On the subjectivity of photography

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by je ne regrette rien, Dec 29, 2013.

  1. After quite a long hiatus from this forum I would like to share some reflections, resuming the concepts of a thread of some time ago on the subjectivity of the relationship with photography.
    After having worked a lot on images in this period, I wonder whether the way we
    1. create photographs
    2. watch photographs
    3. criticise photographs
    4. categorise photographs
    is still very closely, if not exclusively related to our subjective perceptions, objectives, vision of the world.
    A photographer might want to create a personal imaging style. This imaging style will be very much related to the personal, subjective, preferences on what to picture and how to picture it. Even if the personal imaging style builds on the universal perception of what has been pictured before, the interpretation is still bound to the individual and the subjective perception of the photographer.
    Doesn't the same happen to the viewer? The picture exposed to stirs some emotions, some feelings, some associations, which are first of all subjective.
    The subjective element in producing and viewing a picture does not exclude that a multitude of different photographers or viewers have similar or the same perceptions or feelings of a picture. Nor that in some way there can be some universally accepted aesthetics: not one single photographic aesthetic, but potentially infinite aesthetics, which nevertheless could be somehow clustered.
    The subjectivity element could explain why many photography criticisms include "in my opinion", "as I see it", a subjective "benchmark".
    And there are no "universal aesthetics", but probably just several "universally accepted aesthetics", which stem from individual, subjective conceptualisations, even if shared by a few, or many other human beings.
  2. "The subjective element in producing and viewing a picture does not exclude that a multitude of different photographers or viewers have similar or the same perceptions or feelings of a picture."
    It seems to me that this is the crux of the matter and it undermines your premise, IMO. What it sounds like you're saying is that the subjective does not exclude the objective. Which raises the point that subjective/objective is a false dichotomy.
    "In my opinion", the so-called subjective cannot be separated from the cultural, the biological, the historical, the social and the shared.
    A photo, subjective as it may seem to a viewer and as possessive as one may want to be about it, is a gift to the viewer from the photographer. It makes a connection.
    One example of many: How could a symbol ever work if photos and art were only or even mostly subjective?
    Honestly, Luca, I think of subjectivism as a kind of possessiveness. Isn't a little like the child on the playground insisting "mine, mine, mine"?
  3. Some preliminary remarks:<br>
    - I am not thinking of a dichotomy, but more of a primal driver;<br>
    - I agree on the necessary unity of the cultural, the biological, the historical, the social and the shared. But isn't the
    combination mediated by the self in first instance?<br>
    - in terms of empirical observation it seems to me that the self, however complex, remains the term of reference both
    producing and watching pictures. Even as the catalyst of every surrounding determinant;<br>
    - if we make a kind of judgement, it is always against a self. Also because I am not aware of universal metrics applicable
    to photographs;<br>
    - I disagree with the possessiveness in first instance: it's more giving the photograph a precise position within one's
    universe, rather than owning it;<br>
    - the photograph as a connecting gift? Maybe, but not necessarily. It depends on whether there is a match of two
    The concept of a photograph as a universal symbol is very interesting. But isn't universality a maybe educated
    combination of subjective perceptions?
  4. So, is it just coincidence that "different photographers or viewers have similar or the same perceptions or feelings of a picture." How does your self and someone else's self experience so similarly?
    Why would there be a primal driver? Is this a search for a kind of god?
    What if the self is a prison, constructed to contain experience?
    What if experience itself is more "primal" and we are simply using the notion of a self to define a route on the map of that experience?
  5. Probably a coincidence.<br>
    No God. Just the self, the interest, the drive.<br>
    That depends: I tend to consider the self as a starting point, a basis for further questions, for openings. But I agree that
    there are closed selves.<br>
    As mentioned, more than a route on the map a starting point. How it then develops depends on how everybody is.<br>

    What is the universal in Halsman's jumping Dalì and flying cat? And in Newton's "they are coming". Or in Sobol's
    documentary on his Greenlandish experience (Sabine)?
  6. I didn't use the word "universal" or make any reference to its application here.
    Seriously? A coincidence?
    Coincidence - a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.
    You think that similar reactions to a photo don't have a connection and are simply a random concurrence?
    It is actually the "primal-ness" idea that I most object to, whether it's the self or anything else.
    Here's Merleau-Ponty, quoted from another recent thread:
    "The performer is no longer producing or reproducing the sonata: he feels himself, and the others feel him to be at the service of the sonata; the sonata sings through him or cries out so suddenly that he must 'dash on his bow' to follow it."
    It's keenly descriptive of something I've felt, a sense of losing the self, but it doesn't tell the complete story, for me. Because I also see the performer (and have felt as a performer) as the maker of the music, and as instigator, even while being in service of the music.
    What I try to do is avoid seeing any one thing, aspect, quality, being, or incarnation of being as primal. To me, asserting the primal-ness of self is hierarchical thinking, not to mention egocentric. There's nothing wrong with it as part of an exploration and dialogue (I'm all for the role of ego), but the dialogue sometimes follows the path Ponty points out, where the self is the vehicle, not the engine, and the sonata (or photo, in this case) drives the bus and is more primal. And if not the photo or the sonata itself, the experience giving rise to the photo or the sonata, the experience giving itself to or being there for the self has its own primal-ness.
    "Primal" suggests a linear approach, which just doesn't cut it for me. A more holistic approach would suggest more of a dialogue among various movers and more reciprocity among factors that determine how photos are made and viewed.
  7. In any case, Luca, what's the relevance, for you, of the primal nature you see the self as having, regarding photos and photography? How does it affect the making or viewing of photos? What ramifications would it have? Addressing those questions might give the topic a kind of focus that could be of value. Otherwise, we're just talking pretty abstractly. Do you think this idea of subjectivity has an impact on your photos themselves, on how you view photos or what you take away from them?
  8. Hi Luca. : )
    I think subjectivity is most apparent (as an observer of others) in the negative: in what people can't, don't, or won't see because they don't know how, lack training, have a different sensibility, or won't shut up long enough to listen/hear/see/learn.
  9. It makes sense to me that creatures with similar brains would have things in common. Brain gives rise to mind, and so it seems reasonable to go on to assert that there would be a potential for a lot of similarity in the way separate individuals understand and react to a common surrounding. In fact, the notion of culture suggests to me that a large number of people can do and understand many things in the same way.
    Getting back to Luca, yes many individuals in the same culture could see and understand a photograph in a similar way. I wouldn't expect them all to find the same way to describe their experience, however. Perhaps this leads one to speculate on the limitations of an individual in society? At any rate, if subjective is what you wind up being, then you will have to accept the idea that there are some really good, but subjective (individual) interpretations for objects found in the visuals arts arena. I encourage you to think of this as a part of the richness of living with other people.
    What about objectivity and symbols? I like to take something like this to the margins to find a place to begin. The Egyptian hieroglyph looks like a good start. It is literally a symbol that was used to record a living language. Since there are only a handful of people now who can read hieroglyphs, their actual significance is lost on someone like me. For me they are objective only because I can add no meaning or understanding to be able to interpret them as language.
