Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by unrealnature, Jan 21, 2011.

  1. When/if you say that a photograph is a good (or not good) "likeness," what do you mean?
    If you feel that "likeness" has to do with "reminding," what and how is it doing that? To what is it referring -- I'd be interested in as much detail as you can muster.
    If you feel that "likeness" doesn't have to do with "reminding," then what is it "like"?
    And finally, what place, if any, does "likeness" have in art?
  2. It's hard to get such a deceptively simple concept into words but I think, for now, It's a ( visual ) being on the tip of your tongue'ness, that what makes the likeness of a photograph, in contrast with it 'just being alike'... A likeness suggests at least enough individuality, enough of a mask of its own, to not reveal that to which the photograph or the piece of art is a reflection of immediately to the viewer, or perhaps even never.
    Maybe it's as much about reminding you as it is about letting you forget, what it is / was referring to.
  3. If I have any sort of regular interaction with somebody (or a single, very memorable one), I have in my mind a sense of how they come across. Their bearing, their prevailing mood, their habits of posture, eye contact, and expression. For me, a "good likeness" is one that resonates with that distilled-down portrait I already have in my head.

    On a more nitty-gritty level, there are things like lighting and pose ... did the photographer settle on an image that emphasized a facial feature one doesn't particularly note in person? Did the stylist do something with makeup or hair that makes the results seem distractingly not like the subject's familiar presence? I recall being told that I created a good likeness of someone, and in discussing why, it turned out that I caught a facial expression (lit up with the glow of the subject's bemusement and a bit of irony) that the viewer in question thought to be a good match with their own experience with the guy.

    In art? All likeness bets are off. Art is communication. If the subject, or the photographer, or the person employing the photograph as a tool of expression needs the experience of seeing the subject to be counter to their familiar bearing or appearance, or to be very much in keeping with it ... so be it. But if the purpose of the art relies on the audience knowing that the image is a good likeness, or is specifically not one, likeness-ness is still playing a role. But it cannot play any role (in communicating through art, or otherwise) if the audience isn't already familiar with the subject and doesn't have a mental likeness already on board.

    I think of a good likeness less as a reminder of the subject, and more as a good match to my existing thoughts and experiences with the subject.
  4. Julie, for me it is first of all for you to give more details in your questionings, because the use of the term "likeness" can mean anything between extremes depending on the subject, the situation and the person using the term. You could give an example. It might help to understand.
    It can mean either that the photo does not do anything more than to reproduce what the viewer would expect from a photo of the subject, or that the photo for the first time according to the experience and knowledge of the viewer, it succeeds, where others have failed, to show the inner truth of the subject (or whatever term you would use to say the same!). In the latter case it tells something new about the subject that the viewer acknowledge as being like something that he were not aware about the subject. A revelation. I would expect that whenever "reminding" comes into play, we have to do with the first case mentioned.
    Mostly, I would expect anyone that uses the term to express himself better and provide some more details on what he actually would like to convey to whoever listens.
  5. Firstly, and in regard to your last sentence, I think "likeness" has little if anything to do with art. It is too close to the "expected" as opposed to the "unexpected." When art works it is for me in the realm of the imagination, the unanticipated, the original (not "like"). When someone refers to "likeness" I am really turned off, maybe not completely, but very nearly so. "Wow, that image has a great quality of "likeness". It is usually followed by "what sort of camera do you use?" (Mr. Maughan, what sort of typewriter did you use?). And so on....
  6. Julie - "When/if you say that a photograph is a good (or not good) "likeness," what do you mean?"
    It can mean more than one thing. It can be a good illustration of something or someone in the sense that it depicts the visual in a way that is sufficiently faithful to the referent in an optical way. It can be more than merely realistic, of course. Many other qualities besides point-plot correspondence can figure into this. Sometimes likeness can be subtle, or regarding something ephemeral, immaterial, ideological, and/or almost beyond the senses and the imagination. What it refers to is already in the past, and to some degree not the same as it was at the instant of exposure, as is the print, though in different folds of time.
    JH - "If you feel that "likeness" has to do with "reminding," what and how is it doing that? To what is it referring -- I'd be interested in as much detail as you can muster."
    I carefully dodged using the "r" word, but in this context, it can have to do with evoking the perception and/or memory of the referent, which can take many aspects (why do I get the feeling we're being set up? :) and triggering memory is one of them. But what about when you've never known/seen the referent? What are we being reminded of? One has to go with what one has (the picture). In that case the photograph acts like a strange attractant, accreting meanings, fabulations, etc from us, in a similar way to that in which an irritant in an oyster becomes encycted into a pearl.
    Most photographs (though clearly not all of them) of things/places/people we know or have experienced are, or can function as, mnemonic devices, or fetishes for the referent. I think the latter has something to do with our mirror neurons, the Wi-fi of humans.
    JH - "And finally, what place, if any, does "likeness" have in art?"
    Not so much a locus, but function. It is another dimensional toy/tool. It can be a very useful thing to modulate.
  7. jtk


    This is yet another word game. And yet again it relies on another meaningless word ("art") to pretend there's substance.
  8. John,
    .....and not very more substance-free than your always repeated messages on the subject.
  9. It's the "ness" part that might be troubling, because it suggests universality, which often is an overreach. "Likeness" is most often used (by non-philosophers) in a benign way. People who know a person usually like a portrait of that person if it's a good "likeness." Seems about right to me. Art/photographs can certainly start with a good representation and build from there. A portrait photographer will work with likeness, use it, stray from it, exaggerate it, emphasize it, undermine it. If I get a really good likeness in certain situations, I may have a very good photo, because of that. Sometimes it's a starting point, sometimes the end game.
    There are different ways to approach getting a "likeness." One can be direct or one can be suggestive or. . . .
    Likeness can be a kind of connection as much as a reminder or memory. Yes, likeness, along the lines Phylo and Luis are thinking of it, can be an evocation. Very much so. In a photograph, it can be a calling forth as much as a looking back. Likeness may seem to operate just on the surface, just on the visual level. Photos are visual so there's nothing wrong with that. Also, likeness can be brought to the surface as much as found on it.
  10. This is yet another word game. And yet again it relies on another meaningless word ("art") to pretend there's substance.​
    And now that that's out of the way, yet again, the thread can continue - in all likeliness - by the means of words like *likeness* and *beep* and *whatever*. Yes, shocking but true.
  11. Phylo and Fred, you are both at about where I feel myself to be. I am ... more confused the more I think about it. I think Matt has it right, especially in the examples he offers, but for some reason I *want* to have a wider definition. Is there a loophole if there's such a thing as a "likeness" for moods or emotions? A scene can have a "feel" that might be shared by non-acquaintances.
    Luis, you're safe; no set-ups in this thread. I'm genuinely asking, and grateful for the variety of responses on what "likeness" ... is.
    I started thinking about it when, in a book on ethnographic filmmaking, the author said, in passing, that "likeness" gets completely left out of most ethnograhic films. That one finds "behavior" but no individuals. The writer also mentions how Ernst Gombrich says that "likeness" can emerge in film as opposed to a snapshot because in film we can sort the individual from the mask by watching for continuities that emerge out of variation. Lastly, the same author (David MacDougall) says (this is a recurrent theme with him) "within every documentary is a kind of cavity, the negative imprint of the missing persons and events which are not there. ..." and I won't quote any more. I find that last bit depressing; disturbing; and it made me think about what's there or not there; what's left without likeness, etc.
    Just because I started this thread and it can be useful to have an example to chew on, here is a picture I made of someone who was a good friend of mine (he died about ten years ago). It's very like him, and yet, in looking at it, I wonder how it looks to a stranger. He looks kind of mean but he's really probably about to burst out laughing. The details -- the shirtail, the pocket protectore, the knotted bootlace, the water jug on the step next to his boot, the cigarette he wasn't supposed to be smoking (and which killed him in the end) etc. are all details that make this a "likeness" to/for me. Also the fact that he's sitting on his back porch almost certainly telling me a tall tale and I'm almost certainly leaning against my car laughing while his wife shouts commentary through the screen door ....
    [This is a snapshot, taken on the spur of the moment; I am not a portrait photographer ...]
  12. "Likeness" is fine in photography, either as someone's response to an approach to reality (In terms of everyday, documentary or depictional photography), or as an evocative term in someone's subjective response to that.
    But, please, leave art out of the question when discussing likeness, or try to make a very good case for its importance in art photography. That is quite arguable, at least in the way that likeness is commonly evoked.
    Julie, in regard to your example, likeness is only important to those who know that gentleman, or as reference to those who may meet him (which of course, is now out of the question, as you mention). The example also shows that "likeness" only relates to depictional or documentary or portrait photography, but not to art.
  13. Arthur, I disagree. Likeness is also present and an issue in Art. I mean, you can take it for granted, or as a given, and let it go at that, but it can and does go much further, even with landscapes. You might know it as "Realism".
  14. "The example also shows that "likeness" only relates to depictional or documentary or portrait photography, but not to art." --Arthur
    What a confining and limited use of the word "art"! Why would art, of all things, be used in such an exclusive and exclusionary manner?
    Art has a tradition going back to the Greeks of being about "likeness." Of course, it is also about other things, but to deny this significant aspect of most art is to turn a blind eye to a lot of what's happening. Emotions can be wrought with many different tools. As Luis said, "likeness" is one of them.
  15. elitism?
  16. jtk


    Anders, I'm sorry you're unhappy with my comments about the repetitive invocations of "art," even in questions like Julie's. And I'm sorry are unable to distinguish between philosophy and semantics. Maybe it's a language or cultural issue.
    It seems to me that photographers are less capable of speaking intelligently about "art" because they think of it in terms of "pretty" or "graphic design" or "representation" or "technology." The painters I know think of art in entirely other ways. Maybe that's because they're perceptive, or even "elitists." I know Limbaugh and Beck have problems with "elitists" but I don't think Thomas Jefferson or VanGogh or Avedon did :)
  17. jtk


    As to Julie's image...she evidently considers it a likeness. Who would deny her that? She presented it that way, irrespective the chatter that surrounds it.
    To me it'd simply be a generic uncomfortable, overweight cigarette-smoker, younger probably than he looks...except that Julie has identified him...somebody I don't know or care about. Looks like a plumber I know. I'm satisfied that Julie's man looked like that at that time...a likeness to the extent that any image is. A cartoonist might have done as well, perhaps with more editorial insight or guesswork (a cartoon, right?). It's probably an entirely adequate image of that man in that time and condition, nothing for her to apologize for.
    Invoking "art" and "reality" when Julie wanted to play with another word is standard here. All discussions get diverted from photography that way. It's a neurosis.
  18. Folks. John is chumming the water as he always does when he has nothing better to do. Same old same old.
  19. Fred and Luis,
    "Confining" is quite the opposite of what I had in mind when excusing likeness from the realm of art. Our intelligent cave men ancestors probably wanted to depict likeness or reality in some of their cave drawings of animals or other inhabitors of their environment, but they may not have been at the stage of visual imaginations and any connection of that with the state or spirit of man. Or they may have. Hard to know for sure at this late date. When a child produces a drawing that has only a faint resemblance to us as to its inspiration in reality, it may be a likeness to the child but not necessarily to the adult. Because it may not be perceived as a likeness does not make it is art, either. Producing an image of demonstrable or perceivable likeness may be classed as art, but it often reflects more on the craft knowledge and motor perfection of the artist (like a Bateman) than on a statement that can be called by many as art. The trouble with photography is that it is allied to the tendancy of the instrument to record what is before it unless the photographer can transcend that temptation of a physically recorded likeness.
    I may not satisfy you with this response, but the artists I know, including myself (sorry, John, but "art" is not a status symbol or some ephemeral concept for me but just an activity involving imagination and communication amongst the other parameters), are mainly not interested in producing a visual likeness of their subject matter and subject, but something beyond that. Photography has been handicaped ("confined", if you will, Fred) by the likeness quest since Nicéphore recorded his first bitumen emulsion image nearly 200 years ago. Thankfully, some gifted photographers have directed attention elsewhere than the likeness quest.
    John, it was Julie herself that wanted us to reflect on the relation of likeness and art, which I think some are attempting to do here.
  20. Arthur,
    Photography isn't handicapped or hampered by any particular quest but only by thinking that there is only one kind of quest or that some kinds of quests are inherently unartistic. As an alternative, I suggest it's all a matter of the approach and pursuit, not the genre (separating documentary and portrait photography from art is a shocker) or goal. It's in how the goal is pursued and realized, and how it looks and feels, that I view photographs, not just in the specifics of what that goal (or one of the goals or an aspect of the goals) may be. Thinking that something like "likeness" is a monolithic concept that would exclude it from art or that all artists would pursue it in the same way or in the xerox-like manner you've assumed would be the handicapping of photography to me.

    One of the painter's assets is a refined use of perspective. That's because he wants what's on his canvass to look in some significant ways "like" what people see in the world. He then riffs off that, but he doesn't trash "likeness" in his quest for a supposedly more lofty, more "artistic" spiritual and imaginative fulfillment. He rolls it into one and doesn't worry about bringing his imaginative quest down by trying to get some of his elements to look "like" something. If Monet's haystacks didn't bear a likeness to haystacks, they'd be abstracts . . . or boats.
  21. Isn't all photography and *beep* ( such a dirty word, no use, no worth ) a likeness of the world, if not in appearance or form than surely in content.
    I also didn't take likeness necessarily to be about something being or striving to be a complete copy of something else. It can, but it can also be a feel, a mood, an evocation.
    The likeness of and between each of Bernd and Hilla Becher's water tower photographs is that each subject in them is precisely different than the next, while the photographs share a likeness in form, concept and execution.
  22. jtk


