes things easy, representing mystery may only start to open eyes (think Stieglitz's "Equivalents").
    Visit Julie's photos to see birds.
  42. Yes.
    Thank you John.
  43. "Many of us (myself included) responded too quickly, assuming Julie or Baker proposed an easy pair of alternatives. We missed Baker's point. Solving a problem makes things easy, representing mystery may only start to open eyes (think Stieglitz's "Equivalents")."
    We didn't miss Baker's point. At least I didn't. If you see my posts, you'll see that I understood that the second Baker quote provided a more refined assessment of the situation than the simple question/answer dichotomy provided in the first quote. But I'm afraid Julie was too busy being defensive about her post to actually engage in dialogue about my points and my understanding of Baker and the salient points of others. Though she claimed to respect my viewpoint, she didn't discuss it. What she did say is that there is a "genuine divide in intent" with regard to the question/answer issue and then went on to specify the differences between questions and answers, a specification which many of us believe is not relevant to our photographs. Baker wants to avoid linearity. That can be done by avoiding the question/answer paradigm as well as the problem-solving/mystery one. Either dichotomy is "simple-minded," to use Baker's own chastisement. I might agree that easy or unanlyzed problem-solving would be a negative for Baker (and me) but I wouldn't agree that solving a problem makes things easy. Ask any mathematician, philosopher, or indeed, any photographer who has solved a complex problem (symbolic, verbal, or visual/technical), and you'll find that not all solutions are easy by any stretch of the imagination.
  44. What exactly is poet David Baker talking about? He is comparing the effects of expository writing with the more flexible and suggestive methods available to him with poetry. Shall I write an essay to explain something at length or shall I write a poem to express the depths of this mystery we call 'life?'
    Now we come to photography. What exactly is expository photography? Given that most objects that surround us every day are simply there, with no story to tell of their own evident, how does one make a photograph fill in the void to bring this information out? I once met a man who called this sort of thing the "facticity of the showedupness of Life!" The context of his remarks makes no difference now, but he accurately describes the ordinary daily surroundings for most of us I dare say that contain details as numerous as stars on the ground that don't say anything at all.
    My house has a front door. Who made it? Who put it there? How many colors were tried before it was painted? What about the telephone pole - or is it an electric pole? Those onerous wires I zap out with PS - who put them there? what do they do? what are they made of? Photographs that document things for newspapers, the police, engineering applications and the like nearly always depend on some other oral or written explanation offered to explain to a viewer what they mean. Perhaps it is some failing of mine, but I simply don't know how to put a whole essay into a single photograph.
    My point is that the photographer does not have the choice David Baker sees at all. If he documents something literally, he has no way to explain clearly what a viewer should make of the image. If he modifies the subject through a process of selection for point of view, focus or some other outright manipulation, he is using the artfulness of his craft to make sure to highlight an idea for the purpose of making it more obvious to the viewer.
    Suggesting a thought to a viewer through a clever caption is not the same thing as writing a description, either. A headline is not the story. Expository writing attempts to tell the reader everything he needs to know to understand the author's point of view. Baker tells us that the author wants to provide an answer for something he wishes to explore. The implication in the excerpt Julie uses is that big questions deserve big answers. This is the comparison one makes if he considers writing an essay on a topic that rivals the 'depths of life' Baker mentions, for example.
    I don't think it is necessary to ask what one thinks art is supposed to do to make a decision between making a literal image that requires an explanation one cannot give and making one that attempts to make sense to a viewer. I'm not sure than once a person gets beyond simply pushing the button on his camera, he can possibly avoid using some sort of artistic license to make pictures to please the eye.
    In short, Julie raises no question at all. There is no choice for the photographer in her alternatives. The English language expressed in writing has possibilities that simply don't exist for the visual arts. In fairness, the visual artist can do things a writer cannot as well.
  45. Fred,
    I think we can all agree that there will always be ambiguity, overlap, nuance in Q and A.
    I agree with most of what you have said, but I don't think we're talking about the same thing. You're looking at the trees while I'm talking about the forest. See if you can step back, back, back and take a wider view.
    Here are some quotes by well-known photographers (I'm hoping you will therefore have some idea of who they are and what their pictures are like) that may help to loosely suggest the difference I'm trying to get at. First consider these two:
    Whether it be a painting or a photograph, the picture is a symbol that brings one immediately into close touch with reality. It speaks a language learned early in the race and in the individual -- witness the ancient picture writers, and the child of today absorbed in his picture book. For us older children, the picture continues to tell a story packed into the most condensed and vital form. In fact, it is often more effective than the reality would have been, because, in the picture, the non-essential and confliciting interests have been eliminated. The picture is the language of all nationalities and all ages.
    [...] the stand taken by [Victor] Hugo [is] that the great social peril is darkness and ignorance, "What then," he says, "is required? Light! Light in floods!"
    The dictum, then of the social worker is "Let there be light;" and in this campaign for light we have for our advance agent the light writer -- the photograph.
    -- Lewis Hine (1909)
    (The date following the names is when the quote was spoken or written.)
    As defined by hundreds of years of practice -- I think this history is vitally important -- art is a discovery of harmony, a vision of disparities reconciled, of shape beneath confusion. Art does not deny that evil is real, but it places evil in a context that implies an affirmation, the structure of the picture, which is a metaphor for the structure of the Creation, suggests that evil is not final.
    John Sloan spoke clearly about these matters: An artist, he said, "seeks to find order in the life, and to invent ways to put that sense of order in his work as a document of his understanding." An artist, in other words, "invents" from the confusion of life a simplification, a picture with more order than the literal subject apparently has, so as to suggest by analogy a wider coherence throughout life. Art is not science, and isn't content mechnaically to record just what is objectively verifiable. Art does not in fact prove anything. What it does do is record one of those brief times, such as we each have and then each forget, when we are allowed to understand that the Creation is whole.
    The word home is rich with meanings, but a definition that comes close to encmpassing them all is one by the poet Lorine Neidecker: "Home," she wrote in a poem of that name, is where "no fact is isolate." In those circumstances she said, there is peace. Art has, I think, fundamentally always been about that place and condition.
    -- Rober Adams (1992)
    Compare and contrast those to the following. (Please note that I mean this purely as an exercise, not as some sort of definitive comparative analysis) :
    I suspect it is for one's self-interest that one looks at one's surroundings and one's self. This search is personally born and is indeed my reason and motive for making photographs. The camera is not merely a reflecting pool and the photographs are not exactly the mirror, mirror on the wall that speaks with a twisted tongue. Witness is borne and puzzles come together at the photographic moment which is very simple and complete. The mind-finger presses the release on the silly machine and it stops time and holds what its jaw can encompass and what the light will stain. That moment when the landscape speaks to the observer.
    -- Lee Friedlander (1970)
    I do not necessarily visualize complete images, but rather, my intent is to sense an emotional shape or grasp some inner visitation. My wish is to partake of the "hush" experienced on first glimpse of the Unicorn in the wood. The stuff of mythology and the substance of earth's atmosphere are of the intangible. The magic brought forth by such images as the Unicorn is also available in that solid place we refer to as the real world. It is my conviction that the earth and all its manifestations contain this magic. Who has not, at certain times and in certain terrain, felt the stillness of atmosphere that places a hush on the land? And who has not been affected by that unique agitation generated by the light of the full moon? Permeating the arid deserts and attending the cyclic lappings of water at the shores of seas and lakes is the pulse and breath of earth itself. Even as I have passed through museum halls lined with the efforts of artists and craftsmen from many ages, I have felt that same thrill of vital life emanate from a truly great work of art. Achieve the mystery of stillness, and you can experience a dynamic interaction with the life force that goes far beyond intellectual thought and touches the deepest wells of existence.