    Interpreting symbols is subjective in that it takes an active mind living in someone's head to do the work. Consensus is the agreement among minds needed to make symbols useful. It should be no surprise that people living in the same culture agree on the meaning of many things including those that might appear as subjects in a photograph. If the photographer could not depend on having some common ground with a prospective viewer he would never be able to assess the value of his own work. What's the point of composition if no one can understand what difference it makes?
    Subjective? I challenge you to find another way to do it if you can.
  10. Universal: it's me using it.<br>
    I think we (I) need to define terms and concepts better.<br>
    Provided that I do not see a dichotomy between the terms, I am prepared to switch from subjective/objective to
    "Coincidence" in the sense of matching of factors. Elements of different weight and different nature and origins combine,
    come together, unite.<br>
    I do not see coincidence in connection to random. It's not a chaotic clash of elements, but a differentiated, non linear
    combination of factors.<br>
    "Primal" in the sense of driving factor, in Latin "movens", what makes me do something: love, curiosity, rage, need for
    justice, whatever makes you do something. Probably "initial" is a better term, which allows to leave out the connotations
    the term "primal" has.<br>
    Let's take it the other way around:<br>
    The photographer decides to take pictures of flowers, in brilliant colours. It's the initial decision. It is not painting flowers,
    not making stencils of flowers, not forming terracotta flowers, not composing floral music.<br>
    It's photographing flowers.<br>
    The photographer will look for flowers, seek flower photographs, get suitable equipment to picture flowers. Important or
    less prominent flower photographers will attract the attention and focus the study. The photographer will fine-tune the
    whole photographic workflow: from finding flowers near and in far lands, understanding the right light, setting up the right
    lighting, doing the right processing, post-processing and printing. The photographer will have an initial idea of what it
    means to photograph flowers and while practising the process will be refined and refined to achieve the expected result of
    "photographing flowers".<br>
    The photographer will share the flower pictures to other photographers to know what they think of these.<br>
    If the photographer will show the flower pictures to me, even if I will be able to appreciate their technical quality, I will say:
    "I can very well see that you are a very able flower photographer, the light is right, the colours are right, but they do not
    punch me because I am simply not interested in flower photographs, I am not moved by them, sorry." This because I tend
    to be polite. Otherwise I might say "what shall I do with your hundreds of silly flower photographs, don't bother me with
    them". In either case the flower photographer will have to use the self-esteem, the interest and drive to continue
    photographing the beloved flowers.<br>
    That is what I mean: photographing stems from a personal preference/personal culture/personal growth path, how it is
    done is a matter of personal preference/personal culture/personal growth path, whether the beholder is touched by the
    flower photograph is a matter of personal preference/personal culture/personal growth path. If these personal (...
    Elements) do not match, the communication between the flower photographer and the flower photography beholder will
    not come to being.<br>
    I see it as a matching of personal (...) which have a subjective origin, which is essential also for the elaboration and
    synthesis of all the continuously evolving elements which shape the personal preferences/personal culture/personal
    growth path. Not in an ivory tower, not in isolation, but mediated by the personal elements which make it ... Personal. The
    photographic style and also the viewing preferences.<br>
    Universality deals with the ability of a photograph to communicate universally, I.e.: with the majority of the beholders
    seeing it. Creating universally communicating photos, is that possible, with all of that "personal" elements playing a role?
    Must be pretty confusing, but what I am trying to say is that, rather than looking for an universal aesthetics, it is probably
    better to find one's own aesthetic, built on the personal preferences/personal culture/personal growth path, and trying to
    make it correspond as well as possible to the goal we set ourselves.<br>
    We also need to be careful about our audience: unconditional flower lovers will praise our work, but we will not be
    criticised and be unable to grow upon criticism. Unconditional flower haters will turn our work down and be unhelpful as
    Given the multitude of personal preferences and elements, better see for ourselves and try to develop, rather than running the risk of clashing with unlike-minded beholders.
  11. Hi Julie, ;-)
    I am trying to develop a "subjectivity" concept which is not negative. Even if I recognise what you mean (people can't, don't, or won't see because they don't know how, lack training, have a different sensibility, or won't shut up long enough to listen/hear/see/learn), I would like to consider it a foundation to develop, with open eyes, ears, and mind.
  12. Luca wrote: "I would like to consider it a foundation to develop, with open eyes, ears, and mind."
    Me too! I look forward to the discussion.
  13. If you are seeking "paralysis by analysis" I think you are lose to your goal. What kind of study have you done of the
    history of photography?
  14. How does a person get a wide enough perspective to appreciate a universal anything? Is my sense of visual style personal or the embodiment of some universal standard? I don't think you can answer a question like that. I will note that there are disciplines such as Olympic figure skating and gymnastics that require athletes to master required procedures and moves precisely. Some people do this very well, yet there are still individual differences in performances. I believe that it is impossible for a person not to be an individual.
    I'm not a great fan of the notion that a person should damn the torpedoes just to go his own way, but there's a case to me made for the idea that no matter what there's nothing else he can do. I don't condone risky or hateful behavior. A person's mind will not allow him to give himself up be another person. This gets complicated beyond the proposition that someone might impersonate another. There really are life changing experiences, and diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's can destroy mind and personality. All in all, you might say that a person is either subjective or dead!
    I really don't know the mechanics behind an artist refining his own work. I think that self-awareness is more likely to be helpful than the comments of strangers trying to evaluate the result - especially if they simply don't like what they see. The opinion of someone I respect makes a difference to me. I'm not sure that I particularly care what the others have to say about my flower picture. I do think that I could do a better job of another one.
    Fortunately for me, I have come to see that trial and error is in inescapable in most of my learning. It's all in the doing. Trial and error has taught me that, in order to get things right, you must first get them wrong. It would be impossible for me to accept my own development if I could not see myself as a subjective being.
  15. Ellis Vener , Dec 29, 2013; 06:06 p.m.<br>
    If you are seeking "paralysis by analysis" I think you are lose to your goal. What kind of study have you done of the
    history of photography?<br>
    Fortunately I have learnt to keep musings and photographing completely separated.
  16. Albert<br>
    I really don't know the mechanics behind an artist refining his own work. I think that self-awareness is more likely to be
    helpful than the comments of strangers trying to evaluate the result - especially if they simply don't like what they see. The
    opinion of someone I respect makes a difference to me. I'm not sure that I particularly care what the others have to say
    about my flower picture. I do think that I could do a better job of another one.
    I could not agree more! ;-)
  17. "what I am trying to say is that, rather than looking for an universal aesthetics, it is probably better to find one's own aesthetic"
    "flower lovers will praise our work, but we will not be criticised and be unable to grow upon criticism"
    How could we be criticized if we're relegated to subjectivity or individuality or whatever we want to call it. If we have our own aesthetic, where does someone else's criticism take hold? How would another empathize or understand us enough to criticize, or care enough? Why would we care what they say? Are we concerned with communication and with something broader than ourselves or aren't we?
    Or is there some middle ground? If, as I suspect, there's a middle ground, well then you may have your answer. Individuality makes sense against a collective or community, and community is a bunch of individuals. Both aspects of being in the world are worth considering, honoring, and developing an aesthetic with regard to, though not with obedience to.