    Good observation about Bernd and Hilla Becher's work, but bad observation about "all photography," since some photography doesn't attempt to present "a likeness of the world" ...some exists for its own sake, only incidentally related to subject, some other photography intentionally creates non-likeness (science fiction photoshop, fashion, many weddings, Karsh heroic portraits etc).
    As to "beep," I think it's amusing that some prefer to be called "beepers" over "photographers" or at least plead to retain the "beeper" label. Has to do with insecurity about their work IMO, but my view is minority here, where majority rules philosophy.
  23. I don't think anyone was specifically calling him or herself a *beeper* here as opposed to photographer, and if so who cares.I certainly won't and will never, I think photography doesn't need to be art in order for it to be as art. But why should that be a concern to you, how anyone views him/herself. And there wasn't any specificic mention of *beep* as being more worthy a label than photography. It was simply used in a question. The only one giving assumed power to the word seems you, through your constant railing against it.
    Good observation about Bernd and Hilla Becher's work, but bad observation about "all photography," since some photography doesn't attempt to present "a likeness of the world"​
    I don't take likeness - in a photographic context - necessarily to be about something being or striving to be a copy of something else. It can, but it can also be a feel, a mood, an evocation. A photograph can evoke the likeness of something ( something "in / of the world " can be as fictional as non-fictional ) besides being a likeness of something.
  24. Fred,
    Your active mind (something also possessed by most posters here....) often reads more into a comment than is there, and that often bears your own imprint (I am not bothered by that modification as I enjoy reading your own take on a theme). I will repeat again here that I for one am not mainly interested in producing a visual likeness of my subject matter and subject, but something beyond that, something that transcends what is there.
    You are quite wrong also to think that I would automatically exclude portraiture and documentary photography from that. It simply depends upon the mind of the photographer and how he sees, and not the subject matter. Monet's gardens and haystacks are modulated from initial visual information he had and are primarily enjoyed by the viewer for elements other than a likeness to his original envisaged scene (whether seen or constructed in his mind).
  25. Arthur - "I will repeat again here that I for one am not mainly interested in producing a visual likeness of my subject matter and subject, but something beyond that, something that transcends what is there."
    Maybe so, but Arthur, forgive me for saying it, your trees look like trees, specific trees, your child like a particular child, chairs and pool like...see what I mean? They're not abstractions, nor generic, even if we do not have the referent at our disposal. And transcendence demands a springboard or departure point, doesn't it? True, that can be in the viewer's mind sometimes, but not always. Your photographs are a prime example.
  26. Luis,
    What I post on Photo.Net is what I post on Photo.Net, as I think is true in your own case. It would be hard for me to make suppositions about your art from what you post, and even if you had a dozen or so images posted I would not even hasten to think that those images represented your art, or how you approach photography.
    Escaping visual likeness in photography is not easy. The abstractions or resistance to visual likeness are often best overcome when the image communicates something different than just the subject matter itself and that communication will be received differently by different persons.
    Seeing bird pictures or saturated colour scenics or another gleaming office tower or the nth image of the half dome are not often very fulfilling in that regard, although they receive lots of points in sites like Photo.Net. There are other places for art, but Photo.Net does not have that particular bent I think.
  27. The significance I see in Julie's post are the questions inherent in the idea of "likeness."
    Is my photo of Ian how Ian looks, how Ian looked to me when I took the picture, how Ian looks to me generally, how I feel about Ian, how Ian showed himself to me that day, how Ian generally shows himself? Is it a fabrication? Is it his inner being? Is it his surface persona? What's Ian like? What's a photo of Ian like?
    Did Monet render the haystacks that way but he was seeing them just like everyone else (as if there is such a thing as everyone else's way of seeing the haystacks)? Or did Monet paint what he was actually seeing? Maybe he painted what he wanted to see, or a possibility of what he could see. What were those haystacks like for Monet? What are his paintings of them like? Are the paintings like the haystacks? Can I see like Monet did? Or, at this point, can I NOT see those haystacks like Monet did? Can Monet have actually changed what a haystack is like?
    Julie, perhaps you've read Thomas Nagel's "What Is It Like To Be A Bat?" It's about the importance of what-it's-likeness. It's about the quality of experience to the one experiencing it. It asks a seminal philosophical question relating to consciousness. It's also about seeing and other senses and might add to the thrill of some of the "likeness" trips you're taking.
  28. Julie's example and her question about the picture, about the likeness of the man in the photograph to the man that also existed outside of it ( and still exists for Julie, because she can describe him, think of him that way ) and how that is or isn't perceived by her and any other viewer is also described, again, in Roland Barthes' perhaps fruitless quest on the photograph of his mother.
    The intentional/emotional pursuits of Barthes' quasi-phenomenological investigations cancel out the operation of studium and punctum that works fairly well when he investigates photographs other that those of himself and his mother. Actually, his phenomenological perspective borders on phenomenological fallacy, so much is it invested in fictionalizing, mythologizing and spinning of the novelistic thread of "love and death" (that parallels the paradigm of life and death he mentions later ([CL, 92])--which is no different from my own fictionalizing, mythologizing and storytelling pre-written in and by my photographs. All photographs, as Barthes hastens to remind us, are "reduced to a simple click, one separating the initial pose from the final print" (CL, 92). And that mythologized print has the capacity to function as Ariadne's thread thanks to the "luminous rays" and the optic of the camera obscura, in other words, thanks to the discovery that "made it possible to recover and print directly the luminous rays emitted by a variously lighted object" (CL, 80):

    The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star. A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here a carnal medium, a skin I share with anyone who has been photographed (CL, 80-81).
    The umbilical cord links the "this-will-be" of the referent with the "this-has-been" experienced by the Spectator, leaving the latter always pondering "over a catastrophe which has already occurred. Whether or not the subject is already dead," adds Barthes, "every photograph is this catastrophe" (CL, 96).
    For Barthes, the light that reaches the Spectator literally resurrects the referent from flat death. In photographs of relatives, the rays reveal/confirm the Spectator's resemblance to the referent, thus conforming to the Spectator's notion of the subject's identity: all photographs of my mother's parents look like all other photographs of her parents; all photographs of Barthes' mother look like all other photos of her. Barthes sees the equation between resemblance and identity as "an absurd, purely legal, even penal affair" (CL, 102). Skeptical about his mother's likeness, he finds "the splendor of her truth" only in the Winter Garden Photograph, "one which does not look 'like' her," the photograph of a child he never knew (CL, 103)
    The affective conclusion, disappointingly enough, does not yield any new insights into the nature of that truth about his mother that Barthes has set out to find through this book. The photograph can only authenticate the existence of his mother before he could have possibly known her. The sign of her face undergoes a process of mythologization as he finds in it "something inexpressible: evident (this is the law of the Photograph) yet improbable (I cannot prove it)" (CL, 107). To be sure, he also traces what he calls "genetic features" and lineage in the photograph; he discovers "the air," or expression, a look, through which he glimpses her soul, animula (CL, 109), all of which (a leap of faith by a loving son) contributes to the intentionality-laden affective "myth" of his mother's soul, as it reduces her to a metaphor of his own experience.
    None of this could have possibly been experienced by any other spectator who, in viewing the Winter Garden Photograph, would have, at best, imparted a polite studium upon it, a fact only too well realized by Barthes who, for that very reason, does not reproduce this picture, crucial to his study. Such a built-in aporia inherent in the text of Camera Lucida is one of the elements that produce desire in the reader who, deprived of the visual illustration of Barthes' point, pursues the textual solution, but reaches none--the latter, like the former, relies on the economy of the void.
    ( )​
    Arthur, I don't think Luis pointing out that your trees indeed look like trees, a devaluing of the photographs but more a description of photography's essential chararistic and strenght.
    Photography is ( both ) physical fact, psychic effect. ( don't remember who said that )
  29. Phylo, thanks for bringing that up. I actually love Barthes's writings on everything *except* photography -- which I think he got nearly entirely wrong, but disagreeing with him was/is a valuable exercise for me. I usually learn more from my disagreements than my agreements. Nevertheless, the quotes you've given are very relevant to this discussion. Thank you.
    Fred, I haven't read the bat book, but if I understand its theme (it's referenced in so many places) it is paradoxically relevant to what I find going on in my head. Because I seem to feel/believe, in spite of my own rational awareness that I should not be able to, that I am somehow able to *know* a likeness when I see it, even though there is no possible way that I could verify the experiential "likenes" of it (which is why Phylo's quotes are pertinent). I'm wondering, quite seriously, if good art can tap a channel between artist and viewer that bypasses this particular problem of unshared consciousness. Because how else can I account for the fact that I am absolutely sure, from the instant I see it, that this portrait is a good likeness. Clearly I could not have known what that man is "like." Just as clearly, he is ... exactly himself. He breathes. I could recognize him in a crowd (which, as of this moment, is my working definition of "likeness"). How can I justify this feeling? As I said above, I'm toying with the feeling that somehow something is being tapped; a connection is being made via the art.
    This doesn't always happen; actually, it rarely happens. Sometimes it only happens halfway. For example, in this portrait, I sense that this is "like" the man, but I'm not convinced I'd recognize him by it. He's there but he's ... wary.
    Scenes and inanimate objects, for me, can much more often be good "likenesses" than people. For example, Monet's haystacks; yes. Renoir's scenes; yes. Renoir's people in those scenes; no. His people, and most people in most pictures feel to me like place-holders. Necessary actors but not "likenesses" of "a" person. (And there is nothing whatever wrong with that; "likeness" can be not only unnecessary, it can be precisely wrong to the purpose of a given picture.)
    My examples, linked in the text above, have not been photographs; I'm working on (thinking about) various photographic examples of both people likeness and place/object likeness.
    If what I've written above sounds in any way coherent, that's a mistake. I am very thoroughly confused at this point; thinking madly about everything posted and trying to sort it out. At this point, the most interesting thing to me is this feeling that a picture can (for me, does) somehow bypass experiential requirements; I respond to a picture with an apparenlty unjustified and unjustifiable certainty that I recognize likeness in it. If I trust that instinct, does it suggest that an artwork taps a direct channel?
  30. Julie, I think you're on the right track . . . or at least a track I can relate to. The bat essay is not so much about knowledge of others' states and privacy of one's own as it is about the irreducibility of that state of "likeness." It's about science not being able to reduce the feel of personal experience (of what it's like to see or hear or smell something) to a certain brain state or physicalist description. I think Nagel would likely understand how art and pictures affect you. Yes, we can feel these likenesses, we just can't explain them like we do the functions of the liver.
    We've talked about empathy here and those are the terms in which I see your artist-artwork-viewer relationship.
    With portraits, my experience from both ends of the street (photographer and viewer) is that the absolute sureness about likeness has to do with a connectedness and that the likeness is often more metaphorical than literal. I am convinced, from my own experience hearing viewer reactions, that the certainty produced in the viewer (the sureness that there is a likeness) is not necessarily (though it can be) about accuracy but is much more about universal accords and harmonies and connection. It is many times a projection of the viewer but one that is there precisely because of the harmony, discord, syncopation, or counterpoint (or a bit of each of these) of the subject and the photographer. It is a deeper connection than that of accuracy. It is one of likeness.
  31. [I second Julie's reading of Luis's comments about Arthur's trees, etc. They were meant to exemplify what photographs do and I did not take them as any sort of judgment about the photographs themselves.]
  32. Phylo - "Arthur, I don't think Luis pointing out that your trees indeed look like trees, a devaluing of the photographs but more a description of photography's essential chararistic and strenght,"
    Arthur, Phylo correctly interpreted what I meant when I replied to you. Thank you, Phylo.
    Julie - "If I trust that instinct, does it suggest that an artwork taps a direct channel?"
    Maybe...or is it satisfying something else? Demand characteristics, gullibility, etc? How can we know?
    To complicate matters, there appear to be significant differences between the way the two genders process facial imagery -- and between individuals as well.
    The difference in the sensation of likeness between the Durer self-portrait and the Holbein points to a clear dichotomy: Why does it seem so much harder to make a self-portrait, likeness-wise, than it does to make a portrait of someone else? Different channel? Or is it because we have a different conceptual image of ourselves?
    My first instinct in looking at this is to simplify the image to see just what is needed for the sense of 'likeness'. We often feel the same instinct from a minimal charicature, with only a few lines, in fact, a tiny subset of the information that the average photograph provides.
    I still think when we talk about 'likeness', that we're talking about a big variety of things. From the Holbein portrait I get a very different sense of likeness than I do from the Durer...
    ...and there is representational and natural likeness, the difference between a photograph of someone as a likeness, and, say the way two sisters might show likeness.
    Is this a good likeness, in the sense that it's recognizable? Is it a good emotional likeness?
    ...and a photo of the same woman...
    or another painting...
    It's like three different likenesses, yet the same person.
  33. One more thought on this topic...and in no way am I implying any kind of religiousness here.
    Man was created in God's likeness, but when Adam fell from Grace, the likeness was lost, yet the image remained the same.
  34. I have a bunch of things I want to say in response to both Fred's and Luis's posts and I don't have time to write it. But there is just a quick response to Luis's pictures -- that I've been thinking about, along with a few photobook collections that I have. It seems or it feels to me as if a good likeness makes the person (+place or thing) seem to be present. This as opposed to almost all of the photographic portraiture that I see, which to me seems to be or feels like mementos -- reminders, talismans (talismen?), even fetishes; in those or while looking at those, I feel that the person is absent. I might keep/carry and look at such pictures to be reminded of somebody that I know, because I know, them to be absent/gone.
    That being said, I found all of Luis's examples to fall into the memento (or more/different) category for me except for the little girl sticking her tongue out. That one seems could very well be present ...
    Geez, I have no time and I keep writing ... one last bit. I also seem to feel that beyond memento-of-the-absent, you can, of course, have the "type" place-holder. The figure that demonstrates (this is what people do, act like, usually are ... in such-and-such a scene) that is useful or meaningful or mysterious or all the other good things that art can do.
  35. "Arthur, I don't think Luis pointing out that your trees indeed look like trees, a devaluing of the photographs but more a description of photography's essential chararistic and strenght.
    Photography is ( both ) physical fact, psychic effect. ( don't remember who said that )"
    Phylo, you are a gentleman. You resist from making sweeping statements about the apparent collective works of another. I believe that Luis was saying that (for him) my tree pictures, and other images, do not go beyond the physical fact. When I look at some images of the same trees in colour (I made very few in colour; readily perceived likeness was not my objective and I had already chosen the B&W film medium to express my perceptions) I see a very evident likeness that most would readily recognize. But even in colour the use of selective focus, angle, exposure, colour modification and other tools might have reduced the apparent likeness but probably not eradicate it.
    There is always a referant (I am not educated in philosophy so I use the term hesitatingly without a background of all that this term might imply) in photography. It is inescapable. How you photograph something, however, and as we all know, is what allows the intrigue of good imaging, something more unique that you are showing others that they may or may not have already contemplated. In that case, likeness can become more secondary as a goal (even in portraiture at times) and a parameter. Your quality of "psychic", that I sometimes call immaterial (a non-physical expression, or rather, perception), is the goal, not the evocation of likeness.
    We can never avoid likeness as an "image driver" or as a "perceptive response" by a viewer. To use a well trod example, Weston's fascinating peppers have likeness to peppers, but he extracts something more from that in his images. You might say that he gains from possibly being the first to show peppers in that way, with reference to animal or human form, and thus surprises his viewers with that analogy and his intelligence. Certainly, to photograph peppers in that way today would often illicit simple less rewarding responses, like that is a good likeness, or the pepper shows beautiful texture, unless the viewer was not yet familiar with the photography of Edward Weston.
    Those who might view my image of floating chairs will recognize the chairs of course, and their likeness to millions of poolside chairs. Nothing new. But I would hope they might also perceive some sort of intrigue, or consciousness of disequilibrium, or strangeness, or reflect on the visual counterpoints of shadow and subject matter, or a feeling of weightlessness, (or other imaginable feelings, including perhaps even emotive ones) when viewing the image. Another antique blue chair is not a furniture ad, but an attempt to give the chair a different character, that is defined by the lighting and by the purposeful distortion of its normal likeness of a highly squared and rectilinear form.
    Explaining in reasonable and constructive detail why one has a particular perception about the works of others is I think the minimum response one should receive, certainly when that perception intends the whole of the works that are visible to the viewer. Cheap shots are just like some quick snapshots we make. They come and they disappear, although they do have a definable likeness.
  36. Arthur - "I believe that Luis was saying that (for him) my tree pictures, and other images, do not go beyond the physical fact."
    No. You are wrong, Arthur. That is not the case. I never meant or remotely implied that. Emphatically NO. I went on to make it clear with: "...transcendence demands a springboard or departure point, doesn't it?". Had I thought your images did not go beyond physical fact, I would have never said that.
    Had I thought it, I would have made it scintillatingly clear, or not said anything at all.
    "departure point", not end point or an end unto themselves.
    Arthur - "There is always a referant (I am not educated in philosophy so I use the term hesitatingly without a background of all that this term might imply) in photography."
    That's basically what I was saying.
  37. And, Arthur, what some of us are saying is that likeness is an important part of transcendence. One transcends from a ground. You establish both that ground and the transcending features by both utilizing and undermining likeness. This is a philosophical/photographic discussion and in no way reads like a critique of your work.
  38. When Fred questions whether his portrait of Ian is really Ian, is he not questioning the objectiveness and the singleness of a characteristic such as likeness? I think so. Likeness is in the eyes of the perceiver, whether the photogtrapher or viewer. Likeness cannot be established as some unique and incontrovertable value that attaches to a person or to an object, that defines it unequivocably, and is something that everyone will experience in the same way. It is more subjective than that and is measured/created in the mind of the perceiver.
    If that is true, then there is not an unquestionable and firm base of comparison that we can use to agree with someone else as to whether an image conveys a likeness to the object photographed. However, there is some base of understanding between individuals as to what is or is not a likeness, and that may be more evident in some subject matter than others, in discussions amongst those of the same experience or culture. The creation of art is without bounds as to its subject matter (portrait, landscapes, flowers, architecture, street photography,...), but I do think it is often by its nature disinterested in confirming likeness, but rather in using the subject matter for other creative ends.
  39. "When Fred questions whether his portrait of Ian is really Ian" --Arthur
    This may be nitpicking, but I did not nor would I ask this question. I know the difference between a portrait of Ian and Ian. I'm not questioning the objectivity of my impressions about Ian nor am I questioning whether someone (anyone) else would have the same impressions. I'm asking these questions because they suggest that a portrait is not a simple matter. And all portraits aren't trying to accomplish something similar regarding their subjects. I am questioning some of the assumptions viewers might make and some of the assumptions I, as the photographer, might make. I'm suggesting that there are various ways of understanding and working with "likeness." Is likeness about looks, about feelings, about evocation? It can be any of these.
    "The creation of art is without bounds as to its subject matter . . . but I do think it is often by its nature disinterested in confirming likeness, but rather in using the subject matter for other creative ends." --Arthur
    Many would disagree with this, including me when it comes to at least a fair amount of art and artists. There can sometimes be a disingenuousness in "using" subject matter for creative ends. I think many artists work differently. Some artists are so drawn to the subject matter that it is an intimate relationship with that subject matter that is the end or the goal. And creativity happens for them. It does not have to be the goal or consciously sought.
    I always took Weston's pepper, in part, to be such a case. I see in that photograph Weston being very intent on showing just what the pepper was like. In doing so, he also transcended it, but I very much doubt transcendence was on his mind when he worked on the photo. I think what was on his mind was the pepper . . . and other photographic matters.
    On the other hand, there's Hitchcock, who I love and emulate sometimes, who thought his actors and, particularly, his actresses, should be treated like cattle. Great art can come from base as well as lofty places. And artists can use humor and self deprecation when they don't want to take themselves or what they're doing too seriously.
  40. I stand well by my comments, Fred, but also respect and need not discuss in great detail your own opinion.
    Nothing is so simple as to be the same for everyone.
  41. Here is how I feel that I interact with art (it's Walton's theory, but I like it).
    I know I am not seeing Ian. I don't imagine that Ian is "here" -- present. What I do is imagine myself seeing Ian. If that's confusing, think of how you interact with a good novel. The characters "come alive." You surely know they aren't "here" but you imagine yourself ... there ... which, while you're imagining it is "here." You become incorporated into the imaginative reception of the story, or the picture.
  42. Julie, that sounds too filtered for me, though I understand and appreciate how it works for you. I don't find myself "imagining" that I'm seeing Ian. I am in touch with something directly. Maybe it's Ian-ness. It's only later that I might wonder whether it was Ian or not. Usually I don't really care about that. I'm happy to be in touch. In direct touch. With the photograph and with something more. I think some portraits can bring me in direct touch with the person (without the photograph being the person), at least as direct as when they are standing before me (which some would claim isn't all that direct either and would need a certain amount of imagining as a filter as well). I often think we get to know only pictures of the people we come in direct contact with anyway . . . snippets, snapshots, vignettes. Sometimes a good portrait actually gets me closer than physical proximity to their bodies. Sometimes, it's all a projection. Most times, it's a curious combination of the two . . . which is why I love portraits.
  43. There is a portrait of my partner when she was 21 that I am often in visual contact with (I am fascinated by her and whatever her portraits suggests), although I knew her only at 36 when we first met. My portraits of her then, and later, exhibit a different likeness to that of 21, and each exhibits a different element of likeness. There is something I see (search out) in the earlier portrait that I never could have known (but perhaps guessed at) without that visual reference.
    Likeness exists in different forms. Looking recently at 19th century images of family members and their friends shown by an aunt (103) provides other experiences, limited in communication but with some power, somewhat like the characters in a novel that we must imagine from the fragments communicated to us. The memories of my own parents are modulated by glimpses at their portraits (group or singular, although I prefer often the spontaneousness of some group pictures where they are caught unaware of the camera and the chosen instant). The likeness pereceived is just a fragmentary likeness (or a likeness permitted by a fragmentary instant), but one that stimulates and adds to the overall perception. Likeness is one variable in the equation of communication that we solve or attempt to decipher when contemplating a work of art or a photograph.
  44. Dear lord, the two of you are torturing me. I'm nodding my head and agreeing and "yes!"-ing my way through both posts (Fred and Arthur's in case someone posts while I'm typing this). It's like an itch I can't quite scratch, this knowing-what-it-feels-like but not quite really knowing ... where I am when it happens (mentally).
  45. Here is where I am, vague and fuzzy as it may be:
    What seems to make "likeness" distinct from other kinds of pictures and art is a degree of assertiveness; it seems to demand, to push back, to have certainty in itself, an particular kind of independence that I don't feel in other kinds of pictures. A likeness feels to me as if it is still very much rooted, still very much alive, still very much distinct from me -- as opposed to picked flowers, arranged flowers, flowers in a vase that are wonderful, gorgeous (or interestingly hideous), which I can handle and examine and ruminate and respond to but which are clearly STOPPED. A likeness seems to me to be 'not stopped'; it pushes back, it resists or has needs; it's assertive; it argues with me ...
    However ... and, but, or ... paradoxically or contradictorilly or confusedly, I find "likeness" in fictional characters. For example, I found the portrayal of the Hobbit in the Ring Trilogy movies to be wrong, wrong, wrong! I had a very definite "Hobbit" in mind from reading the books several times, and the movie Hobbit was *not* a good likeness. (I therefore have the movie Hobbit as his own self-generated, different "likeness".)
    Further however ... Olivier as Othello. If you've seen that movie, he *makes* that Othello. He *is* Othello; he *is* a perfect likeness. If you haven't seen the movie, it surely seems completely improbable -- a very-English white man in black-face playing a fictional African character ... how can that be a "likeness" of anything that is "rooted"? I don't know, but if you see it, you'll know what I mean. Also, (further, further however), a still picture of Olivier as Othello just looks silly, in my opinion.
    I am getting farther and farther from figuring out what a likeness is like; to what it refers. Luis was right, this is a set-up and I've fallen into it. I've fallen and I can't get up ...
  46. Julie - " pushes back, it resists or has needs; it's assertive; it argues with me ..."
    and..."... how can that be a "likeness" of anything that is "rooted"? I don't know, but if you see it, you'll know what I mean."
    It doesn't seem all that vague from where I stand. Would it be wrong to say it convinces you? It seems like that is a large part of it. This is why I brought up likenesses skeletonized in charicature to just a few lines that still work their magic on us. What is the minimum required to trigger the cognitive mechanism into agreeing that an image is a likeness? Olivier's Othello seems like a good example.
    Julie - "Luis was right, this is a set-up and I've fallen into it. I've fallen and I can't get up ..."
    I did anticipate a set-up, a totally benign one, in the sense of a sequential revelatory unveiling. The funny thing is that I found a few for myself.
  47. Interestingly, I feel about many landscape photos the way Julie feels about the Hobbit. Most of them are wrong, wrong, wrong, to coin a phrase. Even (maybe especially) Adams's quite impeccable and stunning work in Yosemite is like nothing I've ever felt when I've been there. I think I crave some "likeness" in landscapes and often don't find it. Still lifes (lives?), on the other hand, are more likely to feel not stopped to me. I think it's because still life photographers often become intimate with their subjects.
    What Julie is describing ("it pushes back, it resists or has needs; it's assertive; it argues with me ...") is not unlike how Sartre describes "the other" and the importance of the other guy in my own view of myself as a person, and especially as a free person. Yes, there is an aliveness (Sartre calls it the "nothingness" of potential) in the presence of the gaze of another. It's not just that viewing a portrait is looking at a likeness of someone else. It's that, often, we feel or sense that other looking at us.
    We talk about good portraits capturing the "essence" of someone. But it's not just about that (if at all). When I ask someone to look at the camera, or look over here, I'm asking them to look at and engage and/or confront me and the viewer. It's as if the subject is tapping you, the viewer, on the shoulder or even shaking you wildly. Not just "look at me." But, "I'm looking at you, kid."
  48. Often when providing texts for remuneration or pleasure I try to hone the meaning of some word or the other, and rush to the thesaurus to find a more applicable word. Is not considering likeness itself somewhat like that?
    From a purely grammatical viewpoint, there are various hyponyms of likeness:
    • comparability; compare; comparison; equivalence (qualities that are comparable)
    • mirror image; reflection; reflexion (a likeness in which left and right are reversed)
    • naturalness (the likeness of a representation to the thing represented)
    • resemblance (similarity in appearance or external or superficial details)
    • spitting image (a perfect likeness)
    • counterpart
    I'm not sure this adds or detracts from the discussion, which has probably gone way beyond definitions or synonyms, but these hyponyms may generate a thought or two about the meaning of likeness in contemporary or historical photo-making.
  49. When I visit a landscape somewhere I usually first see what the local postcard photographer or the tourist sees. That perception is a likeness, but not one that causes me to think very much about the environment before me. In a parallel post I asked fellow photo net members to identify a village in Vermont from one of my landscapes. I had been trying to rediscover it, unsuccessfully. With the identity establised, thanks to others, I went to the village website and was greeted with many of what I would call postcard like images of the hamlet and surroundings. All very nice, under bright light and with super colors and clarity. I prefer however to seek another type of "likeness" and in this case one that I came to grips with after several hours of studying and appreciating the site and seeking something of its essence (whatever that term means personally to the photographer). It is not what many see, or care to see, but it is a likeness for me. Which really comes back, I think, to the subjectivity of declaring what is a likeness.
  50. jtk


