Bicycle and Car (symbols)

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, Jul 15, 2017.

  1. I went to high school in NYC, where not one in my group had a car. We walked and took the subway. I don't remember if any of us thought one subway line was cooler than another because in those days I don't think they were air conditioned yet. On the rare occasions when I used my father's yellow Chevy Impala (certainly don't remember impressing myself or anyone else with the speeds it could go) to visit friends out on Long Island, all I remember about the car was how hard it was to find a parking space for it when I got home late at night. I could literally ride around for an hour or two looking for a spot in the neighborhood. There was nothing cool about that! But at least I never had to walk around with a pack of cigarettes rolled into my tee-shirt sleeve to add to my car coolness.

    I was one of those Jewish kids who could sport an Afro back in the day. Does that get me into the cool-symbols-of-the-late/mid-20th-century club?

    Next up, penises. Or did we already cover that with cool cars?
  2. Symbolism or nostalgia?
  3. Seriously, though, Steve brought up a good point in mentioning nostalgia. Symbolism and nostalgia are different. I think it's important to say the fact that cars can be used or seen symbolically doesn't mean every or most photos of cars are symbolic. Steve's photo of his long-haired friend, to me, is nostalgic but not symbolic. The car acts precisely on its level as car. It's been very important to everyone here exactly what kind of car it is. Specificity rather than universality. Importantly, in that photo, the car is acting as what it is, a car, and the nostalgia taking hold is because those for whom it's nostalgic recognize it as such and attach memories to it. His friend's long hair is not a great photographic or literary symbol. It's long hair and it recalls but does not symbolize that era, IMO. This is meant to take nothing away from the photo.

    A photographer friend of mine made one of my favorite car pics a while back on a road trip with his then girlfriend. Sorry, I can't link to the photo because it's not online. She's in a red dress seen through a very partial shot of the tinted windshield, and most of the photo's space is devoted to the road. It's in color so has a snapshot feel, not unlike Steve's black and white pic. There's no way of knowing what kind of car it is. Not identifying the car and instead using the car in this way seems like a symbolic usage to me. There's harmony and narrative in his usage of the car along with her sleeping and the open road. There's also a quiet sexiness to it. It's more art than nostalgia, IMO.
  4. Give me a break! Talk about selective and picayune enforcement of a bizarre rule to begin with. I've seen hundreds of member photos used in more than one thread. Now, suddenly, when the site is shedding members like a sinking ship sheds sailors, were going to start enforcing this nonsensical rule.

    Please refer to silly PN rules and change them rather than unnecessarily stifling the few dedicated members you have left!
  5. Heh. A response to the LINK from my previous post:



  6. For me, bikes let you color outside the lines. They're also kind of invisible and/or below the radar. Compare that to cars that are rule-bound; you can roar and break the rules, but you play in/with/against them. Visibility is kind of the point.

    Bikes seem to me to always be tied to childhood, being in it or leaving it. They're human-powered which makes them more integral to the person that even horse transport. For me, they're very 'animal' things. When I'm riding a bike, I'm a little bit feral.

    Read the Wikipedia links for the movies and I think maybe you'll see how bicycles 'act' in their roles, especially to do with childhood and rules.
  7. Norma Desmond likes this.
  8. I agree they are different, but symbolism can be helped along by nostalgia, and also by stereotypes and caricatures. And by reading books about symbolism.

    Steve's GTO photo might be nostalgic for him because that was his personal experience. My experience was very different and I don't get nostalgic looking at the photo. But the car, hair, clothing, and the black-and-white image combine for me in a generic way which might be tending toward symbolism.
  9. Steve, I was going on the conversation that ensued following Steve's posting his pic. It seemed nostalgic and not really to explore much about symbolism.

    Just got out of a Rauschenberg exhibit. He used lots of bicycle imagery in his collages, paintings, and sculptures. They seemed consistent with a lot of his circular geometries and the spokes and wheels aided some of the the graphic approaches in his constructions. The symbolism seemed quiet in comparison to their graphic impact. The symbolism did not seem distinct or particular or nostalgic, more like he was incorporating a symbol but without demanding a meaning out of it.

    There's something provocative to me about a symbol being a symbol of symbols more than a symbol laced with meaning. The worst kind of symbol is one forced on a viewer or bursting with self-conscious or heavy-handed meaning. Even worse is when a viewer forces pregnant meaning into a symbol or forces an element into a symbolic role when that element would be more effective merely being itself.
  10. So, what if the car is really the one and only subject of a photo, and it's not moving? What symbolism is there in it, and is that generic to photos with a car in them?


    or what symbolism if the car is pretty obvious no longer fit for duty?


    Generalising the use of any kind of object in a photo, and then applying a generalised symbolic meaning to it seems a rather slippery slope. If it's all the same symbolic meaning, why do we actually bother making more than 1 photo of that given subject?
  11. The symbol doesn't have to be a generalized one. What a car or anything symbolizes will also depend on the context.