  18. Well, 'subjective' is all we got from mother nature though some may try to expand it towards 'objective' by grades. The real choise actually lays between creating specific context of some kind on one side and "whole-take" unlimited perception of fenomena as one faces it on another, - which we still have to balance by reason somehow.
  19. Luca,
    First mistake, that it seems to me that you're making is to conceptualize aesthetics as readable by something like (crudely! with apologies for the lack of a more elegant analogy) the thermometer. In the "universal" paradigm it's as if we viewers could all look at something and then all look at the aesthetics thermometer and see its readout, however high or low it might be. In the non-universal, individual paradigm, it's as if each of us have our own thermometer and each read it, however high or low it might be (i.e. it is arbitrary with respect to ourselves), with disagreements arising because of variations in the instruments.
    I think this is fundamentally wrong. Rather (again, with apologies for inelegance) aesthetics are "judged" by a 'thermostat.' We work on the basis of homeostasis -- our own, each his/her own, psychic homeostasis. Our thermostatically controlled aesthetic response depends on whether that which we are viewing is "too hot" or "too cold" relative to our own preferred "temperature" setting.
    That of which we are made (and of which we make) is never the same (and, on top of that, life is growth). Quoting Gregory Bateson: "The statement “The acrobat is on the high wire” continues to be true under impact of small breezes and vibrations of the wire. This “stability” is the result of continual changes in descriptions of the acrobat’s posture and the position of his or her balancing pole."" It is necessary to change in order to stay the same; and growth is change while remaining the same. I think of aesthetics as testing the perimeter, as the tip of the green shoot taking warnings, invitations, opportunities in this constant thermostatic balancing act.
    Notice all the incredibly, wildly, insanely diverse ways in which life has found to homeostatically maintain itself to the "same" world -- from the species down to the individual.
    Here is some more from Bateson that I adds to the above. (I take aesthetics to be integral to 'exploration' and vice versa.) Note, in particular his phrase, 'double description':
    It seems to puzzle psychologists that the exploring tendencies of a rat cannot be simply extinguished by having the rat encounter boxes containing small electric shocks. From such experiences, the rat will not learn not to put his nose into boxes; he will only learn not to put his nose into the particular boxes that contained electric shocks when he investigated them. In other words, we are here up against a contrast between learning about the particular and learning about the general.
    A little empathy will show that from the rat’s point of view, it is not desirable that he learn the general lesson. His experience of a shock upon putting his nose into a box indicates to him that he did well to put his nose into that box in order to gain the information that it contained a shock. In fact, the “purpose” of exploration is, not to discover whether exploration is a good thing, but to discover information about the explored. The larger case is of a totally different nature from that of the particular.
    [ ... ]
    Learning the contexts of life is a matter that has to be discussed, not internally, but as a matter of the external relationship between two creatures. And relationship is always a product of double description.
    [ ... ]
    … Let us examine “exploration” to see wherein it is a context for, or a product of, some sort of double description.
    First, exploration (and crime and play and all the other words of this class) is a primary description, verbal or nonverbal, of the self: “I explore.” But what is explored is not merely “my outside world,” or “the outside world as I live it.”
    Second, exploration is self-validating, whether the outcome is pleasant or unpleasant for the explorer. If you try to teach a rat to not explore by having him poke his nose into boxes containing electric shock, he will, as we saw in the last chapter, go on doing this, presumably needing to know which boxes are safe and which are unsafe. In this sense, exploration is always a success.​
    Finally, this from a blind photographer, "Entre lo invisible y lo tangible, llegando a la homeostasis emocional."
  20. If we have our own aesthetic, where does someone else's criticism take hold?​
    I have my own aesthetic, as I am sure you have too, Fred, but still keep open to build connections with what I'm told, to see if I can take advantage from others' input.
    Having a subjectivity, or individuality, doesn't mean being closed, stubbornly leaving everything else out, does it?
    Individuality makes sense against a collective or community, and community is a bunch of individuals​
    True. A sort of confrontation of the individuality with the "community"?
  21. How to seperate the personal from the universal? What is subjective, what is objective? Where does one start and the other end? In my view, these aren't seperated items, they co-exist in a sort of continuum. Doesn't the universal define the particolarities of my personal opinions/ideas/visions, and do I not extrapolate the universal from comparison between my personal notions and those of others - finding the common denominator between them? Aren't they just ends to a spectrum?
    My initial reaction was much like Julie's, subjectiveness "driving" a close-minded approach. But I think it's all more subtle: arguably there would also be something such as "informed subjective". Knowing the standardised, universal objective reading, and knowingly disagree with it. Horowitz piano-playing: he was often critised for over-dramatising everything, for too loose interpretations of crescendos, rhythm and timing. And yet, the results are fascinating. He knew what he was doing, it wasn't just personal preference at play. Stokowski's directing (and adapting music) - likewise. This is not necessarily result of a closed mind, nor bears any disrepect to the universal, nor exists in an isolated individual instance - it knows the objective, and just decides not to play along.
    All in all, to me, what you call "personal preference/personal culture/personal growth path" doesn't exist without having a non-personal version of it. Which is actually the same thing. We're intertwined with our cultural background, our raising, our education, shared values, shared ethics - too intertwined to unravel.
  22. I had to give it some thoughts.<br>
    It seems to me that the big "universal" misunderstanding I have produced is about trying to find a measure to
    photography aesthetics. I do not want to measure anything, actually. Neither did I want to imply any separation, dichotomy
    or clear-cut separation between subjectivity/individuality and objectivity/collectivity.<br>
    Neither did I want to suggest that photography happens in isolation, in a vacuum, in disconnectedness from others and
    the other.<br>
    I just wanted to indicate that subjectivity/individualism is the mover.<br>
    Why would most remarks on a photo be founded on a "I like/dislike"? Everybody dealing with photographs seems to look
    for a term of reference, for a comparison.<br>
    And here Julie's homeostatic concept seems to fit well: we all define an "imaging zone" and confront the images we
    produce or see with the ones in this zone. Some images we are exposed to might cause a change in the zone. And that would
    be the "thermostatic adjustment".
  23. subjectivity/individualism is the mover​
    In the sense that photography is a creative personal expression - well, yes, obviously the subjective/individual plays an important part. In the sense that photography as a medium always has a link back to 'reality', the objective/universal - maybe not that much. Maybe the particularity of photography as an expressive activity is exactly that it's not entirely subjective. Unlike nearly all other creative endeavours, it does not start with a blank page, but we're working from things already there and give a subjective, personal interpretation/representation of those.
    I'm not arguing your thoughts because I see no merit in them, but I'm very hesitant to declare something the mover, even if that thing is a rather broad concept. Plus, I do not see it as being very specific to photography, but rather something that would be true for any personal expression. Maybe it's the fact that photography, more than any other of those creative expressions, finds its roots back in the objective that may make it more apparently so, though.
  24. Wouter,
    The photograph-as-window-to-reality (a position often disagreed with in this forum) leads to (or comes from?) the idea that photographs are facts. Add to that the common misconception that facts provide explanation and you get the connection to objectivity. But facts don't explain; rather, facts themselves require explanation. Facts are speechless -- and if your paradigm of photography is 'photo = fact' then you are creating speechless, expressionless objects.