    I don't think in terms of "landscapes," but I do spend a lot of time hiking in difficult situations...deserts, mountains etc.
    I photograph only when I notice something more than beauty. Beauty is expected of the print.
    I'm not interested in replication ("likeness"). I photographically engage and attempt to make clear something I've noticed that seems significant, apart from beauty, landscape, or subject. "Noticing" is my personal response, it can't reside in the subject. In other words, my photographs are not likenesses, they are phenomena to themselves...though they may incidentally refer to something else.
    The circumstances of a photograph (the back story or tale) may be more significant than the subject itself (e.g. a landscape or cigarette-smoker on his porch), so focusing on "likeness" may miss the point.
  51. Likeness is not replication.
    It's interesting to consider photographically engaging with people who are "incidentally" "referred to" in a photograph.
  52. Likeness is not only not replication, paradoxically, it is found in difference (as Fred so perfectly intuited in a previous post above). To clarify that I'm going to use two quotes. I know Fred hates quotes and I apologize, but I think these two will be really useful here. They are not from artists, they are from an anthropologist and an ethnograpic filmmaker. This is nothing to do with art and everything to do with both of them considering both the value and the difficulty of conveying likeness that includes the particulars of humanity. First from anthropologist Clifford Geertz (talking about ethnography):
    "… Whatever once was possible and whatever may now be longed for, the sovereignty of the familiar impoverishes everyone; to the degree it has a future, ours is dark. It is not that we must love one another or die (if that is the case — Blacks and Afrikaners, Arabs and Jews, Tamils and Singhalese — we are I think doomed). It is that we must know one another, and live with that knowledge, or end marooned in a Beckett-world of colliding soliloquy.
    The job of ethnography, or one of them anyway, is indeed to provide, like the arts and history, narratives and scenarios to refocus our attention; not, however, ones that render us acceptable to ourselves by representing others as gathered into worlds we don’t want and can’t arrive at, but ones which make us visible to ourselves by representing us and everyone else as cast into the midst of a world full of irremovable strangeness we can’t keep clear of.
    … Now when it [ethnography] is not so alone and the strangeness it has to deal with are growing more oblique and more shaded, less easily set off as wild anomalies … its task, locating those strangenesses and describing their shapes, may be in some ways more difficult; but it is hardly less necessary. Imagining difference (which of course does not mean making it up, but making it evident) remains a science of which we all have need."​
    Second quote is from ethnographic filmmaker David MacDougall:
    "It is only through the viewer’s body that the filmic images is restored to its referent. This occurs through the viewer’s sharing of a common field with the filmmaker and the film subjects, common referents in the world. The viewer "fills" or replenishes the image with his or her own bodily experience, inhabiting the absent body represented on the screen. In Merleau-Ponty's view, such responses may even encompass inanimate objects through what he calls an équivalent interne. "Things have an internal equivalent in me; they arouse in me a carnal formula of their presence." By revsersing T.S. Eliot's concept, we might characterize this as an instance of a subjective correlative."​
    I think those quotes not only help separate the value of "likeness" from art (where it is only one of many types of connection that may or may not be used by the artist); the quotes may also help explain the difficulty but also where/how "likeness" might be found or at least pursued. (Arthur's description of his quest for "likeness" of his Vermont village very much reminds me of MacDougall's efforts to convey his subjects in their own landscapes.)
  53. I can relate more to Geertz's words than to MacDougall's. I don't like formulations that consider photographs or screen images as vessels to be filled by viewers, or the subjects of photographs as absent bodies. Just doesn't describe my experience. I wonder if such descriptions do a disservice to those photographed and filmed as well as to the photographers and filmmakers who provide the images.
    Geertz's talking about the value of presenting the strange, the different, the unfamiliar rings more true to me. I wouldn't say the familiar impoverishes but I think it does when it is accepted as a default mode of looking or presentation. As transcendence needs a ground, difference needs sameness, the strange needs the familiar to spin off on. Creating a photograph may require a kind of willingness to enter that spiral of opposites and an ability to wrestle them into some sort of harmony, counterpoint, or discord.
    In another thread about what makes a good portrait, someone just talked about the importance of shooting "heartbreakingly beautiful" people to get a good portrait. I think there's probably nothing more familiar (and possibly inane) than this kind of agreed-upon, Madison-Avenue-fed kind of beauty. People look for it. They accept it. It comforts them. It's a default position. The "knowledge" that Geertz is talking about is something altogether different. It comes not from acceptance but rather from willingness. Knowledge often is, indeed, a result of refocusing. The opposite of that is habit.
  54. Speaking of refocusing, this little scenario from Sartre's Being and Nothingness seems apt. It makes for a nice visual and always seemed a photographic description. Julie, in the spirit of camaraderie, I see your quote and raise you one! Is Sartre talking about the power of Pierre's likeness? The power of the absence of Pierre's likeness . . . which is a presence of it?
    "I have an appointment with Pierre at four o'clock. I arrive at the café a quarter of an hour late. Pierre is always punctual. Will he have waited for me? I look at the room, the patrons, and I say, "He is not here." Is there an intuition of Pierre's absence . . .?
    "But we must observe that in perception there is always the construction of a figure on a ground. No one object, no group of objects is especially designed to be organized as specifically either ground or figure; all depends on the direction of my attention. When I enter this café to search for Pierre, there is formed a synthetic organization of all the objects in the café, on the ground of which Pierre is given as about to appear. . . . Each element of the setting, a person, a table, a chair attempts to isolate itself, to lift itself upon the ground constituted by the totality of the other objects, only to fall back once more into the undifferentiation of this ground; it melts into the ground. . . . I am witness to the successive disappearance of all the objects which I look at—in particuar of the faces, which detain me for an instant (Could this be Pierre?) and which as quickly decompose precisely because they "are not" the face of Pierre.
    "I myself expected to see Pierre, and my expectation has caused the absence of Pierre to happen as a real event concerning this café. . . . I have discovered this absence, and it presents itself as a synthetic relation between Pierre and the setting in which I am looking for him. Pierre absent haunts this café and is the condition of its organization as ground."​
  55. Man, we are so in the same vein ...
    I see your quote and raise it -- or maybe this one turns your's inside out, inverts it everywhere (quote acrobatics!). From Barthes' A Lover's Discourse:
    "Sometimes an idea occurs to me: I catch myself carefully scrutinizing the loved body (like the narrator watching Albertine asleep [in Proust]). To scrutinize means to search: I am searching the other's body, as if I wanted to see what was inside it, as if the mechanical cause of my desire were in the adverse body (I am like those children who take a clock apart in order to find out what time it is). This operation is conducted in a cold and astonished fashion; I am calm, attentive, as if I were confronted by a strange insect of which I am suddenly no longer afraid. Certain parts of the body are particulary appropriate to this observation: eyelashes, nails, roots of the hair, the incomplete objects. It is obvious that I am then in the process of fetishizing a corpse. As is proved by the fact that if the body I am scrutinizing happens to emerge from its inertia, if it begins doing something, my desire changes; if for instance I see the other thinking, my desrie ceases to be perverse, it again becomes imaginary, I return to an Image, to a Whole: once again, I love.
    "(I was looking at everything, in the other's face, the other's body, coldly: lashes, toenail, thin eyebrows, thin lips, the luster of the eyes, a mole, a way of holding a cigarette; I was fascinated -- fascination being, after all, only the extreme of detachment -- by a kind of colored ceramicized, vitrified figurine in which I could read, without understanding anything about it, the cause of my desire.)"​
    Backing up to the David MacDougall quote, I can really see how that seems almost exactly contrary to the kind of likeness-defined-by-difference that I was trying to get at. I think there may be two reasons for that misconstrual: first, MacDougall has a hard time expressing what he so urgently is after (he's made a career of trying to bring the (live indivdual) person into his films while still or because of that being "good" ethnography) because ... well, I'm having the same problem so I sympathize. Second, because I didn't give the beginning of the paragraph from which I took that quote. Here is the bit immediately prior to the quote given in my preceeding post:
    "Intimations of a “second self” in others are reflexive in that they touch us to the quick, but this can only occur when they break through (but without necessarily dispersing) the double surface of filmic depiction (its denotation) and filmic significance (its further symbolic and connotative meanings) to what Barthes calls signifiance. Breaking through the first (depiction) might appear an impossibility, since the images of people we see in a film are but a kind of photochemical imprinting. ..."​
    That may even make things worse, but he's struggling with the issue of how we get the person from the photochemical imprint. A very familiar issue in this forum, but, I think, not so much for MacDougall.
  56. I'm not sure I share Barthes' search for the inside of the other's body. As I've said before, I often feel there's a lot right on the surface, at least visually speaking. And it is the body, in all its wonderful physical-ness, that is the person. I don't really think the person is lurking inside. I think he's right there. I'm looking at him. The expressions show me stuff, the curve of the neck shows me stuff, the curl of fingers, the tassled, bed hair, the slightly open mouth. I think what's inside are more organs, the heart, the brain, the seats of consciousness, etc. But I think the other person is all around me and even is partly me. He may have thoughts he doesn't share with me but I don't think he has a self he doesn't share with me.
    I'm not sure I'd make portraits if I shared Barthes' search for so much "inside" the person. It's why I said before that even the person whose physical presence we are in is in many senses a likeness, just like a portrait. A person in our physical presence is more dynamic, more responsive, more active, more animated, able to move, able to change in time differently from the way a portrait changes over time, etc. I think we tend to place the mystery and wonder of all that "inside" and out of reach. But I'm not sure there's any more of what Barthes is looking for inside the actual body than inside or behind the portrait. I think each gives us what it gives us. We project something "inside" because we want a located FACT or a Supreme Being (in this case a self) we can pin all this on. I think, instead, what we have is a continuum of experience, one we are trying to embody in order to grab hold of. But it's grasping at straws.
  57. I'm not sure he was looking for the inside; it was the outside (only) that he described. He was mystified by his own response to the still versus the animate person, and the vagueness/strangeness of the nature of the space between himself and the other person. In other words, I feel like he (Barthes) was interested in watching himself watching.
  58. Julie, I am only responding to some of Barthes' words. I have not read Barthes. So I can only riff off the ideas presented in the quotes and cannot know what Barthes actually meant or didn't mean in a greater context. I now see (thanks!) that he does go on to discuss the animated body and how that, too, effects him. I did skim over that the first time. Still, at least from many of the quotes you've provided (and it's completely unfair of me to make a judgment having not read his full texts myself), he's a bit mired in dualistic thinking. Inside/outside. Mind/body. It's hard for me to get past those kinds of formulations. I think they're key to someone's thinking. And, more importantly for our purposes here, to someone's looking.
    From the Barthes quote:
    "I am searching the other's body, as if I wanted to see what was inside it, as if the mechanical cause of my desire were in the adverse body (I am like those children who take a clock apart in order to find out what time it is)."
    As far as watching himself watching, well, yes. That may be a problem for all of us. Again, there's a continuum and at a certain point self awareness (which I find helpful) can become self-indulgent self-consciousness. I don't know whether he's crossed that line or not but I will say that I think a lot of portrait-makers and portrait viewers do. I know I catch myself doing it a lot and sometimes the struggle with that line comes through as tension in my work, for good and for bad.
    As I said above, right now at least I'm more likely not to watch myself watching but to feel the other guy watching me. The guy with the camera can adopt many perspectives and play back and forth among them. As the camera guy, too much watching myself watching, for me, leads to hiding behind the camera, waiting for something to happen. Allowing myself the vulnerability (again, for me) of being watched by my subjects (and through me, allowing viewers also the sense of being looked at) sets up more of a dynamic that I want to photograph.
    Now, of course, if my subject is asleep, I can't get that kind of "watchful" photograph (the kind where the subject looks back) and there are many times where I don't want the subject being so assertive, preferring the viewer to be more active and the subject just to be seen. I just know that, for me, too much self reflection (watching myself watching), especially about what I'm seeing in others, leads to neuroses (probably stemming back to the lovable and mostly benign Jewish guilt I was brought up with). That may be why I take pictures . . . instead of just watching.
  59. Most intriguing comments. If and when I finish my work, I will read them more carefully.
    Think of the camera and its soul (the sensor is about as much soul as can be afforded a controlled and externally operable device). It gets a split second to record a likeness. That likeness comes from the subject in that very condensed moment or from the subject's interaction with the photographer. The camera imposes on the photographer that temporal limit on the likeness conveyed in/by the image.
    But the photographer has much more time than a split second to think about his subject, himself, his other concerns. That can inspire/permit/enhance the discovery of the subject's likeness. However, what we may often be allowed to see as a likeness is not just some split second sample of the subject (with all the uncertainty or variation that that slice can provoke), but rather a likeness of the photographer himself, which gets transferred to his image-making.
    I think that a few of my photos are more of an acurate likeness of myself than of my subject, yet that likeness is almost always some small part of most of my images. It may require several images for the viewer to delineate completely enough, but may sometimes be as important as the subject matter itself (At least to the photographer, who may be happy to see his own likeness in his work).
  60. Julie, getting back to your "likeness as difference" quest. You articulated so poignantly how portraits (and the likenesses of portraits) feel distinct from you, push back against you.
    I wonder if (how) this relates to the old question of viewer authority. Is the viewer in control of the reaction to the photograph? Is it hers (his) to do with what she will? Or is something/someone pushing back? The subject of the portrait, the character in the novel? The photographer or novelist? What if something (the photograph/the subject of the portrait/the photographer) is not allowing you, the viewer, to make it your own?
  61. Arthur, I was posting as you were. I agree that one of the keys comes in series or in more than one photograph. Likenesses are definitely not limited to singular images, though I think they can be found there as well.
    I also appreciate your point about the photographer having much more than a split second. The camera's having a split second is a temporal and mechanical matter. What we can get from that split second is a lasting visual, which really doesn't translate (for me) into the mechanics of "split second." The visual has its own relation to time and space, not the same as the shutter's. (I think?) As much as I respect and utilize HCB's concept of "decisive moment," I think there's also an apples-oranges quality to it. The decisive moment gets us the picture, but it is not the picture.
  62. Fred, I think so, too. The photographer chooses the split second after interacting with his subject. I was thinking as well about the slice as opposed to the continuous presence of the photographer in the making of a photograph, and how that presence and its effect get transferred to the image as some sort of likeness of the photographer, as well as the likeness of the subject or the photograph.
  63. Fred asked, "Is the viewer in control of the reaction to the photograph? Is it hers (his) to do with what she will? Or is something/someone pushing back? The subject of the portrait, the character in the novel? The photographer or novelist?"
    It happens via the photographer or novelist but whether they make it or just get out of the way, I expect, varies.
    I want to say -- because for me it's what comes closest to "getting it" -- that a likeness is like a scent, the smell of a particular person (and every person's scent is unique); it's close; I inhale it; its primal. But I can't get a decent conversion to a visual version of that. Here's the closest I can get:
    Imagine yourself looking at a lion in the zoo. You can study it, admire it, wonder at it; look at it and think about it. Now, imagine yourself out on the open savannah looking at a lion that is very close and looking at you. As at the zoo, you are surely also looking at this lion and thinking about this lion and wondering at this lion, but the nature of that looking and that thinking and that wondering are incomparably different from the looking, thinking and wondering that happened at the zoo. The wild lion, is to me, what a good "likeness" ... does. I am unprotected; I am in play, fair game to it. We circle one another.
    So, no, no, no the viewer is not in control; no it is not hers (his) to do with what she will. He or she is ... circling. In danger (of terrible or wonderful things). [In this example, I have the "volume" turned way up. This is not to say that "likeness" can't be modulated to the needs of a given subject.]
  64. How about we go the other extreme, just for fun! What if the portrait (or the likeness, or the photograph) is actually not like the lion in the zoo and not like the lion in the wild? What if it's like a stuffed lion? As artificial as that! As plastic as a doll. And it didn't make you feel like you were at the zoo or in the wild but it made you feel like you were SO looking at a stuffed lion that the stuffed lion was all that mattered and had all the power necessary.
    Since I'm going to transcend anyway (sometimes? maybe?), I may be transcending not only the stuffed lion but even the lion out in the wild. What if the safety of not being in the wild combined with the danger of seeing the lion take me to a whole different place? Like music does, without scenarios. A rawness. [This is absolutely thinking out loud, btw, winging it.]
    I think it's that combination of "it is this and it's not this" that's so compelling about photographs. I always come back to the artifice part. I think there are a variety of levels at work and so straight metaphors are hard (for me) to draw, because there's so much intertwining going on. I mean, I guess if I really wanted to experience the lion in the wild, that's what I'd do. A photograph of a lion is a different thing. It doesn't smell like a lion and it can't eat me like a lion and because of that the visual experience of the photograph of the lion is somewhat unique, but doesn't fall short. The likeness is just enough but not too much. If the likeness were too much, it would be a lion and not a photograph, and what fun would that be? It's not being a lion is one of its most salient features. It's not being a lion is its lion-like power.
  65. I've put your post into the slow-cooker; it needs to simmer overnight before I respond to it.
    However, I feel compelled to point out that you are addressing a stuffed-lion specialist (aka a compositor). I can stuff the hell out of just about anything. I'm looking to expand my repertoire; the more I know about what being a lion is, the more voodoo I can do with not or not-not or not-not-not being a lion.
    Arthur, I have a couple of things I want to say to your posts, too, but it will be tomorrow morning before I get my ideas sorted.
  66. In the interest of provocation, I'm going to give a bare bones response to the direction Fred is interested in exploring in his last post. These are all "for me" statements; in no way meant as absolutes. I'm not even certain of them myself. Also, I'm sticking to areas of photography that use "likeness" in some way. There are tons of photos, kinds of photos, that don't *use* it (it's always there, in some sense, but its not *used*.)
    It's my feeling that that it's rare to get an in-the-wild feeling from a photograph. The vast majority seem to be made by a person who is working in "safe" conditions, whether or not the subject is "tame" or "wild" and with a strong feeling of separation or at least of the conditions of the situation being on the photographer's terms. I don't mean this as a criticism (though I'm not that impresssed by action shots that feel like video game trophies; as if you get more "points" by having things coincide in unusual ways).
    Moving on ... I agree that, as Fred suggests, one can go the other way (while still making use of likeness). For example, consider this Peter Hujar picture. I think he's made meticulous, wonderful, amazing use of the "photographic" and compositional properties he had to work with (stuffing the lion), and yet, at the same time, there is simultaneously all kinds of "likeness" going on (this stuffed lion is at the same time, alive and in the wild!) -- even though the person is nearly unidentifiable. Figure that one out ...
    Second example. This very well-known Frederick Sommer picture is simultaneously 1) a perfect likeness of something that we've all seen happen, 2) a "stuffed lion" use of its subject matter 3) that is dependent on, requires for its effect, that we have, in our minds a feeling for the in-the-wild "likeness" of that subject matter that is not in the picture. Likeness can be usefull/necessary in order to *not* use it.
    Arthur, what I wanted to say to your post is kind of complicated, and dry and requires a quote (!) so I'm not sure you'll want to mess with it, but I'll give it anyway.
    At the end of Patrick Maynard's book, The Engine of Visualization, he talks about how we have carried over from painting, drawing and sculpture the idea that the work is all there in the thing, that we don't consider that photography really is different in that, unlike those other art forms, photography can/does contain its formative *acts.* He goes on:
    "Photography, by radically affecting formative image-making producers, removed some exercises of skill, transformed or displaced others, left still others unaffected. Two things would seem to follow. First, appreciating skill in photography would entail identifying the relevant areas of skilled, intentional activity involved. Second, doing that would entail identifying actions; knowing what kinds of actions are performed, what kinds of things are done, in making various kinds of photographs. We cannot perceive something as skillfully or clumsily done unless we can identify the formative action as an intentional action: that is, know what was done in relation to what happened. The difficulty in identifying formative actions as actions in various kinds of photography is a main cause of misgivings regarding photography..."​
    I don't want to go off topic (this is only tangentially related to getting likeness in a photograph), but if you think about the *known* indicators/proofs of the photographer's acts that a photograph includes -- of what/how/where a photographer acted ... it's deeply interesting, I think.
  67. Juile, thanks for the quote and especially the reference to Maynard's work. I will have to read him for what appears interesting content and to understand exactly what he means by such terms as "formative image-making producers". He seems to be speaking of what is the basis for skill in photography and how it affects and is recognizable in the photograph.
    Perhaps a photographer's likenes is brought out in that way, but I'm not sure of that. Two photographers might apply equal skill (if one can easily ascertain that from the many variables that charaterize it) in providing an image of the same subject matter. They may at the same time produce quite different images and show very different likenesses. The foregoing may sound very simplistic, but the "likeness of the photographer", as seen in his work, may have little to do with his skill and more with his consistent approach or particular personal attributes or position vis-a-vis his or her subjects.
  68. Julie, I'm not sure that the conditions of the shoot (physical and mental) and what is expressed, conveyed, or captured by the shot would bear the kind of correspondence necessary for the safeness or riskiness of one to be found in the other. Photographs show and don't necessarily tell. I'm always thinking of Aristotle's catharsis. (Well, not really always, but certainly when it's convenient.)
    I don't shoot lions, but I imagine there are times when a lion shooter doesn't want to convey the dangers she's feeling. She may want a very benign view of a lion and, though at great risk, she may be after a very safe picture. Same for mountain climbers. The climber may very well want to hide the fear and be successful at that. But I think there will still be likeness at play.
    I've been in some emotionally vulnerable (risky?) situations. Sometimes that comes through in the resulting photograph, sometimes not. Sometimes I process (transform, transcend?) that vulnerability or fear into something quite calm, benign, with a different kind of poignance (?). Whether I do that intentionally or intuitively (shoot me now!) varies.
    I think emotional states, as they pass from photographic situation to snap of shutter to post processing to hanging on the wall or showing on the screen to being viewed, have a lot of malleability. There's also that fabrication thing going on. Sometimes, for me, the riskiness comes in the post processing stage. I have one sort of postcard-like harbor scene that I worked up in a very Japanese graphic style. That was my risk. The shoot was actually quite pleasant and benign, but when I saw the image on the screen the first time, something very different struck me, something much harder-edged, yet somehow I never disregarded what the scene itself was to me (and what it was usually includes its potential).
    I can feel extremely uncomfortable and at risk with some very lovely and "inviting-looking" guys that I shoot. What happens when the look of a scene is so opposite to the feel of the scene for me. Which likeness do I go with? Always a choice, often a blending. Speaking to Arthur's point, do I go with the confidence of the subject or with the photographer's trepidation? Do I get it all in there? Whose picture am I taking? Can it be both? Does it have to be both? And maybe some third thing, a completely unexpected set of emotions or accidents or occurrences will take over at some point before the photo gets to a viewer (some symbol will be visible in the background that I hadn't focused on, some nuance will come out in processing that leads me somewhere). I don't believe I would have "lost" the original angst or loveliness or confidence or fear, but I will have created a new entity out of it, a photograph. How recognizable my original tears or laughter or sexual arousal will be will vary greatly.
    Many talk about showing rather than telling (again, Aristotle does). I think part of showing is actually not telling. Some things remain my little secret. But they may nevertheless have an effect that is carried through in the photograph in one way or another, and not always in the way you (or I) would anticipate.
  69. Fred, this is not so much a response to your above (I'm only just reading and thinking about it) so much as a correction or clarification on my posts. I should have made it clear that I was speaking as a viewer which is not at all evident. Sorry for the confusion.
    As of this moment, I'm thinking that I very much agree with what you're saying in that the photographer can have every discretion in what he chooses to use in his pictures -- and that includes himself or evidence of himself. Though that's easier said than done. Things leak in; things leak out ...
    In the two examples I linked in my last post, I was speaking strictly as a viewer.
  70. Julie, I'm glad you said that. For the last few posts, we've been going a little back and forth between viewer and photographer. At the same time, I think a viewer can gain some insights from a photographer's perspective (especially when the viewer is a photographer). Viewer expectations, demands, responses, willingness, resistance, critical eye, etc. will all be affected by knowledge of what different photographers see, how they see it, what they want to show, etc. I suppose sometimes none of that matters, in a really important way. Sometimes you just want to look at a photograph and get what you get and forget all that you know (which is, of course, virtually impossible . . .).
    I don't know exactly what happens when swords cross. If the viewer wants a likeness but the photographer didn't want to give her one, where does that leave us? A bad photograph, a disappointing one . . . or a missed viewing opportunity?
    I was thinking there may be something literal/non-literal going on here. I may be getting this wrong, but you seem to be talking of something literal coming through to you in the photographic likeness and I sense that I keep going to a more non-literal place. Maybe just to offer something contrary. But I think there is an important literal side to photographs (the connection to the world) which is what Luis and I were talking about above when saying that transcendence requires a ground. Maybe you're simply emphasizing the ground here. I think that's really important, because the search for "art" often gets lost in a search for transcendence without a recognition of groundedness. That, I really believe, can make the search for art futile.
    In a more nuts and bolts mindset, maybe likeness has to do with things like the right lighting. I was just making a simple self portrait the other day. I kept noticing how lighting changes made me look like me or not like me (with all the confusion that goes with that concept). Since I really did want a likeness (in the most simple of terms), I used lighting very differently than had I wanted a kind of visual drama that could portray my likeness but in a very different light. (See, we even use "light" to discuss likeness and straying from it.) I think most viewers who know me and most who don't know me will get the sense that this is what Fred looks like and even that this is probably what he is like. Just kind of being himself, as if that were easy.
  71. This is going to be messy because I'm trying to do other stuff at the same time as I'm thinking about this, but here goes:
    Fred said, "If the viewer wants a likeness but the photographer didn't want to give her one, where does that leave us? A bad photograph, a disappointing one . . . or a missed viewing opportunity?" I'm setting that aside. I'm starting with myself simply available. Looking at a picture, and finding likeness or not. Usually not and that's absolutely fine. But where it is, I'm interested in exploring what's happening; why it's there (or at least why I find it there which is not the same thing, I think we've come to agree).
    Fred said, "I was thinking there may be something literal/non-literal going on here. I may be getting this wrong, but you seem to be talking of something literal coming through to you in the photographic likeness and I sense that I keep going to a more non-literal place." Heh. As soon as I read that (and what follows in your post) I realized how obviously different my starting point has been. Without thinking about it, because I've been pretty much immersed in this for months and months, my posts were growing out of extensive readings (that I find fascinating) on ethnographic filmmaking, anthropology (and Daston and Galiison's book, Objectivity, on the history of attempts at "objective" image making in science; they have never succeeded ...). So you've presciently located an obvious reason why I'm puzzling you (and Luis).
    You mention "different light" in your last paragraph. That reminded me of a bit in Joris Ivens description of the making of his documentary film, Rain:
    "You have to catch the distinction between sunlight before rain and sunlight after rain; the distinction between the rich strong enveloping sunlight before the rain and the strange dreamy yellow light afterwards."​
    To do a "likeness" (a documentary) about rain, you have to have been in its light. The rain brings its own light. Certainly you can make all kinds of pictures with rain in them, but to do "rain" as "rain" it will bring its own light; you go to it. (You'll know immediately that this is my wild lion in disguise ...)
  72. Fred - ""If the viewer wants a likeness but the photographer didn't want to give her one, where does that leave us? A bad photograph, a disappointing one . . . or a missed viewing opportunity?"
    Or a viewing opportunity awaiting the viewer's hand for a dance? The viewer often has never seen the referent before, so s/he has no way of knowing the degree of correspondence, if any. All the image has to do is convince the viewer, and once that happens, the viewer suspends skepticism and can run with it straight into the literal, the transcendent, or both.
    Personal note: I used to live close to the first Lion Country Safari, and went several times. When it came to lions, the poor creatures caged at the zoo were my 'real' referent. The fat, well-fed and sexed (they always seemed to be screwing or sleeping it off) lions at the fake preserve were something else, but the lions in documentaries, movies, and even John Henry Patterson's The Man Eaters of Tsavo (which fascinated me as a child, and as fate would have it, I would see decades later, literally stuffed at the Field Museum in Chicago) were what I imagined to be the best likenesses to a real lion in the veldt. The stuffed lions evoked memories from reading the book as a child, and made my hair stand on end.
    Julie...Post-rain light....specially when the particulates in the air scrubbed clean and the earth cooled off...I've seen it thousands of times having lived in very rainy places...but whether it is authentically in the film/picture or not may not matter to a viewer who hasn't a sense of rain like Ivens' or mine, or one that will accept it through suggestion or a filter.
    [BTW, not puzzled, but following your (and others') meanderings with interest.]
  73. Julie, here's the rub for me: " to do 'rain' as 'rain' "
    I'm not sure I know what "rain" as "rain" is and I'm not sure anyone does. That being said, I know I suggested earlier that I could or could not look like "me" as if there were a "me" I could look like. So, honestly, I'm torn. Yes, sometimes rain feels like rain and sometimes it feels faked. Sometimes I look like me in a photo and sometimes I don't. At the same time, rain has all kinds of manifestations and all kinds of different light accompanying it. Strange, dreamy, yellow light following it is only one kind of light. In San Francisco, there's foggy rain, sparkling clear rain, there's the rain in the city and the rain out at the beach, each having its own unique light. The "rain" brings its own light? OK. I get that? But what doesn't. Do we each bring our own light? Doesn't the snow bring its own light? Fog certainly brings its own light. It starts to become a tautology, sounding good but I'm not clear what it actually means.
    Who's rain is "rain" as "rain"? From who's perspective at white time? What time of day, what time of year? Who's view of Fred is Fred? Is mine the best or would one of my friends know better because they don't have to look at me in a mirror, reflected and wrong-reading? Is it the Fred who gets up with sleep hair, the Fred who has coiffed and gelled to go out, the one in his sweats or the one in his suit? Is it the rain that washes away tears, the rain that cleanses the soul, the rain of baptism, or the rain that washes mud down the inner city gutter?
    I think what Luis is saying is worth considering: that an image can convince, and skepticism can be suspended, and accuracy doesn't have to come into play. I don't think you have to experience the dreamy yellow light after a rainfall in order to offer a likeness of rain. Having seen a child's tears might well be enough to translate to a convincing portrayal of rain. Whether or not that's a document of rain might be a different question.
  74. Dammit, Fred and Luis. You're not helping at all. We're right back where I started in my original post. All those Who? Who? Who? What?-s in Fred's post are my Who/Whats.
    Nevertheless, I'm getting all kinds of things out of being pushed and prodded even if we are just running in circles. Make it a spiral and we're at least destroying new ground.
    I'm going to take a short and then a long quote from Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison's book Objectivity. Not because I'm interested in objectivity but ... you'll see why. First:
    "... The scientist was both inquisitor and confessor to nature: "Yes, no doubt, the experimenter forces nature to unveil herself, attacking her and posing questions in all directions; but he must never answer for her nor listen incompletely to her answers by taking from the experiment only the part that favors or confirms the hypothesis. … One could distinguish and separate the experimenter into he who plans and institutes the experiments from he who executes it and registers the results." " [the quote within that quote was from French physiologist Claude Bernard]​
    We're not scientists, so we are free to choose to abuse or ignore any of those instructions. However, in the search for "likeness," I think that description is useful.
    Next quote. In this one Gerhard S. Schwarz and Charles R. Golthamer are describing the making of the plates used to illustrate their Radiographic Atlas of the Human Skull: Normal Variants and Pseudo-Lesions (1965):
    … "The lesson we learned in preparing the plates for the atlas was that nature may be depicted realistically only by setting off the uncommon and unusual against the background of the ‘natural’ and common." If one needed evidence that mechanical objectivity no longer could simply be assumed to be the first and only epistemic virtue, the virtue trumping all others, here it is: the "realistic," which these authors wanted, had become the enemy of the "natural," which they subordinated."
    [ ... ]
    "… Explicitly "theoretical," the new depictions not only invited interpretation once they were in place but also built interpretation into the very fabric of the image – but they did so as an epistemic matter. Theirs were exaggerations meant to teach, to communicate, to summarize knowledge, for only through exaggeration (advocates of the interpreted image argued) could the salient be extracted from the otherwise obscuring "naturalized" representation. The extremism of iconography generated by expert judgment exists not to display the ideal world behind the real one but to allow the initiate to learn how to see and to know.
    Along with this conjoint history of scientific self and image comes a reshaping of the presupposed audience for the scientific work itself. For different reasons, both the reasoned and the objective images [of previous epochs] took for granted an epistemic passivity on the part of those who viewed them. The reasoned image is authoritative because it depicts an otherwise hidden truth, and the objective image is authoritative because it "speaks for itself" (or for nature). But the interpreted image demands more from its recipient, explicitly so. The oft-repeated refrain that one needs to learn to read the image actively (with all the complexity that reading implies) also transforms an assumed spectator into an assumed reader."​
    This is just getting worse and worse! To make a good "likeness" is to write music before you know the instruments that will play it.
  75. Julie - "This is just getting worse and worse! To make a good "likeness" is to write music before you know the instruments that will play it."
    ...and the problem with that is...?
  76. Julie, I've been wanting to start a thread on "exaggeration" for some time now. Just hadn't formulated my thoughts on it yet. I will work on it. I was thinking along the lines of stage whispers. I'll elaborate when I come up with an OT. I think the quote about exaggeration may illustrate that a likeness often really can't actually be a likeness and may have to be part fabrication, which is where I was a couple of days ago in this thread.
    I'm having trouble reconciling your italicized "my" with likeness. And I'm not even sure what you mean by it. Do you mean you have questions similar to the ones I've asked (about whose rain) or do you mean the answer to the questions is that it is, for example, "your" rain that is somehow the likeness of rain. If the latter, that would seem at odds with the notion of likeness, so maybe you just mean the former.
    In any case, interpretation is partly problematic here, as discussed in other places (and I sure hope I don't wake the sleeping beast). The photograph is more a showing than a telling, so I'm not sure where "summarizing knowledge" would come into play, etc. But I think there's a lot to be said for "extracting the salient" by obscuring.
    I like the idea of reading (I would prefer viewing) an image actively, but I've run into viewers who need an occasional dose of ritalin.
  77. I (perhaps mistakenly) see the "my" as a tacit acknowledgment that likeness and cognition are inseparable. We "see" likeness via good-enough matches with memory. Or in the case of spiders, snakes, etc, instinctively, through the amygdala.
    Then the viewer comes in with her own memories to match with the image...
  78. Apparently dogs are experts at likeness. Even without invocation of their superior senses of smell or hearing, their minds (and that of my cat) seem to work on the basis not so much of memory but of visual placement of things in their environment and a constant reference to that. Remove or change the likeness of that visual map to what it was yesterday, and they become concerned. It would perhaps be interesting to understand their perceptions of likeness, were that possible.
    (for the grammaticians amongst us, should "were" in the above sentence be replaced by "was" or, better, by "should" that "be" "Were" doesn't sound right to me (I think it is a Brit inheritance), although it has a likeness to what I normally see in writing. There you are, "likeness" is not always the desirable result).
  79. I touched on this earlier when I wrote about likeness between things in reality, as opposed to things in an image compared with something that isn't there (therefore in memory), like Julie's picture of her friend on the steps. I agree with Arthur regarding likeness in the present/real time.
  80. [Brief grammatical foray: "were" is correct. It is used in the past subjunctive. The construction could have been something like "if it were possible." Your usage is correct because the "if" is simply implied. After all, you don't hear Tevyah singing "If I was a rich man!" ;-)]
  81. Luis said, "..and the problem with that is...?" The problem is that that only gets the minimum. Hooting and pointing. The more the instruments can be known and finely embedded in the image, the finer the music I can make.
    Fred asked about the italicized "my" in my last post. That was just me laughing (again) at how we seem to be working the same track. Like two dogs jostling for the same scent trail. Which response I had in mind just now when I read Arthur's post about dogs ... and I'm laughing again.
    On "exaggeration" -- that would be a wonderful topic. But ... but it does not escape the question or the assumption that you have something in mind when you exaggerate. And what might that be?
    I'm already thinking about it; the way that the ... (what's a safe word?) naive (?) photograph(er) seems to be frustrated by a fractal presentation of information in the sense that whichever direction you look there will simply be more levels of undifferentiated information -- or is that information at all? Whereas some of radical philosophers have suggested that information is sporadic -- like a crumpled or wadded handkerchief instead of a flat one. Things are close in consciousness that are not literally close in space/time. Exaggeration might be used to point to the folds in your or my handkerchief.
    Can I get away with one of my favorite Serres quotes aimed at those who don't like folded handkerchiefs?
    "... as if contradictions are separate from each other, as if they are repugnant to each other in the combat of reason and language, but contraries cohabit in the black box of things, so that if, one day, some subtle and playful dialectician disconcerts you, you are silenced, you do not answer, you rejoin the children and play with the spinning top."​
    Oh, and one little bit, a William Paulson quote that's about reference. Maybe useful for answering the question of what "likeness" refers to?
    "… Reference, in Serres, is neither given nor refused; it is something that happens, that is worked toward, that is an event."​
    Yeah, well, then what is the event "like" -- to what does the event refer? (Serres actually has that covered too; he says history is a spiral where cause and effect change places over and over and over ... Tick tock.)
  82. Fred, thanks for that heads up. I think, though, I prefer something like "if that was possible" to "if it were possible", whatever the likely grammatical transgression
    Luis, I appreciate your comment about what's there and what's not in comparing the image and memory. I will read your former post, as well as others that are related.
  83. Arthur, I'm sending you an email.
  84. Julie - "Luis said, "..and the problem with that is...?" The problem is that that only gets the minimum. Hooting and pointing. The more the instruments can be known and finely embedded in the image, the finer the music I can make."
    Yikes, nothing inherently wrong with that, it works well when composing for and playing instruments, but it's... big.on.control. The above also implies (in art) that the results won't just be finer, but also predictable, no? The other can lead to new music, instruments, and syntheses, impossible for either maker or viewer to predict.
    Julie - "Things are close in consciousness that are not literally close in space/time"
    Yes, and this is relevant in my mind to the idea/discussion of likeness. A good likeness can be metaphorical, gestural, etc.
  85. METAPHOR! Thank you, thank you, thank you. GESTURAL! Double thank you, thank you, thank you.
    I wonder if a likeness doesn't HAVE TO BE metaphorical. If a likeness wasn't part metaphor wouldn't it be the thing itself and not a likeness? (Serious question mark there.) Rain is rain but a picture of rain is . . . well . . . a picture of rain. And a picture of rain might be as close to rain as the verbal use of a simile to describe rain in terms of teardrops.
    Yet, I still sympathize (empathize?) with Julie because I did want that self portrait to look like me in as non-metaphorical a way as possible. But maybe the way to get it to look like me still required a metaphor, just not a terribly dramatic one.