    -- Paul Caponigro (1983) [that's Paul the father, not John Paul, the son]
    These images are pictures that, for me, have a kind of perfume. They stay near like a little tune that annoys you because you whistle it all the time. You can't disentangle yourself from them. This isolated image has an evocative power that is far greater than that of the series. I can't remember who said that "to describe is to kill, to suggest is to give life." This, I think, is the key.
    [ ... ] Maybe this is the reason behind these photos that haunt me and that haunt many other people as well. It is about that walk that one takes with the picture when experiencing it. I think that this is what counts. One must let the viewer extricate himself, free himself for the journey. You offer the seed, and then the viewer grows it inside himself. For a long time I thought that I had to give the entire story to my audience. I was wrong.
    -- Robert Doisneau (1977)
    When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.
    -- Robert Frank (1951)
  46. jtk


    I remain convinced that Baker's second alternative is a crucil potential (he didn't pose three alternatives, though the "question" "answer" "mystery" expressions are easily misunderstood, suggesting a third.
    " By solving the problem or by representing the depths of its mystery?"
    I think Julie inadvertantly allowed Baker's idea to become confused through introduction of a nearly totally irrelevant quote by Winogrand, who resorted to a narcissistic formulation rather than addressing his own work, and by Smith, whose concern is compassionate understanding"... which is not a vague concept, but refers directly and intentionally to the heart of Buddhism: failing to understand that compassionate understanding is his "mystery" we have totally and entirely missed Smith's point.
    With "compassionate," Smith raises a parallel issue that seems beyond this discussion. While I respect Winogrand's work, I don't think he's capable of discussing it. Gregory Corso, the beatnik poet, may have been incoherent most of the time.
    I disagree with what appears to be the essence of Richardson's thinking: that Baker's poetry (an example of which I linked but which Richardson seems not to have read) is merely an artful arrangement of words, that photography is inherently as limited in another way that he suggested, and that photography and poetry are incapable of conveying the same mysteries. I'm convinced that they can address the same mysteries, just as can painting or song.

