Do persons see the same thing(s) when they look at the same photos?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by landrum_kelly, Jul 3, 2016.

  1. This is a question about the psychology of perception, among other things. It may go beyond being a simple psychological question. I am not sure. Again here is the question, in only slightly different form: Do persons see or otherwise experience the "same thing(s)" when they look at the same photo(s)?
    As stated, it is a simple empirical question. We could answer it with opinion surveys, not deep philosophical analysis.
    The question could be taken more than one way, however, and so let me narrow down what I am talking about:
    If I say that a photo is special to me, and if you say that it is special to you, then what have we communicated to each other? ("Special" is only one word that I could have used.) Have we basically said (without necessarily saying so in so many words) that we have had the same experience(s) upon looking at the photo? If, on the other hand, you say that you feel or see nothing special in (or about) that photo, what else is there to be said? Can I identify what there is in the photo that I feel makes it "special" and expect to convince you to see it my way? Can I even expect you to see or "feel" or "intuit" any "specialness" there if you do not see it in the first place? Can analyzing the photo itself help? Are there qualities that cannot be further analyzed or reduced? I frankly believe that certain responses are not reducible to more words or more analysis. I am not sure about that, of course, but I do suspect that certain attributes of a photo simply will not yield to more analysis, at least in terms of what makes them "special" in some sense. At the same time, I am quite sure that sometimes I can identify what makes a photo special and that, by drawing someone else's attention to that "something," others might see what I see as well--in a "new light," as it were.
    We do not see individual ratings on this site any more, but, when we did, we certainly saw a wide range of numerical values given as ratings--for the same photo. I am not suggesting that we should all respond the same to the same photo, but I am still surprised at times by the disparity in ratings assigned. Yet, yet, what I am after cannot easily be quantified. In some cases, I think that it cannot be identified--even to ourselves! Indeed, I have seen photos that I am likely to see as very special at one moment but not at another. This puzzles me.
    Most of all, sometimes photos that I think are among my best get miserable ratings. (I wish at such times that I could at least be given the standard deviation, if real but anonymous numbers are withheld--as they are now but not always were.)
    Are the differences in ratings or other evaluations simply attributable to differing "tastes"? I wonder what else could be involved.
    Again, as I said, we could use differing terms. There is "special" and then there is "Special," by which I mean that we could be talking about emotional impact, about desire or arousal, about aesthetics in the simple sense of "beauty," about "aesthetics" in the sense of something which goes beyond mere beauty, about spiritual impact, about nostalgia, etc.
    I am not surprised by the fact that different photos affect different persons differently. The amazing thing might be that we share some "specialness" in the same photo(s) as often as we do.
    I am yet surprised that the differences in reactions and responses can be so vast. There a lot of puzzling things at issue here. Help me if you can, and if posting a photo or photos helps make your point, please do post images or links.
  2. Here's a question for you. What do you see?
    Think if it as an Independence Day kind of question: freedom is the order of the day. Nobody has to play, and certainly nobody has to play someone else's game--so please feel free to answer on your own terms, or not at all. Free speech also implies the freedom to remain silent.
    Above all, if you don't like the question, please feel free to modify it and restate it before answering it.
    Thanks for playing.
  3. What do you see?​
    An unsharp/motion-blurred image with plenty of JPEG artifacts. Nice cloud formations.
  4. SCL


    Heavy contrast, exposure/scan/print well handled but basically an uninspired photo. Any back to seeing things differently...any trial lawyer will tell you that two witnesses to an event will describe it differently, often in contradictory terms.
  5. I wouldn't be interested in someone's comments who can only describe a photo as "special" whether it's mine or someone elses because they don't have a full grasp on how to communicate in the visual and verbal arts.
    If viewers just say they like the image/images and move on, so do I.
    I make images to see how well and pleasingly I can communicate to myself. What and how people think and perceive about what they draw from those results is their loss or their gain depending on their level of sensitivity.
    I would really be interested in other's comments if they described something completely different from what I intended or even saw in my photos.
  6. The answer was given in 3rd century Greece and became expressed in the 19th century in the form we all know now:

    "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

    Our reaction to or perception of what we see is subjective but may in some cases be culturally determined.
  7. Lannie, for something to be 'special' really needs to be that. Yep, it's all about nuances, and sometimes those nuances are yoooooge.
  8. Of course they don't see the same things Lannie. How could they? Or, if they do, it affects them differently. When the Winogrand exhibit was at SFMOMA my sister accompanied me to see it. As we were leaving she said to me "Your pictures are better." The exact same words were said to me after I lent "The Americans" to a friend. What was I to make of this? Nothing. As far as I'm concerned, people will interpret creative works based on numerous factors that I doubt even they themselves are aware of. Lastly Lannie, while I like these philosophical discussions you often start, a part of me can't help but wonder if you are just a tad too preoccupied with all of this. My advice: Forget the mental gymnastics and go out and shoot. Then go out and shoot some more. And then again and again and again. The answers you seek will be found in the doing.
  9. I offer the successes of advertising photography in pushing unnecessary products and in shaping mass culture as strong evidence supporting the argument that we predictably see/respond to advertising photographs in more or less in the same way.
  10. Perception may broadly be amenable to universal insight, but local variations are always individual responses. For instance many people will feel that traditional Irish reels and jigs are often "happy" sounding. But when I play and/or listen to tunes, I hear nuance, communication, and if more than one player, interaction, all living, breathing etc. My sister on the other hand, if she listens to the same tunes, says they just sound repetitive. And then I try to explain that......Wait...they are repetitive...hmmmmm
    As far as Lannie's Pic? I think the cabinet is half-filled..Happy 4th.
  11. Lastly Lannie, while I like these philosophical discussions you often start, a part of me can't help but wonder if you are just a tad too preoccupied with all of this.​
    I thought the same at first until I explored Lannie's website and read some of his blog entries. He's big on philosophy in general so naturally he's going to relate and apply it to photography.
    I mean this is the Philosophy of Photography forum.
  12. In an essay on Sartre and Genet, Susan Sontag, the author of On Photography, characterizes philosophy as an onanistic

    "Jerking off the universe is perhaps what all philosophy, all abstract thought is about: an intense, and not very sociable
    pleasure, which has to be repeated again and again."
  13. I think Lannie teaches philosophy at Livingston college, is that correct Lannie?
  14. Why did I have to look up the definition of "onanistic"? Good grief! They have to have a word for that?! For cryin' out loud!
    Leave it to pretentious intellectuals to come up with a word that sounds smarter than its meaning.
    Sontag is really full of it.
  15. Its really complex! Just look at the "top rated photos" for the last month and then explain why they are top rated, what do they have in common and so forth.
  16. [ ... ]
    Bas Raijmakers: ... In the difference between the interpretations, understanding starts to appear. You have to question the first thoughts that you have yourself. Both those ways of using photography are powerful: their communication power, and the power to question what you see. But this only occurs when you are with more than one person.
    Maartje van Gestel: In innovation it is really important to bring different people together. We saw in the last ... workshop that the photos brought people together; they created a coherence by talking about a picture and what they saw in it. They discussed their differences, and in doing so adopted a problem together. Through joint interpretation, they developed a joint responsibility to address the problems they started to understand. [emphasis added]
    [ ... ]
    from a conversation, 'How photographs can support collaboration' (2015)
  17. With regard to her writings on photography, Sontag is more of an entertainer than a philosopher IMHO. For example, it is entertaining to write that jerking off the universe is not a social pleasure: on the face of it, jerking off the universe is a social act as opposed to just jerking off one's self and not bothering to jerk off the rest of the universe. Entertaining, but not philosophy.
    I also don't agree with her when she says jerking off has to be repeated again and again. We have a free will and our will isn't compromised as she suggest when she says jerking off HAS to be repeated again and again. It doesn't have to be. It is an active choice whether that choice be made in isolation or by reaching into the universe where the universe begins where your body ends.

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