    As to Luis's other point, I once had the opportunity to meet Calvin Simmons at a casual party at a friend's house way back when. He was the young conductor of the Oakland Symphony back in the late 70s/early 80s whose life was cut short when he died in a boating accident not long after this evening. After a few drinks, he and another young musician sat down at the host's out-of-tune upright piano (which would have been more "suitable" for honky-tonk music) and played some four-hand Mozart sonatas. They made it "seem" (likeness) as if it should be played only on such an instrument, Calvin breathing the tempo through his nostrils to let his partner know when to come in and using his cigarette as a baton to establish the tempo before beginning. It was precisely the spontaneity and adaptation to the moment and means that was so brilliant and that made it, in many ways, feel more "like" Mozart than most of the stuff I've heard on Steinway baby grands.
  86. I'm just thinking about the Calvin Simmons affair a little more. How did I get you to smell what I experienced? I painted a picture with words and I linked to something that played for you the music but offered a NOT. It was this music but this is NOT the kind of instrument it was played on and this was NOT what it sounded like. I actually think this is a better likeness than had I had a video with sound of the evening. There's a vagueness (open-endedness? obscuirty?) to the likeness that requires something of you. That involves you. The involvement is part of Mozart and was part of the evening.
  87. You furnished the desire to make me want to be there, structure and raw materials, fuel for my imagination, trusted and enjoined me to jump in alongside you, and construct the rest from my own resources. I collaborated with you and created a bespoke story and likeness like no other: A specific, tailor-made talismanic story, a synthesis born of us, but unlike either of us.
  88. Damn you Fred G. You've taken the words out of my keyboard yet agaiin. I was just trying to get a minute to type something about how your description was a "not" that depended on the absent likeness ... something similar to the way that Sommer's rabbit [ link ] depends on the absent [living breathing] rabbit. I feel like I'm on a game show. I have to be quicker with my buzzer if I want to win the prize.
    Luis, I very much like that last post. May I please have some more? I want to know how we do, visually, what Fred's friends did. They had an instrument (the bad piano). They had an very well-known referent (Mozart). How do I do that visually? Sommer's rabbit does it by being so rabbity; we get the instrument (which in this case is singular and simple and very ... redolent), thus we get the music?
    Fuel for Luis. Serres (I'll stop with the Serres stuff after this; he's sort of loony) says that harmony is for dead people. It's known; it's safe. It's been done. Noise is where discovery and invention lie. Or at least it *might* be there. It might just be noise.
  89. Imagination, metaphors, whimsy, lots of wine, ample breathing to the cortex, heightened sensitivity (to music, life, oneself, others), a high, all are superior to mere likeness. Beyond likeness.
    Beyond likenesss. I appreciated your e-mail, Fred and I hope you got a little from mine.
    Beyond likeness. It's my current little drug.
  90. Returning to the Rain...has anyone seen Robert Cummings' "Fast and Slow Rain"? I tried to find a decent web pic of it...this is about the best I could find...
    Likeness? Good likeness?
  91. Julie, I await Luis's ideas but will offer something myself. One, of many, comparable ways I'm thinking of has to do with the marriage of content and technique and medium. They adapted the content (Mozart) and their technique (looser and more casual/familiar than what they would have sought in a concert hall or even a salon) to the situation (a party) and to the piano (an out-of-tune upright). They knew intimately that there is no "the Mozart Sonata for Four Hands." There's only what they play at the time they play it. So, in photographs, the assumption of "the right" technique or a "perfect" presentation may get in the way of likeness. Visual noise, a looser technical approach might sometimes be married to the given content in order to establish this likeness. The underlying tones and overtones often establish harmony. (Serres is just plain out of his mind if that little snippet represents what he really has to say about harmony. It's not just the notes and it is so alive.) So, in the photograph, it's not just the imagery, it's the manner of presentation of that imagery, what's laid over and under the imagery that's photographic. It's the integration of imagery, technique, presentation. I'm sure we can get into more specifics (blur, lighting, textures, perspective, etc.) if that's what you want.
    [P.S. I awaited too long and Luis has already spoken.]
  92. Let me try some things out with you, if I can.
    I'm currently seeing likeness as the sort of equivalent of proper named things: Fred (proper name) as opposed to "man" or "person" or "figure." A likeness is particular. It doesn't move there, it is there. If I knew you (in person) it would be inconceivable that I would see you as "man" or "person" before I saw you as Fred (which, of course entails those generic characteristics). Very often, probably most often, while making photographs I'm either not caring one way or the other whether something is proper-named, or I am aggressively moving to scrub out its proper-name qualities. I am moving the things from the particular to the general or abstract. Often this is freeing them; allowing the things greater reach, wider reference; re-identity, blurring of identity, or loss/transformation of identity in creative ways. So, deliberately (even if I haven't thought of it specifically this way) leaving out likeness can be an essential creative move. Which, in my opinion, makes it valuable to learn more about where likeness is found -- in order to get that freedom; to do the "not" thing, the stuffed lion, etc.
    So, back to likeness. When I say it's proper-named, paradoxically, that doesn't mean that it's named or that I necessarily know its name. I just mean that it is particular even if I don't know its particular name. I hope you can understand that. For example, there is non-proper-named rain. The kind that happens in the weather report, water falling from the sky. Proper-named rain is that particular rain that falls on my house, which is entirely different from the (experience of) rain that falls in town or the rain that falls on my mountain hikes when I get caught in a thunderstorm or the rain that falls where I used to live, and so on. The lion that's about to eat you is a very particular lion.
    Your musical event seems to me to be a proper-named event. It was what it was in the same sense that Fred is what Fred is. It was not a generically describable thing (as I have just described it; "your musical event"). It was ... itself. We could name it Bob (name being a non-meaningful label for that which is what it is ...).
    If a likeness is what it is, then it will "bring its own light" to use a phrase from an earlier post. By which I mean that I have to take it purely on its own terms and those (particular) terms will dictate how I photograph it. I'm not doing "man"; I'm not doing "person"; I'm doing Fred. That's a big constraint when compared to the freedom I described in the first paragraph, above. At the same time (I'm groping for what I think here) this constraint, this being forced to work by its light, seems to me to be how I find out new things. By letting the subject demand/lead me, I get ... somewhere I could not have gotten on my own. Whereas the "freedom" that I get by playing with concepts or genaralities or abstractions -- by using content creatively (and loving doing it) does not do this (at all? or as much?).
  93. Shoot. I meant to answer Luis. I think I may have seen that rain picture somewhere (Aperture?) but I can't remember and the linked thumb is just too small for me to see properly.
  94. Julie, I'm about to run out of the house for several hours, but thanks for explaining it. Very understandable and well stated.
    So, this is one of the reasons I started pulling the camera further back as I am developing my approach. Many will say, to use your terminology, they capture more of the proper-name-ness or particularity of a person when they get close up, right up against the eyes (the so-called windows of the soul). I often find that close-up stuff -- often not always -- a less particular and proper-name-like approach. Environment and surroundings give me the room to locate a person and I think location starts to allow a person some particularity (like Sartre's café, where the café acts as the ground on which Pierre can appear). It's one of the reasons, if I have a choice and it's practical, I prefer to shoot people in their homes or in a place of their choosing rather than in my home or studio. Or, I come up with a place that seems suited to them or that I can make work with them.
    It can, of course, go beyond place. I use my intuition along with my camera. So, even if I don't know someone terribly well, I've always had a good sense of finding characteristics or qualities about them that seem to go along with "who they are." There's always something individual, from a crooked sideburn I can emphasize to a part in the hair, from Jeremy's wide eyes (which got wider with the striped shirt and polka dots behind him) to Gerald's protective intensity (which came through in the first 5 minutes after I met him) which seemed to be communicated by letting him keep his protective armor of a coat on and stand among the bars in the parking garage which we just happened to come across.
    Now, I don't hope or kid myself into thinking that everyone would describe Gerald as protective or intense from his portrait but I can hope to treat him as Gerald and an individual and give people a sense that they are looking at him, and not someone else. I try to accompany him with Gerald-ness.
    I actually don't experience creating this sense of particularity (fabricating with an eye toward genuine likeness) as a constraint. It just opens a world of challenge and possibility. It's a very exciting part of making portraits to me.
  95. [A word of caution]
    I used some very specific descriptions in the above, particularly about Gerald. Those words did not occur to me consciously during the shoot. They come up afterward, and they are too literal and they are incomplete. I don't think a whole lot of this stuff is that literal, though there have been times when I've had a very specifically-named quality I wanted to achieve. Let's say I was getting from Gerald what I sense a lot of people who run across Gerald and who know Gerald would get and these surroundings and his garb seemed in sync with presenting a likeness of him, not matter what name we would each choose to give that (by name I mean adjective).
  96. What I mean by constrain is this: I've spent many years (most of my life) taking pictures and I have, if I may immodestly say so, many kinds of well-developed skills. All of which I can, as any good, experienced photographer can, use intuitively; without thinking. I think pictures. I see pictures. Stuff sorts and shifts and shapes to my eye. Because of this, because of what I've developed myself into being (it was not easy; I value it extremely), I enjoy a viscerally, and immediate pleasure out of "handling" the visual pretty much all the time.
    To do a likeness, I have to deliberately, strictly, stop. Make myself stop handling. Make myself give up seeing in pictures. Look. Wait. Think. Connect, connect, connect. Once I have felt, located, tasted, dialogued with that connection, then, and only then, can I bring in what has been beating at the door and screaming to be let in -- my picture-making self. And I still have to keep it on a very short leash, making it work to what I "found" while not seeing-in-pictures. I am hugely, constantly, almost uncontrollably distracted by visual possibilities; to constrain myself to work to the tempo (fast, slow or excruciatingly intermittent) of one, unique presence is not something I do well (okay, most of the time, not at all ...)
    Moving on to what needs to be in the picture, if I can manage to control myself, it seems to me that the key is that the center needs to hold. The center being, that proper-named subject. If the parts start invading or arguing or challenging, then we have a different kind of picture (the kind I love to make ...). Second key is what's already been mentioned; there has to be a connection. If the subject is denying, or blank-facing, or otherwise not engaging me (which, however, doesn't require eye contact; I've seen backs that speak awareness). Third key, it seems to me that there is an optimal distance. Too far and I get the lion-in-the-zoo disconnect. Too close and the subject inverts; as if I'm meant to see the subject as myself (I'm being bumped into/inside his identity -- looking out). That optimal distance seems to have a lot to do with, probably, biological norms. A picture of someone on the street requires different distances and indications of connection than does a picture of someone in a bedroom -- to get into "likeness" territory.
    I absolutely love your written description of your two pictures, Gerald and Jeremy. Very helpful and useful for me sorting out the above. To me, and this is purely my selfish reaction as if I had been taking the pictures, the one of Gerald is an outstanding picture and an outstanding example of most of what I'm talking about. I love it. At the same time, for me (strictly an opinion), Jeremy is a wonderful example of the kind of picture I would make simply because I could not resist, could not help myself -- because of all those irresistable visuals. But because of that, because of the competition (because it's a great picture!) it is, to me, not nearly so good a likeness as is the Gerald photo.
    I haven't even gotten into how, if I do manage to control myself, I work what I know into a visual representation. Having a good understanding of a subject is only the necessary first step; next I have to go back into myself and do a translation or at least know how to wait for it to be (strongly/clearly) manifest, again, without losing it to other visual temptations. At least in this case, I should be comfortably, if twitchily, back into my familiar territory of picture-making.
  97. Julie, thanks for your comments on the photos. How and whether to respond specfically? I share some of your reaction. But I don't want to be in a position of seeming to tell a viewer what's REALLY going on (since I know one of these fellows well and know whether it's an ACTUAL likeness and how others who know him respond to the photo). I'm not sure how much that would matter. Could the kind of likeness you're talking about be apparent to friends and relatives but not strangers? In my mind, yes it could. And there's a difference in the way people who know someone and people who don't will react . . . sometimes. I think there may be two not-strictly-distinct kinds of portraits, ones that are made for a wider audience and ones that are made for the narrower range of viewers who know the subject. Which is why portraits of famous people are in such an interesting class, since they straddle both kinds. There are more individual carriers of likeness and more universal ones. It's why a wedding portrait and a portrait meant for the study might be handled differently from a portrait that will get a wider viewing.
    I mostly disagree with your paragraph on "what needs to be in the picture" to capture the kind of proper-name likeness (love that phrase) you're talking about. Too specific and too universal. The center being the subject takes me back to the recent thread on distraction and the related theme of focus and attention. Some subjects need to feel lost among the ruins. That is their likeness. And sometimes, by not being the center, one can allow the likeness a more subtle but perhaps more effective entrance. If Pierre were found in a smokey corner of the café, barely visible through the hum of the rest of what's going on, that could provide a very effective likeness of Pierre, depending on who Pierre is. Pierre might, at that moment, or at any moment, need to be lost in the café, not holding a center. As for connection, some people simply don't connect and connecting with them in a way will actually destroy their likeness. Arbus may be a good example of that. I think many people wanted to see more overt signs of connection and when they didn't find those expected signs they thought she was just exploiting. I think many of those reactions misunderstood what Arbus was doing and the kind of likeness she was getting. Distance (and location) as I said are keys for me, but there's no one formula and no guidelines for too much or too little distance. Because distance is at play alongside perspective, expression, lighting, contrast, colors, etc.
    I think the danger (as with many things photographic) is stating a general principle. I think if we were to look at photos that seem to bear this likeness (and it would have to be among several viewers because one viewer might be swayed by taste where several viewers might be able to agree on likeness a little more objectively) we would find it's more about the various combinations of factors than it is about isolating one factor or one aspect of a certain quality. I'd much sooner work from a bunch of likeness photos out than from a general principle in. If there were a formula, it wouldn't be fun, and it most likely couldn't get to the kind of likeness you're talking about. It has to be a much more relative-to-the-individual matter.
  98. Likeness can be a type, this is often found in many series done today (Becher descendants). While we see a likeness of particular machine at a particular location, from resonances between images, the likeness soon becomes typological. And as I have mentioned earlier in this thread, I believe there are many levels/kinds of likenesses.
    Julie: "I just mean that it is particular even if I don't know its particular name."
    At the viewing end, one often doesn't know whether it is particular, or even real. Was it acted out? Photoshopped in? How would we know if Fred issued instructions to a subject, for example? The viewer has no way to verify, only to accept, doubt, reject.
    If there was a director and script, as in the movies, fictional likenesses (Remember Othello?) seem to work as well as literal similitudes. How many people know what Captain Bligh or Fletcher Christian looked like? I would suggest that the actors give us a different, second order mythological likeness, one that is convincing, that facilitates our acceptance or surrender, depending on one's contrarian-ness. The same happens in advertising. We know it's a fiction, but if it steam rolls over -- or nudges, cajoles, seduces, enjoins the viewer into participating, it works. The former keeps the viewer passive, the other is to one degree or another, interactive.
    Usually the former relies heavily on signifiers of visual authority, cultural momentum, and/or production values, all implying actual verisimilitude. The latter, leap over all that, in a way tacitly negotiating with the viewer's criteria, like a friend talking you into something, as opposed to getting orders.
    JH - "The lion that's about to eat you is a very particular lion."
    It's that lion, to be sure, but you may not know anything about it except its lion-breath, teeth crunching your bones, and claws ripping you end to end.
    While Fred's event may have been proper-named, Fred cited it as a likeness and illustration of the point I made about music, which was....generic.
    I am not forced by likeness, other than it has a kind of gravity about it, which I dialogue with, surrender to, or disregard. I use it and modulate it, often wordlessly and intuitively, until it appears "right".
    Photographers deal with it using many of the usual tools. For example, juggling the ratio of content to context, punctum to studium, the use of slight-wide to normal lenses, etc.
    However, when working in a monosemic mode, likeness, proper-name likeness, is very, very useful, though one will want to modulate how accessible the piece is, of course.
  99. Fred - "Some subjects need to feel lost among the ruins. That is their likeness."
    Yes! People perceive, and behave differently in time and space. A likeness can include this, too. My mother was a ballerina in her youth, remained exceptionally fit, and until she got in her 70's, she seemed weightless and impossibly graceful she moved about. I know people that seem outside of time, caught in an eddy of their own, and others who are flitting through it, like a flight of sparrows looking for a place to roost in late afternoon. A likeness might include or be primarily about things like this.
    This is something that Avedon, Penn, Halsman, and others explored, and in many cases, not literally, but in constructed partial fictions.
    Why is it that sometimes a face that is unlike the normally projected masks the ones we and in the case of celebs, others as well, seems like a startling likeness? Is it because the in-between moments, the loosely structured fragments are also a part of our awareness of another? Or because they are like glimpses of the Other, and like the implied but missing rabbit in the picture Julie provided?
  100. Luis and Fred, I'm pretty much agreeing with what you are saying. It feels to me like you are circling and sorting the very things that I've been circling and sorting. Luis, I have no problem with fictional likeness; all pictures are fictional a few generations after were made. It's a genesis thing; if I am getting something that is not anything else (good lord, look what you have driven me to writing!); a likeness is not a gear in the machinery of the picture but is an autonomous machine unto itself.
    I want to particularly respond to Fred's "If Pierre were found in a smokey corner of the café, barely visible through the hum of the rest of what's going on, that could provide a very effective likeness of Pierre, depending on who Pierre is. Pierre might, at that moment, or at any moment, need to be lost in the café, not holding a center. As for connection, some people simply don't connect and connecting with them in a way will actually destroy their likeness."
    For me, I have no problem with Pierre not connecting with me. Connect is not the right word (how do I connect with the rain?). Do I have to use that awful phrase, "get it" or maybe know it in the a carnal,bodily sense? However I do (this is my own feeling) have to feel that whatever is being likenessed is central. If it's not, then, for me, the picture has moved up a level to being a likeness of something larger; an encompassing event or phenomena, not a likeness of Pierre.
    I am really stuck (in a good way) thinking about what it is that is so, I don't know, solid or filled-up or right about a good likeness. Why is it precisely its difference, its bossiness in its own identity, that makes it so delicious?
    Luis, in many ways, the solitary, the solo, the elusive or remote person is, for me, easier to envision as or generate into/out of a likeness. It's the gregarious, social, conformist, company man/woman that, at least for me, is hard to generate into/out of a likeness. However, it is surely also easier to make charicatures out of either extreme.
  101. "Pierre" and "connect" were two different thoughts.
    I used Pierre to illustrate that the subject does not have to be central, or as you put it, the center being the subject. [Example: sometimes you get the best likeness of a character in a play when he's off to the side doing something totally tangential to the main action. Good actors are amazing to watch when they're not the focus of attention, when they are a mere afterthought on the stage.]
    Connect (or "get it") was your next condition for proper-name likeness. That's where I brought in Arbus: to rebut the notion that connection is necessary (either way, from photographer to subject or subject to photographer).
    Now, moving on to "getting it," which is a little different. But, still, I think I've achieved photographic likenesses of things and people I didn't get (or didn't yet get). That's where accident, surprise, serendipity come in. It's also the case that when I pay visual attention to something, I can achieve a likeness of it when it's still a mystery to me, something I really don't get. As a matter of fact, I think it's part of the human condition (oh my God!) to be at least a little bit ungettable. I think showing a little ungettableness is often the key to a good portrait. Ambiguity, questioning, the part I don't know. As a photographer and as a viewer, I respond to what I don't get because it's so real and it suggests possibility rather than completeness.
  102. jtk