    Literal-mindedness is an easy response when we're hurrying or restricting ourselves to certain response patterns.

    By contrast, mysteries require suspended judgement, or total disinterest in judgements. Scientists and many photographers are actively averse to mysteries. The photographic instant is not a judgement as photography is a process that continues from well before the exposure to well after the image is first seen by the's not confined to the work of the photographer.
    Take any photographer's work, Julie Heywood's for example: It's in my mind currently, days after I first viewed it. Her conception of those bird images, not to mention the learning and work that preceded that conception, began long before she clicked the shutter. A photograph like Julie's is no more a mere visual depiction than poem like Baker's is mere artful words, as Albert Richardson appears to believe.
  47. "But I'm afraid Julie was too busy being defensive about her post to actually engage in dialogue about my points and my understanding..."
    Well, welcome to my world. You opine to JH that I've missed the mark. Did you discuss with me? You did not. Felix opines I don't know how to post to a philosophy forum. Did he discuss with me? He did not. And JH vaguely gestures something that appears that it might be an insult directed at me (not you). Did she discuss it with me? She did not.
    And what were these negative comments directed towards me based on? Who knows? But thx all.
    Once upon a time I recall a general agreement here that philosophy forums should proceed 'socratically' via dialogue rather than, say, relate to each other our creative vision or whatnot.
  48. jtk


    Back to the OT...
    Someone here proposed that photography and poetry both expressed "ideas."
    That may be true but I doubt it... because an "idea" is a purported entity of some sort. We'd have to debate whether such entities are relevant to "art" of any sort, and I don't think there would be common agreement, particularly when people who emphasize one brain half had to talk to people emphasizing the other (engineer brain vs art brain). Does any art ever center on "ideas?" I think not: "an idea" is a shallow non-entity, perhaps an adolescent precurser for something of more value.
    A poem like Baker's (cited previously), or a photograph like Smith's or Camponigro's (quoted below) deals with something far more substantial than a "fact" or a purported "idea."
    "I do not necessarily visualize complete images, but rather, my intent is to sense an emotional shape or grasp some inner visitation." - Camponigro (per Julie H)
    I think there's nothing in certain photography (eg Stieglitz's "Equivalents" and Julie Heyward's birds that's more substantial than that "emotional shape" or "inner visitation."
    We attribute more substance to "facts," but that's only a choice, a suspension of disbelief. "Facts" are primative religions.
  49. John,
    I think you're getting into the complexity and the detaiil of the topic -- which is fascinating in its own right, but I'd like to try to stay with the barest, most elementary bones of the comparison, if possible.
    Again, to try and simplify the issue, do you ("you" meaning anybody who is reading this) remember way, way back when you got your first camera and took your first pictures? I think, with a few exceptions, that you probably thought you were making a factual record of -- your dog, your cat, your Mom, your house, a flower. But when the pictures came back (if you are a pre-digital person such as myself), they looked . . . "funny." The person, or pet, or place, didn't look the way you thought the person, or pet, or place looked. And also, there was other stuff in the picture that looked . . . "funny."
    At this point, or at some point between then and now (if you are here, I'm assuming you have taken a considerable interest in photography) you could have either:
    (1) embraced that "funny"-ness, that strangeness, that mystery, that unknown-ness, what-is-it? stuff; maybe even started actively searching for things that you come to recognize as "funny.'" Or:
    (2) resisted it by trying to find, to wait for, to arrange to be ready to catch when . . . things in your picture look . . . not-"funny" -- when they look "right," when the thing was as you wanted/expected it to be, when you felt, exactly that "this IS" this way; where that "right"-ness is decided by you.
    This is actually where I find Winogrand's "I photograph to see what things look like photographed" to be quite innocently and refreshingly honest. I think he is embracing the "funny"-ness; enjoying it; celebrating it.
  50. For is usually an answer. Not so much "this is what is" as "this person, building, street, event, or geometrical arrangement -- in this light -- intrigues me, or gives me a particular feeling, and I want to try to capture it."
    The questions, if there are any, often come later.
  51. Julie--
    "I think we can all agree that there will always be ambiguity, overlap, nuance in Q and A."
    Kind of dismissive, this reduces my thoughts to nonsense, babble. I'm not talking about ambiguity, overlap, and nuance and I'm pretty sure you're smart enough to know that. As I said, I'm talking about a paradigm that doesn't apply for me . . . and many others.
    But moving on to your latest thoughts, I did not have the same kind of experience as you when I took my first picture. It was a little instamatic. I was about 12. And I went around the neighborhood taking pictures that I assumed wouldn't look like what they looked like to my eye without a camera. I knew, from having seen movies and other photos, that a transformation would take place and I wanted to see how I could, with my camera, transform what my naked eye saw. I may not have worded it that way at the time, but those were my feelings. There was nothing factual about my endeavor and there rarely is to this day. My pictures didn't look funny because I wasn't expecting to have captured facts. I was expecting to have made a picture. Which I had. Instead of question/answer or mystery/problem-solving, I see my own photographs in terms of creation and transformation . . . among other things. Within that, there is some documentation, some expressing, some ethics, some values, some aesthetics, beauty, prettiness, ugliness, some expectation, some surprise. If some sort of transcendence takes place, hell, if some sort of feeling takes place, I am content, yet ever restless. When I solve a problem, I am not complete. I am simply ready for the next level. It's a little like diving into a pool of water, going deep, the blue water enveloping you, swimming back up toward the surface, thinking you're breaking through that surface only to find you're just in another level of the water.
    I don't understand why (1) and (2) that you've posed just above can't coexist in the same photographer in the same photograph and at the same time. I may well seek funnyness and rightness. Especially if what seems funny feels right. I can make decisions and still ponder mysteries. Mysterious expressions can be very deliberate. Funnyness can be pre-visualized. Spontaneity and staging/posing are not mutually exclusive. The wonder of photography is that it can be transcendent, which requires both an immanence (a ground) and a going beyond.
  52. jtk


