Bicycle and Car (symbols)

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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."
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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
  8. 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.
  9. 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
  10. 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.
  11. Stages of life (or the evolution of transport ... ):

    Thomas Hoepker Boys in the rain

    All of the symbols in this next one — 'home,' 'door,' and path/road,' 'bicycle' — are between the photographer and the viewer. The kid has no clue what the heck is going on and he's not going down that path on the bicycle anytime soon. But I'm not sure the dog isn't in on the conversation.

    by August Sander


    It's whatever the good photographer/artist crafts it to mean. Phil 1) knows the connotations of what he's using, and 2) uses it accordingly. He's not pointing and saying "Hey, lookit that!", and leaving it up to the viewer to figure out what the heck he's lookit-ing at, he's making a picture.
  12. Doesn't that final scene begin with their car pulling up to the airport in the fog? [Agree with you about the car not being much of a defining noir element in Phil's photo.]
    Always felt to me like Robert Walker played the dame in Strangers on a Train and John Dahl did in Rope, though I'm sorry but no man could ever take the place of Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat. Also see Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter and Charles Boyer in Gaslight as so-called homme fatales.

    I do it myself, motivated by low key black and white and stylish lighting, but hesitate when associating photos with film noir. The melodrama, cynicism, and smoldering sexuality that help define classic film noir are often absent in photos referred to as being of that genre. Wonder if there's a better term with which to refer to those photos.
  13. I think the texture and energy of the smears in Phil's photo are more noirish, almost providing a sense of paranoia, than the car. But I don't think the smears are "symbols" of paranoia or noir. Also, agree with Phil that cars are often used effectively as an element in noir, though not necessarily symbolically.

    My sense is that all these threads, as good as the discussions may be at times, have often conflated "symbol" and "element."
  14. Very true.

    That doesn't mean it's helpful to conflate symbol with element. And it doesn't mean it's helpful to post a photo which contains an element being discussed as a symbol when that element is not acting as a symbol in the photo being posted.
  15. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    great link Phil, thanks.
  16. Phil, as your last statement suggests, there's a difference between all elements of a picture potentially contributing to "symbology,"--or we might more simply say "symbolism"--and an element which so contributes being erroneously referred to or mistakenly posted as an example of a symbol itself.
  17. I read Peirce back in college, liked it then, but that was enough. I'll stick with photos for now. ;-)

  18. The photo I linked earlier:

    ... was made for Strand's book Un Paese, which he made with the Italian screenwriter of The Bicycle Thieves, Cesare Zavattini . I've been debating whether it's worth the time and effort to scan some of the pictures from the book, in which bicycles are everywhere.
  19. Julie, thank you! That was good information. In the linked photo, besides the bicycle, what I notice are the gazes of the different people that are directed in different directions in harmony (well thought deliberate poses). The bike feels like an extended appendage of the person leaning against it. It fits in nicely as part of the family. I am also curious about the tiny artifacts (bottles and cans) on the top of the main entryway. I know, some families in India do that to wade off bad spirits and stuff.
  20. Supriyo, that family had a tough time of it. Zavattini, who wrote the book's text, had the person(s) in each picture write their own caption, sometimes extended. Here's part of what the mother in that picture wrote for that picture:

    "I married at eighteen and had fifteen children, four of whom died young. In '21 my husband Lusetti was beaten, then he was beaten again in 1926. I never knew the reason for this, I only know that this is what caused his death. In '33 my husband died on Christmas Eve, leaving me in misery with eight sons and three daughters. During the war my dear sons served in Italy, France, Greece, Germany, Africa, and England. ... " She gives details of what happened in the war, ending with: "In 1945 they asked me if I wanted revenge, but I didn't."

    My favorite bicycle picture from the book is this one:

    Paul Strand, Luzzara bicycle

    There are a lot of things that I like about that picture but an odd one is that the bicycle reminds me of a horse in a stable. I doubt the picture would be the favorite of most people: I love it. What's odd about most of the pictures-with-bicycles in the book is that they show really old guys in suits and ties, holding their old bicycles as if it's the most normal thing for guys in suits and ties (and old-guy hats) to be riding bicycles. There is not one car in the whole book, though the streets seem to be paved.

    [I hadn't noticed the artifacts above the door that you point out. They are interesting.]

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