    I got a kick out of Fred's announcement that "likeness is not replication," followed by Julie's instant agreement. In other words, certain ideas and understandings can be explored here (even if they can't be expressed with clarity), and others cannot. (fwiw, I think many (or most) photographers attempt to replicate what they see, though I personally don't).
    Evidently, to be worthy of discussion here, ideas must be expressed with prolixity and foreign authority.
    The obligatory references to Barthes, accompanied by proofs and admissions that he's not been read, are charming :)
    Barthes is an invisible Pope, kept alive for obvious reasons: "Don't let the proles look to closely without His authority, the photograph may tell an unauthorized tale!" Many thought Gutenberg and non-Latin had displaced the papacy and elevated the individual...similar to the way many thought photographs supplanted authoritarian and badly written deceptions. But no.
  103. Julie - "Luis, I have no problem with fictional likeness; all pictures are fictional a few generations after were made. It's a genesis thing; if I am getting something that is not anything else (good lord, look what you have driven me to writing!); a likeness is not a gear in the machinery of the picture but is an autonomous machine unto itself."
    In a fictional likeness, what is the referent? Particularly if it is not from a clear-cut story, cultural icon, or myth? It's a conceptual referent? Archetype? Type? I'm not so sure it's a Genesis thing, though it might be. It is still like something else. Something that resonates with the viewer. No, within the viewer. Autonomous? Tantalizing... Ewwww....we're bowling on thin ice there...:)
  104. Luis/Julie, fiction's fun . . . and there's truth in it. Would the people familiar with the subject of a portrait know (or care) whether they were seeing (part) fiction? And would the fiction, when recognized as such, actually reinforce the likeness of the subject of the portrait? Without knowing Jeremy, I'd be pretty sure that there were at least some fictions (exaggerations, extraneous materials) swirling about him in this photo. But those fictions may be the very NOT that makes his likeness more apparent, or seem more apparent. Knowing Jeremy, those fictions become like an AHA! moment. ("You've cast him perfectly!") Not knowing Jeremy, they still have their effect, though maybe the effect is one more of "resonance" (Luis's word) than "recognition." (Though Julie, I think, appreciated the photo, I'm not sure it resonated with her as a likeness, which is fine.)
    Luis brought up the potential of type. That's something I play with, especially in my work with middle-aged gay men. Clearly, I can identify these men by type. And there is a likeness there in that type that I am exploring and my subjects are exploring with me. At the same time, these men are individuals and I dance back and forth between their individuality and their typeness.
    Luis's "resonates" (good word) seems to have a relationship to "likeness" but doesn't necessarily suggest accuracy. Fiction resonates. Accuracy seems more an attempt to define.
  105. Is it that we build a referent when given a fictional likeness? And if we build it, we'll buy it.
  106. We speak of likeness in regard to a specific photograph or image, and our memories or personal perceptions of that subject.
    I believe that Likeness is also important (if not more so) in regard to the relation of the subject to other matter, animate or inanimate. We may present the rough skin of a mariner and think of the rocky shoreline of his Newfoundland coast or the wind shaped ice formed on the river. That is another type of likeness that is an important stimulus in my photography, and probably that of many of my peers.
    Difference is so easy to notice. It distinguishes your image of « a day at the beach » or an image depicting « hope », from mine. Even in considering the likeness of some singular subject (e.g. portrait figure) we are often focussing on differences (unlikeness), in order to distinguish the subject from another (how is Serge different from others of his community?).
    What if we focused more on likeness to other familiar elements of our material world? Two trees in an image might on closer examination be a tree set beside a human lung stretched out to its full capacity (or a human neuron network set beside a leafless tree). Or the human lung may strongly suggest a tree that happens to exist only as an out of frame element. One observer likened one of my images of weathered former live trees to Holocaust victims liberated from a camp. Not exactly how I envisaged them, but a strong likeness to him.
    Dutch philosopher Spinoza deduced that nature is but one substance with an infinite variety of manifestations: "Matter is everywhere the same, differing only in appearance". Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu many centuries earlier than the 17th sensed that "Each separate thing in the universe returns to the common source."
    I am inspired as much by seeking likenesses between diifferent subjects as in recognizing some intrinsic likeness of some character or scene. One involves an out of frame reference to other (Spinozian) matter, the other an out of frame reference to a personal perception of likeness possessed in/by the subject.
  107. Luis said, "In a fictional likeness, what is the referent?" THAT IS MY QUESTION ... please stop torturing me by bringing it back to the top every time I feel that I've successfully smothered it in hand-waving. But since you did, you are now to be held responsible for ANSWERING IT. Thank you. I'll be waiting. (And eat that"autonomous." It's has vitamins and minerals; children in Antarctica are starving for lack of "autonomous" so you should eat more and make sure they stay that way.)
    One more time, with feeling. Why are eyewitness accounts so fallible? Top-down, forced likenessing out of pieces? (I have close friends whose eye-color and, to some degree, hair-color I would have difficulty reporting.) Autonomous = the whole, not the pieces; not a patchwork; it is what it is even without particular knowledge of the parts. Why is the Holbein portrait a likeness to me, instantly?
    Olivier as Othello. Actually, it is precisely because there is no "as" that this is such an amazing likeness. I sit down to watch the movie, very skeptical of how Olivier is going to do this. His first scene; I'm thinking about all the descriptors of Othello (Moor, hired man, military, etc.) and weighing that while hearing Shakespeare's words coming out of this patchworked Olivier, Moor, hired man, thing when suddenly (very soon; minutes into the movie) BANG ... Olivier disappears. Shakespeare disappears. Othello is all there is. Unlike all other productions of Othello that I've seen, this creature is not some noble, tragic figurehead spouting Shakespearian cleverness. He's a little bit weasely, a little bit vain, more than a little bit ridiculous as newly, totally in love and not familiar with that condition, ... and beyond or with all that, totally decent.
    The words that he speaks serve this Othello, this creature who appears, fully made. The words come from him and he (what he is) makes their meaning. In other versions of the play that I've seen, the actor served the words. In this same production, Maggie Smith plays Desdemona. In my opinion, this was a big mistake. She remains, always, throughout the performance, Maggie Smith speaking Shakespeare's words.
    Now, Luis, dear, you need to explain to me how or where that Othello man came from. He is there, complete, autonomous, and talking to me. (He vaporized Olivier and Shakespeare, so he's sure to show up on a poster in your local post office shortly. With a reward.)
    [Note to both Fred and Arthur. In my opinion, type is what likeness is not. However, I hope that my opinion will not prevent you from developing your opinions (heh! as if I could ...) -- which I love to read and from which I will learn new things.]
  108. "Now, Luis, dear, you need to explain to me how or where that Othello man came from."
    I don't want to speak for Luis, but it might be a simple matter of talent. Olivier had it. Not everything can be explained. Seriously. Are you demanding (figuratively, I know) explanations where a simple combination of hard work and innate talent is the answer? Again, I say you're looking for a formula which will not come. There are few of these Olivier-Othello-like performances for a reason.
    One thing my director friend tells his actors again and again is to stop trying so hard. "Don't look like you're acting."
    BTW, when you say type is what likeness is not, I become skeptical of that concept of likeness. It starts to sound like "essence" about which there is a purity . . . and falseness. If I understand anything about this likeness, it would have to have some type in it and they couldn't be separable. It would be like looking for Fred, the part of Fred that was not "man." Huh?
    Could "likeness" be elevating our sights too high? Could it be much lower in our field of vision than the places we're looking?
    Two quotes from Olivier that might be food for thought:
    "I'd like people to remember me for a diligent expert workman. I think a poet is a workman. I think Shakespeare was a workman. And God's a workman. I don't think there's anything better than a workman."
    "Lead the audience by the nose to the thought."​
    That's where that Othello man came from.
  109. Just found another Olivier quote:
    "We ape, we mimic, we mock. We act."​
    Did you ever try aping, mimicking, and mocking while photographing?
    Seriously! ;-)
  110. [Yummy, a rich breakfast of autonomy, buttered toast and eggs this healthy, too. As per Julie's suggestion, I gleefully downed a little extra for the Antarctic urchin-wraiths.]
    Julie - "Luis said, "In a fictional likeness, what is the referent?" THAT IS MY QUESTION ..."
    " are now to be held responsible for ANSWERING IT. Thank you. I'll be waiting."
    Awww.... do I have to? Sweet torture is such fun! And any answer I give is going to be woefully incomplete, as it must be...(stock up on benadryl, though the torturous itch can be quite motivating).
    The answer is that it is not a simple binary likeness, but something else entirely. In itself, it encodes itself, and the raw materials for its Other, which is not a true or real referent, but in our minds, that's not a big deal. It just has to be a believable referent, because once we believe it, we see it. Because we construct it in our minds, it's tailor-made, fashioned from the hometown mud, and thus, very believable.
    Julie - "One more time, with feeling. Why are eyewitness accounts so fallible?"
    Short tentative answer: Because our awareness has huge gaping holes that we are not aware of. Ask any magician or select photographers.
    Julie - "Why is the Holbein portrait a likeness to me, instantly?"
    Perhaps because it is so direct, engaging, period-correct, rich in costume, Lordly accessories, pose, etc all of which add up to a convincing gestalt? I love the hand near the short sword.
    Olivier as Othello works because Olivier is expertly encoding a role with every fiber in his body. He triggers the right images in the viewer's brain, and activates the mirror neurons with every word and movement of his body. He is handing the viewer's imagination partly his version and, more important, leaves enough ambiguity open and unfinished business so that the viewer interacts, completes it, and makes it her own Othello. Obviously, this is not easy to do. I agree with Fred that it takes a lot of work, and probably no small amount of talent to pull it off. It's an amazing likeness because you created it. And all this is a guess, a clutching at things just out of reach, like streamers in the wind at Carnival, because Fred is right in that everything cannot be explained. My meager explanations should not be read as authoritative pat answers, but simply what comes to mind.
    Julie - " BANG ... Olivier disappears. Shakespeare disappears. Othello is all there is."
    And this is by design. Simultaneously, Othello appears, then disappears, and afterwards the footprints of Shakespeare are suddenly visible. There are lessons there for any creative. That Othello came from your own mind. For a multitude of reasons, you are active, not passive, and the play/movie is not an alien thing entering your consciousness, but it is being reprocessed and has become yours.
    Fred - "BTW, when you say type is what likeness is not, I become skeptical of that concept of likeness. It starts to sound like "essence" about which there is a purity . . . and falseness."
    I had thought the same thing, particularly when looking at how minimal caricatures, and wondering how it is that with only a few bits of line, and no detail or verisimilitude to speak of, it is easy to recognize who the referent is. It gets dangerously close to 'essence', but to me it is saying that we don't need a whole lot, as long as what we get resonates with memory, or allows us to join in. Look at propaganda posters from WWII, or racist posters and knick-knacks (it strains the heart to think people really put these things on their shelves). They are likenesses of types, stereotypes and they seem so disturbingly real. Our minds seem littered with free-floating and very sticky visual memes. Some very dark ones, too.
    I think when we say likeness here, we've been covering a lot of ground, some of it right at the edge, or over it. It looks to me like there are multiple kinds and levels of likeness, and associated, but different things outside of it (such as fictional likeness). It's complicated, but at least, we've a toehold on it, enough to raise questions, and make us think.
    Fred, I had never thought of Olivier as a closet Marxist! But the second one, about leading the audience by the thought, seems to relate to what I said above, about the audience also being a workman.
    [My coffee has grown cold and the line short at this Starbucks...]
  111. Luis, great stuff. One (maybe not so) small point. He said "leading the audience by the nose to the thought."
    You and I keep saying photography is a dance and it is. Neither party is solely responsible. The viewer is not alone in this but neither is the photographer. And neither is the likeness!
  112. Luis: "Othello appears, then disappears, and afterwards the footprints of Shakespeare are suddenly visible. There are lessons there for any creative. That Othello came from your own mind. For a multitude of reasons, you are active, not passive, and the play/movie is not an alien thing entering your consciousness, but it is being reprocessed and has become yours."
    and just prior to thiscomment:
    "It's an amazing likeness because you created it."
    Luis, thanks. I think too that this is essentially what likeness is all about. It is not so much in the portrait, character of theatre or scene, but some construct from the mind of the viewer. This brings me back to the quote of Spinoza, and the postulate that we are essentially comparing everything to some similar matter in the world, which of course includes our personal experience, beliefs, questions, and all. Tapping into this desire for likeness by the performer (Olivier, photographer, writer, architect, poet) is itself an art.
    A somewhat limited example from architecture: It is not for nought that bank buildings of the early 20th century looked like fortresses, and modern suburban and otherwise indistinctive home architecture adds tower shapes to roof lines.
  113. Luis, you're being so ... rational this morning. Why must the whole equal but not exceed the sum of the parts? Is there only re-shufflings and mixings; no genesis? If Luis can be reached by cobbling together bits of John and Bob and Willy, and Bob can be reached by cobbling together bits of John and Luis and Willy and John can be reached by ... and then Ferdinand shows up and, whoa! Nelly, turns out he's also made of Willy and Bob and Luis, but Luis does ... or doesn't have any part of Ferdinand in him that we didn't notice before and if he does, can we get parts of 6.5 billion people to fit into Luis (before coffee and autonomy)?
    If you go look at a litter of puppies, how long does it take you to stop seeing the breed and start seeing the individual puppy? Five minutes? Is that only because we've seen so many puppies? Identity is just mathematics?
    Conversely, why aren't you moved to do that (respond to; identify; differentiate fully) for most of the people in most of the pictures most of the time?
    [This is what you get for answering my earlier questions so nicely; MORE QUESTIONS! Women ... sheesh ... ]
  114. Julie, good question, but is not Luis referring to something less detailed, more atmospheric, more interpretable, that triggers a likeness response in the mind of the viewer. I wish we would add to the conversation about portaits and theatre characters the more global portrayal of likeness in art and how that relates to the individual's perception of this and other matter and beliefs in the world of his or her experience. Perhaps a focus that is more macro, les micro? Portraits and portrayals are but a small part of it.
  115. Arthur, I hope Luis will answer as well. My thoughts are, and what I took Luis to be saying, is not at all that likeness is essentially a construct in the mind of the viewer, but that it is a construct in the mind of the viewer stimulated and directly affected by the portrait (the work of the photographer or the actor). I'll leave Luis to speak for himself, but I tend to reject formulations that emphasize the role of the viewer over the role of the photographer and the photograph (which you seem to be doing, though I'm not positive of that). So I had trouble with your talking about the holocaust relative to your tree photo. I think one risks giving the interpretation of the viewer too much sway. Holocaust, of course, is a deep and profound intimation of emotion and significance. But unless I had something remotely related to holocaust (not overtly, but something like suffering or alienation or ugliness, etc.) that I'd been trying to convey with that photo, I'd completely discount the comment. (And I mean I would, not that you should.) Because I've heard too many wonderful-sounding but far-fetched interpretations of my own work to put too much stock in them in any way relating to the work I did, and consider them simply much more about the way the viewer wanted to look at a photograph.
    For me, likeness is achieved by the viewer in touch with what the photographer has actually done and what the subject may have actually put forth. The photographer and the subject imbue the photograph with its stuff. The viewer does not do his/her thing isolated from either the photograph or the photographer. For me, a photograph, a portrait, a work of art is not anything-a-viewer-says-it-is (and I'm not saying you went this far, but that many people do). Some viewers are simply way, way, way off base. That can be because they're biased, they're lousy viewers, they've got an agenda, they've got a narrow focus, they're looking for profundity where it isn't to be found, and all sorts of other reasons.
  116. Arthur, I do appreciate your talking about the kinds of likeness in photographs that is among various elements and qualities. For instance that the texture of skin might be similar to something else in view. I have a favorite portrait that was taken of a friend in front of his favorite tree in Golden Gate Park. I was aware how much the tree at the time related to the texture of his skin and reminded me of it. The tree is blurred in the background (you wouldn't know its a tree) and you don't even really get a visual sense of its texture, but it certainly affected me a lot when I was making the photograph. That translates to how I photographed him. It's an intangible and it's not necessarily visual in a literal way. But it is visual. And it is in there. And some of the viewer's reactions are because of that. Some of the viewer's reactions, as I said above, are because of a whole lot of things unrelated to the photograph as well. That's always fascinating to hear, but doesn't usually feel as if it's about the photograph much.
  117. Fred, thanks for those points. No, I was not attempting to detach the theatre experience or portrait or landscape image from the creative will or action of the photographer or his subject (if animate), each of which mainly define those works. I was in part raising Spinoza's quotation and my interpretation of its usefulness in understanding art in the sense that whatever the image creator does to convey a likeness to his subject is not at all the end of the likeness perception (see the simple quotation on prior pages, which I trust I am not taking out of context of Spinoza's more global thoughts on this).
    Yes, weathered trees on a windy shore of perceptibly distorted or uncommon form do not represent specifically the horrors, impact and lessons of the Holocaust, or the experience of those unfortunate Jews, gypsies, and other socially unacceptable persons to the Nazis. The person who spent some time looking at some of my images is in fact a very sensitive artist, who, while possessing the quality of an active mind (that is, not free from possible exaggeration in his reactions - something not uncommon in artists as opposed to, say, most accountants or engineers) did equate the trees with one or two images he had previously seen of the underfed, sick and marginally alive survivors who (finally!) wandered out and freed from those evil camps of ethnic cleansing destruction at the end of the 2nd world war.
    My own approach to landscapes or any other image, not always realised of course, is to use the subject matter in a way as to either show something that the observer may not have previously contemplated (but not necessarily by that, an unlikeness to his other experiences) or to create a dichotomy in the sense of the image being something we see but at the same time being something else (getting closer here to Spinoza and my own approach). It r-reflects my small and intended purpose of attempting to realise an image that is less representational or documentary, and more out-of-frame (it hopefully incites the viewer to make other connections of likeness or context). Therefore, a likeness not in regard to a perception of what it is, but rather what it may be alike to in regard to something else.
    I have alas little time to re-read these lines for preciseness of thought, but I think they might clarify my previous thougts about likeness in relation to other subject matter than that presented before the lens and possessed by the photographed subject matter.
  118. Julie - "Luis, you're being so ... rational this morning."
    I scared myself!
    JH - "Why must the whole equal but not exceed the sum of the parts? Is there only re-shufflings and mixings; no genesis?"
    I would guess the artist in on first, technically. The Web of Being (for lack of a better name) goes back a long and seamless way. I think this can and does often exceed the sum of its parts. When we have an interactive exchange, in particular. Neither the artist nor the viewer could have realized what happens on their own.
    JH - "If Luis can be reached..."
    What do you mean? I don't see this as a mere conceptual Frankenstein-ian game. Define "reached" that a convincing enough print to conjure up memories of me? An acceptable back-engineered character from a fictional image?
    JH - "...can we get parts of 6.5 billion people to fit into Luis (before coffee and autonomy)?"
    In some ways, yes, and vice versa, but other than to reduce the link to "human", it's too diffuse to be useful.
    JH - "Identity is just mathematics?"
    I suppose it could be expressed in that way, or musically, poetically, in dance, photographically, etc. Not just mathematics for me. I think we modulate likeness, and as Arthur keeps reminding us, not just in portraits. We do so for different ends in different pictures, or sometimes very similarly for a series, or because it fits one's style.
    Arthur - "is not Luis referring to something less detailed, more atmospheric, more interpretable, that triggers a likeness response in the mind of the viewer."
    Yes, Arthur, I have tried to address the business of 'good likeness' in a broader sense than the portrait/figurative/theatrical angle, because I believe it to be broader. Portraits and portrayals are a significant part of it.
    Fred - Exactly. There's a causal (but not necessarily linear) continuum here. What happens in the viewer's mind (and I've already noted, it can range from the passive to the maximally participatory), even passivity, is connected to what the photographer does with the subject/scene/etc.. Without the 'genesis' of the image (it doesn't have to be a print per se) and creativity leading up to it, the viewer would likely be engaged in other pursuits. I think that in some very rare cases, the viewer can and does go far beyond where the photographer is at. Many photographers are out of touch with their own pictures.