    Julie, I think you've abandoned Baker's point and you're drifting it further and further away.
    Winogrand isn't perceptive about his own work.
    He is famous only because we've been continuously told by inconsequential people (magazine writers, curators, photo class teachers, P.N fanboys) that he's onto something..
    His photos stand or fall on their own, but he's evasive verbally, knows it, and thinks that's cute.
    Photographers are not generally the people we should turn to for quotations about significant photographic issues, as emphasized by Winogrand.... Smith and Callahan are, by contrast, honest about themselves and their photography..
  53. Steve,
    The word "intrigues" could be applied to either motive, but in the context, I understand what you are saying. Thank you.
    Thank you for a beautiful description of the making of photographs.
    I'll try to explain why, even though I find your description absolutely valid and know many of the same feelings, that I am trying to more or less choose to not consider what you have so elequently evoked.
    As you know, I am sure, philosophy hasn't settled:
    consciousness, being, knowledge, free will, persistence, the nature and location of an "act" . . . and . . . I could go on (you could go on better than I could).
    We're not going to settle those. I hope we don't have to debate those every time we want to consider some small part of the act of making a picture. So, if we admit that they are open questions, how do we have any kind of discussion about our own special interest which is the making of photographs?
    For us to have a discussion of anything, to, as I have said earlier, "try on" an idea or play with a concept, we need to more or less arbitrarily be willing to agree/choose to temporarily accept a platform on which to base ourselves. Otherwise we have no footing -- all the side issues impinge and the discussion and it can't be focused.
    In the simple either/or question that I have posed -- as a self-applied exercise only -- I think there is a small, but genuinely valuable kernel of (trying to think of just the right word) what and why one is doing what one is doing with the camera that comes to light if you think about "am I asking or am I answering?" It seems to me to give some form to something that was previously less formed (why and what are people after with their cameras?).
    Having said all that, I do understand that, as you have explained convincingly (if I am able to express this right) my proposition can't be translated to the nature/content/feeling of your visual experience. Which I find interesting all by itself. To be considered and mulled over. Thank you.
    Without agreeing or disagreeing on the merits of the individual photographers, the only thing I'm interested in is their own idea of what they were doing, just as I'm only interested in anybody who contributes to this discussion's idea of what they were after when they made their pictures. Which is why I appreciate your own in-depth description of your current work.
  54. "Answer or question? Both?"
    -------- - ----- --- --- - -------------- ----------- ---- - ------ ----.
    "I don't think you can claim neither -- else why would you take the picture at all?"
  55. jtk