    If you take the view of photograph as thing unto itself, we have to draw back one "layer" to see it on the wall or in the book or on the monitor and give up the idea of photograph-as-fact (the window is closed; there was no window) and include the wall, the book or the monitor + surrounding/current environment in the experience of the picture.
    If we take this thread into our conception we have to further withdraw and include the idea of an imaginary viewer viewing the wall, book, monitor with embedded picture.
    If you, reading this comment, take me into consideration, you have, over and above all the above, your imagining of me, typing these comments as I imagine you reading and imagining a viewer viewing the wall, book, monitor in which is embedded the photograph.
    A certain "contamination" ensues ... or gloriously strange mutation, permutation, flowering, staining, entanglement ...
    Luca has cleverly left himself a trapdoor out of this viral viewing by narrowing his OP's aim to be about aesthetics, and not broader perceptual goals or affects.
  25. Photographers can attempt relatively straightforward physical representations or they may desire to imbue subject matter with personally felt values or perceptions that transcend physical reality. Photographers may act like scientists observing reality or they may act like poets abstracting something from reality or inventing a different (their) reality. Subjectivity and objectivity would each seem to be operative in photography and the photographer, with one not excluding the other, as in other creative disciplines. Aesthetics is merely one convention or measure of the value of the product.
  26. Luca in an earlier thread I came across a Schles article where Schles spoke of a photograph as a significant space. That makes sense to me, the idea of a photograph communicating significances. A photograph that has a significance to me may not have a significance to you, and vice versa, or we could find different significance being communicated to each of us by a photograph, and that's all OK. We could disagree on significance yet still find that we could agree on why a photographic communication succeeded or failed, or partially worked or didn't work.
  27. Charles' mention of significance is important to me. Somehow I failed to raise the point of significance and meaningfulness in relation to subjectivity/universality.
    I see a non-linear relationship between the significance a photographer targets when making a photograph and the intrinsic significance of the picture itself to the photographer and the viewer(s).
    It seems to me that a picture can have a (nearly) universal significance when it touches universal sentiments. For example Nick Ut's picture of the little nude girl escaping the napalm attack.
    The significance is less evident in Jacob Aue Sobol's documentary about his stay in Greenland and his relationship with the people in Tiniteqilaaq and with Sabine in particular.
    Apart from the evident meaning of Newton's "They are coming", there are less evident meanings considering the main trends in photography in 1981. So the subjective background here is very important to appreciate the iconic photograph. By the way the image is technically a success, since it is not easy to show the dynamic striding of the four models in front of a white backdrop, repeated twice.
    The picture of my grandfather, which I made in the same year, was very significant to my grandmother, who wanted a copy. But most likely meaningless and void of significance to most of all other viewers outside my family circle. The picture was important to me, subjectively, when I made it, and subjectively important to my grandmother because of her emotional bonds to the subject.
    Every photograph is potentially significant and meaningful, but these heavily depend on the possibility of establishing a connection between the intended significance and the perceived significance. And it is also important who the photographer is, and the feelings of the viewers in respect to the photographer.
    [Sorry if I read confused and non-linear, but my ideas were hazy and maybe, maybe, they are becoming slightly clearer now]
  28. [​IMG]
    Luca, if vision is like this, then the part that *might* escape subjectivity would be that pointed to by the red arrow. But, given the nature of "aesthetics" and the needs of expression/communication, can we "cleanly" access that part of vision without having to transit the larger choice/memory/desires circle?
    If that "outer" sliver of the vision venn is the point at which the cookie hits the tongue, can/do we have that experience in common with others -- with the cookie hitting other tongues? If so, can we communicate (about) it, or do we just smile at one another? Yum! Or if Yum! is not unanimous, do we question the cookie or the tongue?
  29. Addendum: I meant to add that it's worth thinking about the kind of photography that most tries to limit the diversity of response of its viewers -- advertising/commercial photography -- and why and how your personal or artistic work is not like advertising/commercial photography. It's also interesting to think about how advertising/commercial photography specifically targets/manipulates subjectivity -- and actively downplays objectivity -- to its own ends.
    So, contrary to simple expectation, subjectivity does not necessarily mean diversity of response. It can be "worked" via emotional triggers to do just the opposite, yet that kind of narrowing of response seems to me to be resisted by art -- which seems to me to be toward dilation/expansion. Liberation not coercion.
  30. Luca - "Apart from the evident meaning of Newton's "They are coming","
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/490399846894444408/ if you're referring to that photo, what I see is a taller, blonde, and (therefore) prettier model in front of women who aren't therefore as 'white' as she and aren't chosen to be showcased by Newton in the way the taller blonde was showcased in that photo. But I doubt in 1981 Newton was speaking critically to the white supremacist contexts present in his work and written about more generally by Bell Hooks http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_hooks . So I don't think there is much hope of congruence between intended and perceived meanings. I see the image, whether intended to or not, as injuring subjectivities of people of color by reinforcing imperialist, white supremacist, patriarchal notions of female beauty and desirability, in the critical framework outlined by Ms. Hooks. Nor do I see Newton in that example as working in the critical tradition within photography.
  31. if Yum! is not unanimous, do we question the cookie or the tongue?​
    Without additional information, you might have to say "both". Notwithstanding the utopic appeal of your diagram, can we decouple vision from the rest? To obtain objectivity, do we not need a third phase or space on the diagram that might be described as "inscrutable objective criteria", a sort of comparator that would incite us to that ideal or condition?
    I like your notion of limiting the diversity of response of the viewer. As you mention, advertising can do that quite effectively, but can you think of anything more subjective than molding phenomenon or subject matter to fit a sales pitch?
    A simple non-dramartic photograph of a nail may generate a quite objective response. After all, a nail is a nail is a nail. There is always the possibility that some may think it is otherwise, but would they not be in the minority? In such cases, limiting the response may yield some universality of response and a leaning towards objectivity?
    "I think, therefore I am", is a well-known establishment of our personal reality. The "thinking" or thoughts can of course be quite subjective.
    "I doubt, therefore I am" is a modification I like and I think a step closer to objectivity. Doubting of one's response tends to show at least some intent to objectiveness. (But there is no guarantee of the result)
  32. Julie
    Luca, if vision is like this, then the part that *might* escape subjectivity would be that pointed to by the red arrow.​
    Yes, even if some would not agree. I would also say that the slice of objectivity can be considered more of an "interface" connecting with others.
    I would say that cookie meets tongue, the latter might also require another cookie after the first. I agree with Arthur, we need to question both the cookie and the tongue. The baker might have responsibilities, but also the tongue, with a more or less educated taste.
    I would also say that your diagram would require arrows with double-pointed ends indicating exchanges between all levels.
    You are right about advertising, and more in general in activities which try to create targeted reactions, and maybe spread specific "cultural patterns". Conveying an idea time and again may diffuse a universal belief.
    Awareness is the response. How widespread this is I honestly don't know.