    Edward Weston, Wrecked Car, Crescent Beach, 1939

    ^ The above image of a wrecked car will symbolize something different than a photograph of the same car standing new and shiny on a driveway. In both instances the car is the key element of symbolic meaning.

    The picture doesn't have to symbolize anything of course, it can also be mainly about the form and the arrangement and composition of all the different elements in the scene and which is how Weston himself would have preferred people to look at it.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2017
    Norman 202 likes this.
  12. Good question. Why do you ask?

    Another good question. Are you going to answer it, or leave us in suspense?

    Who is "generalizing"? [looking around for a "generalizing" person] Have you seen somebody doing this? A "slippery slope"? First you have a mysterious person who is doing dastardly "generalizing" and now there is a dangerous "slippery slope." Maybe it's a theme park.

    Who said "it's all the same symbolic meaning"? You? Why would you say that? Now I'm completely confused. I thought it was *never* the same symbolic meaning: here you are telling me "it's all the same symbolic meaning."
  13. Another thing about symbols is that they don't have to be used in a manner that confirms their symbology. Symbols can be played with and their conventions can be undermined to create more layered meanings.
    Norman 202 and Supriyo like this.
  14. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    (Thanks for the Weston reference)

    (I love that, symbols being errant, naughty, mis-behaving)

    Which, in a couple of sentences, sums up symbolism to me. Viz*, a photographic element (including the photo itself), may symbolize something obvious, something ambiguous or nothing**, non?

    *should Viz be in italics at the beginning of a sentence?
    *a pepper is just a pepper.
  15. I'm going to leave you in suspense, because it's obvious you do not want to think for yourself whether a statement like "cars are everywhere in photography" actually make any sense at all beyond being complete hyperbole.
  16. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Excellent photo but is it the car that adds the mood or the lighting? Wouldn't a bike, airplane, milk float in the same photo be as, or even more, noirish?

    (Phil, please don't think I am picking on you (I'm not) but you stuff actually stimulates*)

    *Credit where credit is due though, JH** does start the threads.

    ** boo hiss
  17. Absolutely.

    "… Symbols are not signs. They are not paired with their interpretations in a code structure. Their interpretations are not meanings.

    "… Symbolism is, in large part, individual, which is doubly incomprehensible from the semiological point of view. Firstly, a system of communication works only to the extent that the underlying code is essentially the same for all; secondly, a code exhaustively defines all its messages. Symbolism, which is a non-semiological cognitive system, is not subject to these restrictions.

    "A corollary of this cognitive nature is that there is no multi-symbolism analogous to multi-lingualism. An individual who learns a second language internalizes a second grammar, and if some interference takes place, it is on a remarkably small scale. Conversely, symbolic data, no matter what their origin, integrate themselves into a single system within a given individual." — Dan Sperber


    "… The cyclical movement of cultural symbolism might seem absurd if it were not precisely for the constructive character of remembering. Indeed, it is not a question here of the endless quest for an impossible solution, but rather of a repeated work of re-organisation of the encyclopaedic memory. Each new evocation brings about a different reconstruction of old representations, weaves new links among them, integrates into the field of symbolism new information brought to it by daily life: the same rituals are enacted, but with new actors; the same myths are told, but in a changing universe, and to individuals whose social position, whose relationships with others, and whose experience have changed." — Dan Sperber

    If a photographer claims his pictures are intentional, if a photographer claims his pictures are made by choice, not accident, then he intended, he chose the content of those pictures. He's responsible for whatever meaning or non-meaning he has chosen or intended by using that content.

    "… Marilyn Monroe, labeled one of the greatest sex symbols of her time, is said to have commented that she thought symbols were ‘those things that clashed together.’ Beneath her wit, it may be, lay a sense of how vague such labels of symbol really are.

    "… for many of us the prime relevance of an anthropological approach to the study of symbolism is its attempt to grapple as empirically as possible with the basic human problem of what I would call disjunction — a gap between the overt superficial statement of action and its underlying meaning. On the surface, a person is saying or doing something which our observations or inferences tell us should not be simply taken at face value — it stands for something else, of greater significance to him." — Raymond Firth

    If, for you, symbols are "those things that clashed together" then these 'symbols' threads probably aren't for you.
  18. Cars are a recurring motif in film noir, bikes, airplanes, and milk floats aren't. It's the mood of the image coupled with the car that makes it noirish, or that makes it more noirish than it would be without the car.
  19. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    mebbe, but not necessary, imo

    Guns, dames, hats and wisecracks. you can't have a film noir without them, can you?*

    * Top 10 film noir
  20. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Casablanca (bin there, done that, puffs out chest) ends at an airport(no way have i bin there). Benny Hills's elegiac western is all about milk floats and bread delivery vans, I'm sure there must be a push bike movie doing the same, somewhere.

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