    " I'm only interested in anybody who contributes to this discussion's idea of what they were after when they made their pictures." - Julie H
    In that case, quotation of Pop Photo photographers (Gibson, Winogrand) seems out of place.
    Winogrand is a paid performer. Like many "famous" people, he says what he thinks his audience will find interesting. Neither Smith nor Callahan were paid performers. They were more honest than is Winogrand. In other words, I reject what Winogrand says because he's saying it because he thinks it sounds profound... but embrace what your poet said .
    Lee Friedlander is often thought to be like Winogrand, but Friedlander has balls...he tries things that sometimes don't work, he's not praised for accidents. His projects are easily understood to in fact be projects and they wind up as books...some are wonderful (self portraits, nudes, and his Sixties stuff). Some stinks IMO (his "scenic" pomo BS). Winogrand hasn't contributed anything significant since he was first touted (much like Sherman and Gibson).
    If we're to consider people "photographers" we should IMO ask "What has s/he done lately." If s/he is mostly a celebrity s/he is not worth listening to as if s/he was still a photographer. I think this sort of question/distinction is crucial. It's silly to quote somebody about what they're doing if they're not doing it.
  56. I'm not sure than once a person gets beyond simply pushing the button on his camera, he can possibly avoid using some sort of artistic license to make pictures to please the eye.​
    I didn't do a very good job of stating my own case as John got my point about art in photography backwards! Anything a person does to control the eventual appearance of his photo demonstrates artfulness. (A good thing!) This is not to get into details of trying to figure out the 'genetics' of a photograph whereby one might try to map photographer skills and opportunities to produce a DNA-like map of the application of his mind to his work. Some people clearly produce brilliant results. It interests me, and I find it a little odd, that I can never imagine the amount of time and application of effort it takes to produce the finished result. The work stands on its own, but it can never tell you how it got there!
    I have paused to read 'NEVER-ENDING BIRDS.' I see that I missed the point about Baker's essay by giving him too much credit. The flight of birds overhead is a metaphor for the passage of time, or more properly, the passage of life itself. A family of three sits watching them. The daughter has grown up and has established a household of her own. "I have another house. Now you have two." There are now two households with the two parents living in one. The actual theme of the poem comes out at the end when the poet says, "I am your father. That's us three pointing up. Dear girl. They will not--it's we who do--end." He says that, although each of us must face death eventually, the flow of life continues. I'm not sure if I'm reading too much into the piece to conclude that he also means to say that strong family ties create a continuity that also survives individual family members. Isn't this the heart and soul of poetry? It's rich ability to suggest things that lie beyond the actual text. Good poetry points to something else.
    The common ground between the poem and a photograph would lie in the suggestive - say symbolic - possiblities in each. Here we get to how I went wrong on Baker's comments on prose. In this case, as far as "Never-ending Birds" goes, the essay version isn't a long drawn out treatise on the meaning hidden in life, but rather it is a plain, ordinary sentiment most people would understand and agree with without another thought. I second Baker's choice. He did the right thing!
    I'm sure that the 'prose vs. poetry' controversy would be an ongoing debate in an '' forum someplace if anyone ever establishes one. I am something of a curmudgeon when it comes to distinctions one is admonished to put into his work, and perhaps to find in the works of others. 'Questions' and 'Answers' in photographs: which one is which? How do you tell them apart? I'm sure you don't want to see a viewer scratching his head and muttering, "I have a question about this shot. What was she thinking?"
    Of course I'm poking fun at you. Perhaps you can do more of the great research you do with the many resources you have at hand to suggest specific ways one loads photographs with meaning clearly understood by a viewer so as to get either a question or an answer across?
  57. John,
    Even the greatest photographer is not great most of the time. The rest of the time, we're all struggling (happily, I hope).
    Here is another quote, this time from a photographer that I know you like:
    I must conclude -- after all -- that my ideas of pure photography -- unaided by the hand -- are much more difficult to live up to in the case of landscape workers -- for the obvious reason that nature unadulterated and unimproved by man -- is simply chaos. In fact, the camera proves that nature is crude and lacking in arrangement and only possible when man isolates and selects from her. The etcher or painter have all the best of it in this, with their power of selection and culmination -- while the photographer -- in trying to eliminate objectionable items from his negatives -- is usually destructive to the finest qualities in his medium. One has only to scan exhibition walls to conclude that most photographic landscapes, unless they be mere fragments could have been better done using some other medium. This being so, they should never have been made at all. The conclusion from all this must be that photography is much better suited to subjects amenable to arrangement or subjects already co-ordinated by man.
    -- Edward Weston (1922)
  58. "I am always bemused by people who always think that the photographer must have had something of signifigance in mind when they pressed the shutter button"
    for the most part photographers do Charles (even us amateurs:)), even the photojournalist has an intent and therefore a reason of significance for capturing what he/she does. The street photographer? well maybe they too have something of significance they want to capture or showcase. But perhaps they shoot the composition that lends itself to that intent rather than intentionally composing. But it seems to me that the creative photographer pre-visualizes what it is they want to capture and so proceed accordingly. Significant intent and pre-visualization are often confused as one and the same, but they are very different directions for the photographer (IMHO). The "forethought" John Kelly refers to seems to me to imply intent. I don't think anyone simply points and shoots randomly (unless to understand their equipment); and so to answer Julie's question when I capture I do so not to have questions asked so much as to suggest 'this is my perception of the world'. I don't offer answers to unasked questions.
  59. Thanks Art X.
    I should mention that I don't mind what conclusions you draw about yourself if you "try on" my question/answer exercise. And I don't mind if you mind that I do or don't mind . . .
    I'm delighted that a goodly number of people have thought about it, played with the concept and found one or the other to be a good fit (in some loose sense). And I am just as delighted by the fair number who have also thought about it and found neither or both-all-the-time to be a fit. It's the thinking about it that I am interested in and that I think yields useful results to getting a sense of what's going on with this whole making-pictures thing that we do.
    Thank you all.
  60. jtk