  33. Arthur,
    do we not need a third phase or space on the diagram that might be described as "inscrutable objective criteria", a sort of comparator that would incite us to that ideal or condition?​
    Probably the inscrutable objective criteria are implicit in the diagram and in the potentially unlimited relationships between concepts and elements it embeds.
    PS "I doubt, therefore I am" is the form I like best, too.
  34. Charles,
    Nor do I see Newton in that example as working in the critical tradition within photography.​
    Neither do I.
    Newton's photo is only one of the four works I am referring to and I am honestly not interested in discussing Newton's aesthetics specifically. What I was referring to was the fact that the general presentation of full frontal nudes was not accepted necessarily at that time and that that might have been the implicit purpose of HN.
  35. Luca thanks for the clarification that HN was confronting norms at that time though my main point was that meanings aren't necessarily evident and I shared some of my thoughts about those less evident meanings. For the sake of clarification, I wasn't discussing Newton's aesthetics either. I was speaking to the significance in the space he created in the one and other three photo's and how I might, and others might (women v men, white v. people of color, Europeans v non-European), see that significant space differently in ways that aren't very evident, but nevertheless are arguable part of his photographic communication.
  36. Charles,<br>
    You make a point, confirming, it seems to me, the element of subjectivity in relation to photo.
  37. Me not really confirming subjectivity: sexism, class, race, privilege for example are objective with respect to the subjectivity of an individual, are learned from others, not innately subjective. Liking or disliking photographic full frontal nudity or noting its introduction into a time period: such exemplifies a fairly subjective way of viewing art; liking a naked body is innate, primal, as opposed to the contextual cultural layers I mentioned that are acquired from culture and form an implanted part of individual subjectivity. As others pointed out above it is difficult to separate objective from subjective.
  38. Charles,
    I was not referring to the subjectivity of the subject matter, but to the subjectivity of the reaction caused.
    I mean that viewing HN's picture made you associate it with sexism and with white predominance, I associated it with some breakthrough in current photographic moral judgements.
  39. I know, sure, but whose moral judgments? The thing is, if we examine ourselves as we examine a photograph, view ourselves viewing a photograph, certainly it is our own and others subjectivity that is there to examine. Although Julie has said that art, and is HN art?, trends toward liberation not coercion, dilation/expansion v narrowing: I think art also functions to coerce and close minds, functions to ask us not to expand at all. For example, art in ancient Roman culture: it's statuary comes to mind, and RN also celebrates values of the status quo by expanding its reach toward the lowest common denominator. I do think that although RN was a 'fashion' photographer, he was an artist performing on a commission much as many have done, celebrating their sponsors, working to close and narrow responses in the viewing public. So much for art as liberation when clearly it serves up the ideology of the status quo as well.
  40. With some reservation reg. meaning of world art and modern times tendencies, often quite unbriddled btw, I must say for personal self-expression of different kinds, I would rather disagree with suggestion that "art trends toward liberation ..." For the most part of human history the creation of art objects were very restricted to ritual and rational purposes of society. And in very controled way, too. For the most part it remains to be so even in our days Western cultural tradition imo.
  41. :)
    "Whose moral judgements?" The subjective moral judgements, which can become mainstream eventually, or remain isolated.
    I see a strong reciprocal contamination between Newton's creations and the fashion industry for which he worked, that paid him, and which he influenced.

    Art is also numbers: the number of individual thinking that it is art, or attributing an artistic (or monetary) value to a work.
    I visited Newton's museum in Berlin, and although I believe that there are a few strong iconic images, there were many images which bored me. On the other hand I was absolutely pleased with a Cartier-Bresson exhibition I recently saw, I could not get away.
    Isn't that subjective? Informed by my taste, culture, my aesthetic preferences? In the end I realise that, apart from a lot of snapshots I take, which have a value for me and for my "closed circle", the photographs which really represent me are of a very particular kind. But it took me nearly 40 years to find out. And some of the photographs which represent me I took 30 years ago without being aware of it.

    And the photographs which represent me are still criticised, taken apart by people I know. Recently one of these was appreciated, but criticised because the 2:3 ratio was not respected. What the hell shall I say. That the guy saying this missed the point? That he focused on a (irrelevant) detail instead of considering the overall visual message of the photo I proposed?
    No. It's me who has to know. Considering the picture against my purpose and against my background. Possibly also against the emotions I create, which still remain very subjective.

    When I mention "subjectivity" I mean that there are no universal rules accepted by all. Everybody can and will be criticised by somebody. In some cases mainstream photographers will not be simply because they are famous, but only in some cases.

    That is what I mean. The fashion world of Helmut Newton required his photographs, accepted his provocations and acknowledged him as a fashion artist. Nobody saw Vivian Maier's pictures before John Maloof got hold of them by chance, and now they are considered an iconic documentary of her times. William Eggleston was heavily criticised after John Szarkowski organised the show at MoMA, apparently Ansel Adams wrote a very severe letter. But still many, including me, consider Eggleston an artist.

    Honestly I contest the combination of subjectivity and closeness. There can be subjectivity and openness. Szarkowski subjectively decided to support Eggleston publicly. And the fact that the mainstream photographers of the time did not agree does not make Eggleston "objectively" a snapshooter.
  42. Ilia, can you give me a specific example of what you have in mind as "very restricted to ritual and rational purposes of society"? To my eye, religious and ritual art is intended as conduit or channel, and to condition or color your perception but not to "coerce" (as opposed to liberate as per my previous comment) "a" response. I don't think it's possible to coerce a particular response to the mystical or spiritual; by definition it is unknown or at least (far) exceeds the known. The icons or artwork is to serve as means (enabler) rather than a bracket of "what it is." It's supposed to be the aperture, the opening, the liberator into an unfamiliar or elevated or excited state, or out of the common condition, and so forth. As opposed to advertising/commercial photography which is for the "consumer"; directing your emotions toward a new car or a hamburger.
    Other than religious/ritual, is there a kind of "social" art that stands apart from those kinds?
  43. Luca, another way to approach the issue is if I were to comment that you might have a subjective reason for your view on subjectivity in photography itself. Likewise, I could say about myself that there may be a subjective reason for my having those views about the significance in the space RN created in those four photographs. Some might say of me that my view of RN's four photos is created in me by a sort of thinking usually referred to as 'sour grapes'. Sour grapes would have me envious of the photographer and my envy would cause me to not like the photo and find intellectual reasons for my dislike, like "That photo is sexist" could be viewed as the statement of a small, envious man. Or I might not like the photo because I haven't examined my comfort level with nudity, a subjective reason that would cast my views as those a person who won't self-reflect. Or I might say I don't like the photo when I really do like it, perhaps another motive behind my 'opinion' that would have been just plain dishonest. So 'subjective' can mean many things, but here I'm suggesting a meaning that has to do with human foibles and folly. With respect to our own photography, we can, especially when coming from people we know, find an insensitive viewer irksomely subjective???