    FG - " For me, a photograph, a portrait, a work of art is not anything-a-viewer-says-it-is..."
    A viewer's reaction is not purely about the picture nor about himself, but necessarily a combination of the two. It is a living trace of the viewing. One theme we see recurring here is that connections beget reactions/traces that are not copies of those involved, but mixes. To me, this is inherently beautiful. And rarely totally detached from the image, because if nothing else, an image can function as a Rorschach inkblot test, and I would not underestimate that aspect.
    I also appreciate Arthur's comments on subtle, second-order likeness (which seem to me like similes in language). Thanks to the limited nature of living forms, many repeat themselves, for example, dendroid (tree-like) forms. Their fractal nature is found everywhere from trees to kidneys to river beds, neurons, etc.
    Arthur - "... weathered trees on a windy shore of perceptibly distorted or uncommon form do not represent specifically the horrors, impact and lessons of the Holocaust..."
    No, but I felt a sense of something suffering, unwillingly distorted, literally truncated.
  119. Luis, I'm going to use some quotes from Difference & Repetition by Gilles Deleuze (1968) to try and sort of sum up where we agree (I think) and where we part ways (so much nicer than "disagree").

    "… When we say … that movement is repetition and that this is our true theatre, we are not speaking of the effort of the actor who ‘repeats’ because he has not yet learned the part. We have in mind the theatrical space, the emptiness of that space, and the manner in which it is filled and determined by the signs and masks through which the actor plays a role which plays other roles; we think of how repetition is woven from one distinctive point to another, including the differences within itself."​