    "Isn't this the heart and soul of poetry? It's rich ability to suggest things that lie beyond the actual text. Good poetry points to something else." - Albert R.
    Albert, I'm glad you looked into Baker and reframed your thinking.
    However, now you have demolished your (shifting) position by insisting that poems, such as Baker's, are second-hand phenomena that require interpretation.

    Earlier you indicated that you felt photography and poetry were importantly dissimilar. Now you're proving how similar they are ...they both intentionally evade interpretation or allude only accidentally, but you are determined to leap to interpretation. If the photographer or poet had wished an interpretation s/he would have stated it in an essay or speech, would not have bothered with a poem or photograph.

    Now that you've considered Baker, Julie's poet, and have your "answer," believing that you have interpreted his writing, maybe you will interpret Julie's photography?

    Was the satisfaction you derived from interpreting Baker as stimulating as reading him?
    "Good" poetry doesn't necessarily (you mean "necessarily") "point to something else." Poetry can, and often does, stand on its own, evoking non-verbal responses. The classic haiku includes references to the season, to mortality's designed to be interpreted. Various antique European poets, and certainly "not good" contemporary poets, write for interpretation. Interpretation, "pointing to something else" leads away from the work itself...diminishing the work through analysis (the very reason academics interpret: to elevate themselves above their artist or literatter).
    Some living artists/poets etc do perform their tricks for academic interpreters because that's how they butter their bread. Most don't. Some amuse themselves, on the side, by leaving interpretive hints, intentionally making fools of academics, who look for "something else." James Joyce's "Ulysses", for example. Joyce actually stated that he indended to create fools.

    The notion that a "good" poem must point to something else is claiming, as some critics do, that Picasso's paintings importantly point to something else...that, for example, we need to know that we're looking at a particular Picasso wife. I think any eyes-open non-academic, viewing Picasso's first-hand work (not reproductions) would conclude that he was a PAINTER and not an allusionist. If that person had open ears they would hear poems in poetry.

    I think Julie has been scattering breadcrumbs to divert and tease her last post she's even suggested this was intentional, Joyce-like :)
  61. I will neither confirm nor deny that I am an infamous scatterer of breadcrumbs (or toast, or fruit loaf or bagel crumbs).
    John Kelly will probably also tell you that there is no Easter bunny.
  62. Thanks, Julie. I was going to comment that your penchant for simply scattering quotes by others and your early bizarre reaction to those finding your initial formulation quite lacking is proof that you don't have a clue what you're talking about. :) My guess is that the truth lies somewhere between John's patronizing and my putting you down. In any case, it's doubtful either you or John rise as far above the rest of us as John seems to suppose. If you're "playing" us, as John seems to think, you haven't succeeded and you should stop trying. If, on the other hand, you've been confused and are now changing your story midstream, I hope you have learned something. In any case, I'm about done with this one. See you around.
  63. Julie.
    thanks for putting these wonderful opinions of Caponigro and Doisneau. I understand both of them because I can see myself in their comprehension of photographing.
    The most exciting part of photographing is when I see a possibility to veil the ordinary objects in nature that are not particularly interested at first sight. But as I look longer at something that attracts me at the giving moment, I see the possibilities to capture them pulling the soul out of them, so that photograph may look alive as a separate reality wanting to pull the viewer inside.
  64. jtk