  44. Charles,<br>
    One quick remark: I think that subjectivity is completely and absolutely legitimate. And, as I said before, I do not think it
    means "closed" or even isolated. Subjectivity can be the start, it can help finding the purpose, but I do not think it excludes the
    outside, even if some may infer this type of association.<br>
    And my view of subjectivity absolutely includes self-reflection. Self-reflection, but also confrontation with others I cannot do without.<br>
    Finally: yes, I have at least a partial subjective reason for my view on subjectivity in photography, but it is also founded on
    empirical observation, thus there is a tiny bit of "objectivity". ;-)
  45. Julie.
    "...to coerce a particular response to the mystical ... " it is very possible and that's what they basically do, imo but mostly creating the structure for individuals to adhere to, creating bonds and boundaries, if you like. The specific example can be anything of high culture of W. Europe starting from XI century and up to the middle of XVII cen. where it also started to develope along the humanist - cecular - intellectual trends in societies as they appeared, still very controled to the general needs and determined by actual possibilities. Practically, the whole of painting, sculpture, architecture and music of the time period was cultural instrument of power. The word art / artist started to apper in the second half of XVIII when enough of the audience became available. All the artists before then were not artists in modern sense of the word but a craftsmen with particular talent hired to do the job. I don't think the personal liberation as such was anyones concern at the times simply because there was no room, need or practical possibility for it. The idea of personal freedom aka free will -- of any kind started to appear only in XVII cen. on very top of societies among conceptual philosophers such as Descartes, Kant and so on. Took at least two centuries of work before enough people with enough baily bread started to appear just to think this way.
  46. Something came into my mind this morning: we photograph because it gives us pleasure.
    Pleasure is subjective, it is not positive or negative per se and it can be shared with others.
    That's what I mean when I speak about making or viewing photographs as a subjective activity.
  47. Ilia - "Practically, the whole of painting, sculpture, architecture and music of the time period was cultural instrument of power."
    Or to put it another way, art of that time period was chiefly an instrument of state power, serving the status quo. Evidence of change: Contrast 16th Century Cervantes to Song of Roland/Chivalric 'literature'. As to religion, liberation theology criticized as the politics of envy v. theology as buttressing state power and the status quo; or the differences in Christian traditions in antebellum South between slave owners and slaves. The antebellum Southern church I attended at times as a child had a balcony with a door that locked from the outside: the balcony used during slavery as pews for the slaves, locking them in. It would have been interesting to say the least to have listened to an antebellum sermon on Moses, where the same Bible passages would have conveyed a different lesson depending on whether you were locked in or sat below. So Ilia it may also be that art in 11th century may also have had multiple meanings to different viewers?
  48. Luca wrote: "we photograph because it gives us pleasure."
    Mmmm ... and much of the pleasure, much of what we seek in looking at photographs and in making them, is connections, communication, contact with others. Why does a 7 rating or an otherwise appreciative audience give so many people so much pleasure? Absent the possibility of such connections, do your photographs give pleasure? If you were the only man alive, how much pleasure would your pictures give you? (Imaginary companions are not allowed ...)
  49. ;-)
    Luca also wrote
    Pleasure is subjective, it is not positive or negative per se and it can be shared with others.​
    I am not sure where this implicit point on isolation comes from.
  50. Pleasure is a sensation.
  51. An isolated sensation?
  52. "An isolated sensation?" Yes. I have no way of sharing your sensations.
    Let me see if I can track the subjectivity strand out of the many that go into looking at a shared photograph.
    The 'looking/seeing' can give only private personal pleasure (like a much smaller, non-religious version of St. Augustine's "seeing" God). But the "telling" that the picture does, the showing, the conveying, the communicating, the sharing, goes to narrative, even if simply a "See!" with pointing finger. This can't be done via sensations, which inhere to the private person.
    However, there is still subjectivity in what is left out of the narrative proposal of the image, and I think a viewer is very aware of this. That the thing given, the picture has been selected, pruned, framed from ... and that "from" is the subjectivity of the "telling" of sharing. Not what's there, not the object that is a photograph, but what's not in the photograph. The structure of the selected presentation carries the subjectivity of the maker precisely because it is implicit, not explicit. The awareness of the subjectivity of the absent pressures what is present by the obvious awareness that it is different, it was chosen but it might not have been. As with narrative, the necessity provokes the interest.
    Circling back to compare to advertising/commercial (non-art) photography, I would claim that there is a visceral difference in what we feel to have been left out (anything other than driving intent?) of such pictures as compared to art or even snapshot photography.
    Ilia, we'll have to agree to disagree. To my mind, it seems you confuse means with ends. I agree that the means were often strictly delimited, but I think the ends to which those means were put in the minds of viewers were not targeted.
  53. Isn't this the same for any kind of art? The same questions are asked in painting, cinematography, sculpture etc.
  54. After playing with thoughts, I would like to introduce a refinement in this line of reasoning. What I actually refer to is the
    subjectivity of our relationship with photography.<br>
    Photography would not exist without people making it.<br>
    And it would probably not exist without somebody looking at it.<br>
    I do not know now if I should better say "a photograph" rather than "photography", but I would say that the concepts
    The photographer has a subjective relationship with the photographs, which involves many things including emotions.
    The viewer develops a subjective relationship with the photograph seen, also including emotions. These might be the
    same or different from the ones of the photographer.<br>
    There seems to be no other angle of view.<br>
    And, as far as I see, no argument supporting any objectivity in this relationship has come up.
  55. " ... no argument supporting any objectivity in this relationship has come up."
    Objectivity is the necessary starting assumption. Otherwise, you and I would have nothing to talk about. (This does not ever exclude degrees of subjectivity.)
  56. Luca, photography wouldn't exist without people doing photography, probably wouldn't exist without viewers, the concepts photograph and photography overlap, a photographer has a subjective relationship to the photographs involving many things including emotion, a viewer has a subjective relationship with a photograph including emotion either the same or different from the photographer. Agreed.
    However, an argument supporting any objectivity can begin with the following idea. When a photographer self-reflects, s/he is an object unto herself, treating herself as though her 'self' was like any other object, our own self capable of being observed objectively by our self just like any other objects that aren't our own self. When self-reflecting, we can compare our self to another's self, to both self's, one's own and another's, as objects. Likewise, when we view ourselves viewing a photograph, we are observing our own self just as much as we are observing the photograph. When we look at a photograph, we aren't looking at our self, we are looking at an object. When we view our own self as we view a photograph we are viewing an object, our self, as well. However, we can be just as subjective in our objective view of our self as we are with any other object. That subjectivity about how we objectively think of ourselves doesn't mean we aren't taking an objective view of our self, it means we can't really see our self as other's see us, try as we may, and we don't really know how close to an objective view we can achieve.
  57. "we can't really see our self as other's see us, try as we may, and we don't really know how close to an objective view we can achieve."​
    Charles, I didn't read your full argument carefully enough, but what you state makes sense, although I think I would prefer the following -
    "we can't really see our self as we really are, try as we may, and therefore we don't really know how close to an objective view we can achieve."
    That a number of others somehow possess the path to an objective view is not something I can readily accept. Everything has a certain degree of subjectivity. Objectivity is a word like truth. Approachable but not normally attainable, although the result can still be meaningful for us.
    That may lead to other questions or comments, but I must take leave from the OP as I have buried myself in some subjective assignments at present. I am copying the OP for reading at a later time.
  58. Arthur - "Everything has a certain degree of subjectivity."
    That's the rub.