    I think we all agree with that, though "differences within itself" is ambiguous. Yes it is, as you will see ...

    "… Consider a terrified face (under conditions such that I do not see and do not experience the causes of this terror). This face expresses a possible world: the terrifying world. By ‘expression’ we mean, as always, that relation which involves a torsion between an expressor and an expressed such that the expressed does not exist apart from the expressor, even though the expressor relates to it as though to something completely different.By ‘possible,’ therefore, we do not mean any resemblance but that state of the implicated or enveloped in its very heterogeneity with what envelops it: the terrified face does not resemble what terrifies it, it envelops a state of the terrifying world.

    "… these relations of development, which form our commonalities as well as our disagreements with the other, also dissolve its structure and reduce it either to the status of an object or to the status of a subject. That is why, in order to grasp the other as such, we were right to insist upon special conditions of experience, however artificial — namely the moment at which the expressed has (for us) no existence apart from that which expresses it: the Other as the expression of a possible world."​

    I may or may not be correct in saying that we all agree with the first paragraph of that quote. Where we part ways is in how we take "possible worlds." It seems to me that Luis et al are saying that "possible worlds" are variations of the existent. I, on the other hand, think that "possible worlds" is expansive, and generative; in excess of the existent; original and originating.

    "… it is not enough to oppose two repetitions, one bare and material in accordance with the identity and default of the concept, the other clothed, psychical and metaphysical in accordance with the difference and excess of the always positive Idea. This second repetition should be seen as the ‘reason’ of the first. The clothed and living, vertical repetition which includes difference should be regarded as the cause, of which the bare, material and horizontal repetition (from which a difference is merely drawn off) is only an effect."​

    That (above) really gets to the nub of our differences, in my opinion. I agree with Deleuze; it seems to me that everybody else posting to the thread so far does not.

    Finally, one last bit that may be too Deleuzian for anybody whos is not used to him, but I love it, so here it is:

    "… (Hegel criticized Schelling for having surrounded himself with an indifferent night in which all cows are black. What a presentiment of the differences swarming behind us, however, when in the weariness and despair of our thought without image we murmur ‘the cows’, ‘they exaggerate’, etc.; how differenciated and differenciating is this blackness, even though these differences remain unidentified and barely or non-individuated; how many differences and singularities are distributed like so many aggressions, how many simulacra emerge in this night which has become white in order to compose the world of ‘one’ and ‘they.’) The ultiimate, external illusion of representation is this illusion that results from all its internal illusions — namely, that groundlessness should lack differences, when in fact it swarms with them. What, after all, are ideas, with their constitutive multiplicity, if not these ants which enter and leave through the fracture in the I?"​

    Possibly we can all agree that Julie is thoroughly fractured -- and happy to be so.

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