    Me? Not believe in Easter Bunny? The following probably applies as well to *X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#* cats .
    Fred, I'm not "patronizing" Julie at all, and she knows that.
    In fact, I think her online photos are several levels more compelling than, say, Winogrand's (not to mention mine), who she seems to hold in higher esteem than I do.
    Kristina Vidanec's understanding of photography seems similar to mine. I don't see "soul" in "possibilities," but maybe I should.
  65. Kristina,
    This is really interesting (and beautifully put):
    The most exciting part of photographing is when I see a possibility to veil the ordinary objects in nature that are not particularly interested at first sight. But as I look longer at something that attracts me at the giving moment, I see the possibilities to capture them pulling the soul out of them, so that photograph may look alive as a separate reality wanting to pull the viewer inside.​
    -- because I do the very same thing but I treat my findings in the opposite way. Because what I see in a "straight" or "first" look at the woodsy wilderness does not match what I know to be there (order, beauty, intense and balanced life), I set about deliberately making it apparent (an "answer", not a question).
    But I'm a compositor. In straight photography, I greatly admire the work of those who wait for the "hush" or the fragrant moment -- to form a question and thus open the door to the possiblity that there is a great deal more there than the superficial -- or, as you say, "wanting to pull the viewer inside".
    They have 600 recipes for the Easter bunny! He must be a very big rabbit.
  66. No one can form a complete thought at 1/500th of a second.​
    Yes, but at longer exposures, one can generally form thoughts. Usually within the realm of...did I expose this correctly, do I need to stop down more, I hope my tripod is holding steady in this small gust of wind.....

    All very poetic.
  67. I think I take pictures to see what it is, really. To freeze a look so I can take it apart.
  68. Asking questions and seeking answers is far more interesting (and fun) than just having the answers. This is another take on whether taking the journey is more meaningful than reaching the destination.
    I suspect that volumes could be written (and have been) about the existential/phenomenological aspects of the act of questioning. For the moment, all I'll mention on this is a favorite line from a very wise teacher: "What you stated is either trivially true or interestingly false." I'd opt for the latter.
  69. Thanks Susan and Michael.
    I think, like John Kelly, you're getting into the admittedly fascinating closer details of how a question can be fashioned. There's an old chestnut somewhere that goes something like, "finding the right answers is about asking the right questions" . . . and on into the idea that fiction is often more true than nonfiction (true lies and all that). But I hope to stick to what prededes that: to the simpler, broadest feeling about one's own state or sensation of certainty -- or not -- when making a picture.
    Photographs are more than just maps for applying various amounts of ink to paper. They are supposed to do something.
    When faced with subjects that are as large as, for example, Walt Whitman's galactic self, as interior as Tonio in Pagliacci, "When you gaze at our motley costumes, don't forget there are hearts underneath"; or the mystery that might be anywhere -- Ovid, "The strangeness is always lurking, always there but seldom visible." -- how do you photograph such things?
    Do you try to use your creative skills to make such things explicit; perfectly, beautifully clear? Or do you ask people to see that things are not explicit, that they remain deliciously mysterious? Ask people to join you in exploration?
  70. ' Because what I see in a "straight" or "first" look at the woodsy wilderness does not match what I know to be there (order, beauty, intense and balanced life), I set about deliberately making it apparent (an "answer", not a question).'​
    Interesting, but this deliberately making apparent of this balance is an answer aimed at a viewer then, more so then a straightforward answer for yourself, no ? If you're first look at the wilderness, or any subject, does not match what you know to be there, then it seems more a matter of different perspectives, and choosing one over the other. Like scraping that first level of reality away, indifferent as it may seem, violent and chaotic maybe, to find another reality under it, one of order, beauty and balance. But this feels less conclusive then an answer / question, it is more open, more likely to change over time as new layers are added or peeled away, then if it was an answer to a very specific question. It's an answer to another answer almost. You first have to acknowledge the existence, the very thruth of it, behind that first look, before you can start ' peeling it away ', finding another thruth, another existence. But one isn't more of an answer then another is a question to it imo.
    " I think nearly every artist continually wants to reach the edge of nothingness - the point where you can't go any farther. " Harry Callahan
  71. Phylo,
    Yes, it's an ongoing accretion. I like the way you describe the process.
    But there is a divide between what I'm setting out to learn or discover or uncover. I will have some subject, some target that I'm (very) interested in, that I don't understand and that I want to learn to understand. At that stage, I am excited about it; I have its general outline -- I know what it is that I want to learn about, but I also know that I don't understand it.
    Compare that to when or after or as I reach understanding. The "I get it" moment that one gets day by day as you learn more -- by working at it, step by step or in lightbulb moments.
    There is a difference in how you convey what you understand (even if it's a matter of degree); vs what you are fascinated by but do not (yet) understand -- and may or may not expect to ever understand.
  72. For me it can be both. Sometimes I take a photograph to document what I see. Sometimes I take a photograph in such a way that I could never see it that way, but the camera can because it can gather light over a longer period of time than my eye/brain can. I can't really say I take a photo to generate a question though, but maybe thinking about photography in that way might expand my photography.
  73. David,
    Me too (both, I mean). It's hard for a compositor to do uncertainty (the process is so deliberate), but I have tried.
    For example, in the summer, I often walk to a small, deep pool in the mountains where I live. My Jack My Russell Terriers like to splash about in the water trying to catch frogs. The pool is shadowed by the mountain, but if there are big bright clouds overhead (still catching the full sun), the rippling black water in the pool catches the clouds' reflection and deconstructs the sky in the most amazing ways -- that are evocative of things that I don't understand. I look and feel and -- I like it.
    Anyway, I tried to do something with that water in my Blackwater series. I'm not entirely satisfied with it but to me it's a question series, not an answer. I know that there's something there, but I don't know exactly what it is.
  74. Julie:
    A very thoughtful response - - thanks.
    There have been other threads involving discussions of intention. Participants other than myself (Fred and John, to name two) - with me jumping on the bandwagon - have spoken at length of the photographer's intention playing a key role in the significance of a photograph.
    I'm going to put my comments in purely emotive terms. The photographs I like producing the best are those of unusual, off-the-beaten-track. I try to shoot and process them in such a way that a viewer has reason to question the subject's appearance. (The types of questions to be asked obviously are up to the viewer.) I also love producing abstracts, some of which still have some connection with a recognizable subject.
    In your words, I find the most meaning in my activity when viewers can explore with me. And I do not want to make it too easy for them.
  75. For all of us there are objects, events, visual relationships, sounds, touches, whatever, that trigger our awareness, either conscious or unconscious, of the connectedness of everything; as I said much earlier, of the fact that all dualities are falsely imagined. Art is anything that has the power to reveal that unity to observers. As some have commented already, purity of intent of the artist seems to be a large part of the "artistic process", and greatly increases the odds that the artifact will be able to communicate that unity to others, whether the artifact is an image, music, dance, or even athletic performance. It all arises from the same place.
    Images like Julie's Blackwater Series obviously connect her to those ideas. Since she knows "there's something there", but doesn't know "exactly what", the connections are still operating at a somewhat subconscious level for her. But they are obviously operating.
    The enlightenment that art can produce is neither a question nor an answer, but is actually both at the same instant. To persist in trying to disect or deconstruct the artistic experience into some illusion of dualistic content prevents recognition of how the art is working on you, and why it is so attractive. One needs to meditate on art, not deconstruct it.
  76. jtk