  59. There is something related to the (subjective) perception, send reaction to, an image: the attraction threshold.
    The major part of photos do not pass our attraction threshold. We are not induced to watch, watch again, study, investigate, watch better, create our own understanding.
    The creator of a picture has an easier task. The subjective bond of the photographer to the image is the bond of creativity: this is related to the subject, the photographic process and all the contextual emotions, which come into play.
    A non-systematic empirical analysis, still based on a continuous observation, shows me that, in a world where we are overexposed to images, there are elements, which make a photo pass our attraction threshold. And they are all subjective.
    - Pictures "peak" us because of the notoriety of the photographer;
    - Because we know the photographer and our emotional bond to him/her (different from the previous one);
    - Because of our bond to the subject of the photograph;
    - Because the context presented by the photo moves us, be it for reasons relating to our personal sphere or reasons belonging to some kind of "collective perception";
    Each of us seems to have this type of threshold, which is subjective. This does not mean that there cannot be a collective subjectivity, still a cluster of multifaceted individual perceptions.
    And still it does not become objective.
    It seems to me, very much in the line of Arthur's statement.
  60. Luca,
    If I have a petri dish that contains two cultures and I apply the same antibiotic to both and one of the cultures dies because of that antibiotic while the other does not, what part of that different response is subjective?
    That "you" are different from "me" does not make all of our differences necessarily subjective. Nor are you and I somehow discontinuous from what we perceive; we are continuous with the world, not separate from it. We are of it and it is of us; we are made of/from it and it is made of/from us -- so "subjectivity" itself is not subjective. : )
    Perspective -- literal as well as from a life-history/condition "point-of-view" is, in many ways, 'objective,' even if you take it to mean all of the things listed in your most recent post (different "angles" of view on the same subject give different but nevertheless 'objective' readings).
    I think that response becomes subjective when the 'place' in which your view puts you, mentally, overwhelms, takes over, what you're looking at (Proust; the cookie gets overwhelmed by the memory).
  61. The subjectivity of the response of the culture resides in the subjective immunity response to the antibiotic, to which one culture is resistant and the other not.
    But we are no bacterial cultures, which are notoriously extremely simple living organisms, with yes/no responses.
    I have never denied your "continuity" concept. On the contrary, I think that photography is one of the realms where continuity and blur of borders are most prominent.
    The perspective becomes "objective" when observing from a "third" point of view, without a direct involvement in what we observe.
    You have a point here, yes. So a viewer is objective when s/he remains emotionally detached from what s/he sees. I just wonder whether the creator of the photographer can be emotionally detached from the creation. The mere fact that a photographer's attention has been drawn to make a picture, isn't that already an involvement with a subjective connotation.
    But the subjectivity of the viewer again kicks in when it comes to the connection of the viewer's background, whatever that means.
    So most comments or reactions to photographs we read around are simply due to the fact that
    • either the viewer tends to overwhelm what s/he looks at, projecting all their views into the the viewed object;
    • or the viewer is plainly incapable to go beyond per personal "place" of their view?
  62. The more interesting thing, for me, is where/when/if the blurring prevents communication. I don't mind (or don't worry about) the "bonus" places that people find in images, but it would bother me very much if I came to believe that we can't "locate" the common source of our provocations, and therefore feel that we are each, to each other, developing our/their ability to see (broadening their perspective(s) by uniting or adding to them with our own).
    [Luca, just in case your not sure, I'm not disagreeing with most of what you're saying.]
  63. When we view our own self as we view a photograph we are viewing an object, our self, as well. However, we can be just as subjective in our objective view of our self as we are with any other object. That subjectivity about how we objectively think of ourselves doesn't mean we aren't taking an objective view of our self, it means we can't really see our self as other's see us, try as we may, and we don't really know how close to an objective view we can achieve.​
    Ok, but i wonder whether there can be any objectivity in how we see ourselves, as others see us. i cannot be objective in how watch myself, I am not even objective in how I watch the photos I make.
    Simply because a photo is a two-dimensional slice of reality at a certain point in time.
    When I make a photograph, I start from a three-dimensional situation happening over time. I know the "before" and I know the "after". I know what is around, I know the scene as it evolves.
    The viewer doesn't: s/he just sees the two-dimensional slice.
    I am in advantage and also in disadvantage: because I know all about the photo, but also because I'm tied to it. As Julie has said before, the viewer is "objective" in respect to a photo when s/he has no emotional bond to it or to its subject.
    But when does it happen?
  64. Luca,
    Think of boats on the ocean, some in full sail, others at anchor; boats of all sizes and sail-configurations. There is a strong wind blowing. That each of the boats responds differently to that wind, whether it fills the sail(s) or drags at those which are moored, all of the boats can surely "know" that it is the wind which is affecting them. What configures their response (anchor, number of sails, boat design, etc. etc.) does not prevent a pretty good understanding/awareness of the qualities of the particular wind which is affecting them.
    Note that common understanding of the common wind does not require any pre-consciousness of what generated that wind (as parallel to your comment about two-dimensional having devolved from three-dimensional; this may be useful but it does not change the wind which is present now -- it blows and buffets all the same).
  65. Julie,
    According to your metaphor, the photograph is like the wind.
    And we do not ask how and where the wind comes from.
    But somehow I have the feeling that it does not fit completely. The wind is always the same, apart from the direction and the warmth or cold. It pushes and drags, but the effects of a photograph, it seems to me, go much beyond the mere pushing and dragging. Wind has a effect on the sails, but photos can have an effect on other elements than "sails".
    With the slice of time I mean something different: the amount of knowledge on a photograph.
  66. "But when does it happen?"
    Maybe when I laugh at myself.
  67. Might shed some light. Might not.
    Sartre, from Existentialism is a Humanism:
    "When we say that man is responsible for himself, we do not mean that man is responsible only for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men. . . . When we say that man chooses himself, we do mean that every one of us must choose himself; but by that we also mean that in choosing for himself he chooses for all men. For, in effect, all the actions a man may take in order to create himself as he wills to be, there is not one which is not creative at the same time, of an image of man such as he believes he ought to be. To choose between this or that is at the same time to affirm the value of that which is chosen. What we choose is always the better; and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for all. . . . Our responsibility is thus much greater than we had supposed, for it concerns mankind as a whole. . . . I am thus responsible for myself and for all men, and I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him to be. In fashioning myself I fashion man.

    "The subjectivity which we thus postulate is no narrowly individual subjectivism. It is not only one's own self one discovers in the cogito, but those of others too. Contrary to the philosophy of Descartes, contrary to that of Kant, when we say "I think" we are attaining to ourselves in the presence of the other, and we are just as certain of the other as we are of ourselves. Thus the man who discovers himself directly in the cogito also discovers all the others, and discovers them as the condition of his own existence. He recognizes that he cannot be anything (in the sense in which one says one is witty, or that one is wicked or jealous) unless others recognize him as such. I cannot obtain any truth about myself, except through the mediation of another. The other is indispensable to my existence, and equally so to any knowledge I can have of myself. Under these conditions, the intimate discovery of myself is at the same time the revelation of the other as a freedom which confronts mine, and which cannot think or will without doing so either for or against me. Thus, at once, we find ourselves in a world which is, let us say, that of "inter-subjectivity." It is in this world that man has to decide what he is and what others are.