    Larry, Perfect.
    Julie's beautiful Blackwater series brings a photographic experience to mind. Years ago, after hundreds of prints in what seemed some kind of coherent cycle, I wondered what it was that I'd been photographing and printing so carefully (Leica IIF, Nikkor 35/3.5 and Elmar 90/4, Ilford HP4, Edwal FG7, Agfa Fotorite paper).
    I studied ("meditated" the way we did in San Francisco, cc 1970) those prints and their contact sheets, realizing the images that most excited me had important specular highlights: the sun in chrome or in pools of water, or involved burning lightbulbs. My attention had apparently been drawn, or was at least stimulated, by the brightest details in my visual world.
    If I was a moth I would have been drawn to flames :)
  77. Hello all:
    I am new here and although I have been taking pictures for quite awhile now (since the mid-1970s) I have always been asking and searching for the answers to the big questions and it's nice to be able to go to a forum and ask as well answer questions and although I may seem unconventional at times and naive--can you all bear with me?
    what is this really? Or This is what it is? Hmmm. Depends on who's taking the photo and later who's looking at it. I always think I know what it is until I take the photo and it becomes--what is this really? Like wading into a lake and seeing the surface but what lies beneath it? Is there another world beneath the one that we're viewing. When is a fire hydrant more than just a fire hydrant as we know it? When we give it yet another life than the one it was meant to live--yes,even inanimate objects...the poetry of photography should never be analyzed outside of the technical experience of creation and when being used to create the photograph--I am on a quest not unlike Frodo Baggins--I am on the quest to answer the mysteries of life--big quest,I know and I have chosen photography as my medium--Frodo had the ring thing going on...I am pursuing answers but the questions just keep popping up and just when I think I've got a handle on it,the truth of it slips away like water through a,I guess that I can say that I am feeling my way through life with camera in hand and if the truth is out there;if I find that then my search would not have been in vain.
  78. Marta:
    My life has brought me to one inescapable conclusion. There are no big answers, just big questions. The fun is trying to unravel the questions and to see where they lead us.
  79. I want the viewer to ask questions upon seeing the photograph. After all, it was a question that led me to photograph a given subject performing a given behavior in the first place.
  80. Ludwig Wittgenstein said, "The purpose of philosophy is not to provide answers, but to clarify questions."

Share This Page