    "Man is all the time outside of himself: it is in projecting and losing himself beyond himself that he makes man to exist; and it is by pursuing transcendent aims that he himself is able to exist. Since man is thus self-surpassing, and can grasp objects only in relation to his self-surpassing, he is himself the heart and center of his transcendence. . . . This relation of transcendence as constitutive of man (not in the sense that God is transcendent, but in the sense of self-surpassing) with subjectivity (in such a sense that man is not shut up in himself but forever present in a human universe)—it is this that we call existential humanism. . . . It is not by turning back upon himself, but always by seeking, beyond himself, an aim which is one of liberation, that man can realize himself as truly human."
  68. Luca, a question for you. Do you think that history is subjective? How does the communal narrative of a history mesh with your ideas of the subjectivity of perception?
  69. Julie,
    it seems to me that history in itself cannot be considered subjective or objective. The narration/description of history ... subjective. The simple fact that the narrating historian singles out the (intrinsically objective) historical facts to present the overall picture makes the presentation of historical facts subjective.
    I am recalling the negation theories of the holocaust, or the conspiracy theory of 9/11, and other.
    How do you relate it to our topic?
  70. If we have a photograph of Desdemona (from Shakespeare's play), at the beginning of the tragedy, Othello looks at the picture and sees his beloved wife. Near the end, he looks at the picture and sees a whore. At the end, he sees his recently deceased beloved wife. Iago looks at the picture and sees a pawn in his power play. Historically, however, what is in the picture -- all that is in the picture -- is a woman, daughter of so-and-so, married to so-and-so, who was murdered, etc. etc.
    The picture never changes; Othello's three versions and Iago's all originate from the sight of the face of a woman but those interpretations are off-camera; they are not "from" what is in the picture. Subjective interpretation of what is *in* the picture should be limited to interpretations of what *is* there such as facial characteristics (shape + form = beauty or not -- to you; as well as readings of body language). Subjective interpretations such as Proust's cookie = childhood are prompted or triggered by, are a different kind of subsequent/derivative personal reaction.
    Othello's and Iago's conception of Desdemona are not historical -- and I think are not particularly related to "the" picture they are looking at (any/all pictures of her would have had the same response/interpretation). It seems to me that the kind of prior-knowledge subjectivity that you have brought up is like that; it's not to do with the picture but with any/every reminder of a given subject/event/object. Which seems to me to be just normal/necessary conscious processing of ... everything.
    History tries to take that first level of what is there in the picture and carefully strip away the secondary off-camera associations. Historians will be the first to admit that this is ... difficult to do, but the difference between a justified claim attached to a picture and one that is a Proustian flight of memory can be sorted. I think most people can, if they have to, spot the difference (which is not to say that they think their interpretation is wrong; Othello killed Desdemona, after all).
  71. Fred,
    a question: does subjectivism go hand in hand with being closed towards the outside? With sticking to one's position exclusively and the unwillingness to start with oneself and to go beyond oneself?
  72. No. It doesn't. That's the point I tried to make for a little while much earlier in the thread. For me, subjectivism is problematic when viewed as "individual" and "personal", which is how you seem to approach it. I find it a much more workable concept as Sartre describes it.
    So, for instance, I'd say the "negation theory of the holocaust" is wrong, not subjective. The collective memory of the concentration camps, the pictures, the artifacts, etc. make it so.
    Again, though, I have no idea what the significance is of talking about one's opinion or whether one likes a photo as "subjective". Other than applying a word ("subjective") to those things, what are you getting at? You still have not answered that question.
    If you, too, believe the subjective goes beyond the self and is not closed toward the outside, then we don't disagree. The problem is your idea of starting with the self, and your emphasis of the individual and personal. I don't think history, our opinions, or our knowledge of photography starts with ourselves. Not at all.
    A lot starts with biology and inherited culture, long before we are a self. And a self is never a fixed thing. It is always becoming something else. It's very hard to pin it down.
  73. Luca, what I'm asking is this. If subjectivism goes along with the outside and with a willingness to go beyond oneself, what difference does it make that photography is "subjective"? What does its subjectivity affect?
    How does the subjectivity of photography affect a photo's being made?
    How does it affect a photo's being viewed?
    How does it affect symbolism in photos?
    How does it affect communication about photos?
    How does it affect what we might consider to be opinions as opposed to facts or truths?
    In order to answer these coherently, I'd expect there to be a different answer to them if we considered photography "objective" rather than subjective. What would that difference be?
    Example. You said this in the OP: "the interpretation is still bound to the individual and the subjective perception of the photographer"
    If subjectivity doesn't disregard universal or at least culturally understood aesthetics and if it is not closed to the outside, what you're saying seems to be that (rephrased) "the interpretation is still bound to the individual and the personal and cultural, inside and outside, individual and social perception of the photographer. So, my question is, what has using the word "subjective" provided us?
  74. Provided that I have understood Sartre's position correctly, I am in complete agreement with the osmosis between the self and the external environment and of the collective impacts, and the collective responsibilities of individual choices.
    And my position is that, yes, subjectivity goes beyond the self, and that yes, it is never a fixed thing.
    Maybe the "subjective approach" is just the superficial reaction to an image, related to the incapability of a deeper articulation of the thoughts the picture evokes, and the incapability to place it into a more universal context, beyond the mere individual perception.
  75. "the interpretation is still bound to the individual and the personal and cultural, inside and outside, individual and social perception of the photographer"​
    My, maybe unconscious, attempt might have been an exhortation to go beyond the "individual" dimension when considering photography. Trying to go beyond boundaries, trying to open up.
    Which is hard, which requires an effort to depart from the easy comfort zone of simply considering what one likes or dislikes.
  76. Fred,
    would your conclusion be that subjectivity and objectivity have no bearing on photography?
  77. Luca, for me it's not a conversation with a conclusion. It's more about stimulation to action. Subjective/objective is a dichotomy I generally find more paralyzing than provocative so I have set it aside in favor of a more holistic approach to life and photography. Any attempt to make them distinct from each other fails, so I don't. I had a great shoot the other day with a young man who I'd met for the first time. There was so much give and take, so many changes in the dynamics between us and in where the inspiration and ideas seemed to come from that I would be hard-pressed and wouldn't even try to determine what was subjective and what was objective, what was coming from my own history of experience and what was coming from his, whether I was infusing his bearing with my own aesthetic sensibility or whether he was responsible for creating my ideas and reactions. He changed me and I changed him and, together, we made the photos. The best I could do was give myself over to the chaos, the swirling void and not try to categorize or compartmentalize the differentiation of muse-like sources.
  78. Interesting. I think I see where you stand.<br>
    Will give it some further thought and try to place my "issue" under a different perspective.
  79. It seems to me that we are talking about different things, and probably my communication approach has created some misunderstanding.
    I did not mean to say that photography is subjective or objective in nature, and as a whole.
    What I intended to say that the human relation *to* photography is subjective.
    Maybe a tautology.

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