Photographs: Truths and Lies

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Norma Desmond, Mar 30, 2010.

  1. Photographs tell deep truths. They speak [metaphor] to us intimately. They can portray an expression or a gesture, a story or a moment that strikes within a core of feeling and/or thinking. We say to ourselves, "Yes, I know." "Yes, I've been there." "Yes, I get it." Or we just nod (or shake) our heads. A portrait has so much power that it can even elicit from sitters something newly learned about themselves. "I never saw myself quite that way, but it's so true, so me." Photo as revelation . . . to subject, to photographer, to viewer.
    And they lie. They don't quite accurately represent reality.* [By reality, I just mean what the photo is of, what the light was striking when the shutter clicked. Reality might be all in our heads, might be out there, might be fixed and immutable, might be ever-changing. It might even be a myth; there may be no such thing.] Sometimes they are downright fakes, in a perfectly good way.
    *This is on a continuum, some do much more than others. Forensic, photojournalistic, and documentary, among other types of photographs, would want to lie as little as possible, though any of these are capable of lying, and not in a value-neutral way.
    I have created some portraits out of whole cloth. My subject and I have created a look, a persona, set up a situation. Lighting can be providing the expression that seems to be coming from the subject. Color can be the gesture that gets interpreted as the subject's. Blur can give what the subject did not. Still, in these photos, there is often something genuine coming from the sitter. But that genuineness can be set up to portray something different than what it was like at the time. This is the wonderfulness of artificiality in making photographs. This is expressing not necessarily what would accurately reflect the moment of capture, but what will become the expression of the photograph. This is not the freezing of a memory. It is the creation of a future. In this way, the photograph may rely on its seeming (often considered illusion as opposed to reality in the history of Western philosophy) more than on what was.
    So, you get a truth, but not necessarily a truth that took place when the photo was shot. Sure, on the surface, the camera captured what was there. But, more deeply, it did not. If you're good and so inclined, it captured what was not there.
    That negation, that nothingness, can be a more significant truth.
  2. photos speak 1000 words. and the truth is one cannot read such long text. :)
  3. Fred,
    If I make one of my airy-fairy posts here at the beginning of your thread it will kill it before it even gets started so I will try to keep this very short.
    I would suggest that discussions of truth/lies are infinitely slippery and so it might be easier or more fruitful to talk about "new knowledge" -- what lies somewhere at the edge -- between the banal or what we know inside and out and are bored by, and noise/nonsense/nothingness. First, we would have to agree that there is such a thing as (meaningless) noise in a photograph (and we probably won't agree). Then at least we might know that what is interesting is what, as D.N. Rodowick describes as "art beyond knowledge, is also creation beyond information." Or, crudely, we're standing on the edge of meaning and *making/finding* knew knowledge (awareness?) out of the (previously) meaningless noise. Forming. By portraying or presenting things in a way which is contrary to what is expected/already known.
    One last mysterious quote from Thomas Merton (who was talking about religion; I am thinking of it as being about "truth" in images): "Faith means doubt. Faith is not the suppression of doubt. It is the overcoming of doubt, and you overcome doubt by going through it. The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a man of faith,"
    In other words (for my purposes), go into doubt; "break" the "known" -- a little or a lot -- in order to find or confirm or expand that known (faith/truth).
  4. I couldn't read past the first paragraph. Too bad there wasn't a question in it.
  5. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Fiction is lies that tell us the truth.
    I can make cars threaten a church by angling things right.
  6. If we confine ourselves to photos which were taken with a purpose then almost all of them have an agenda - to express what the photographer wants the photo to express. So, news photos show the politician as noble or stupid depending on the politics of the paper or TV station. Gossip columns are filled with shots of the glamorous being glamorous. Or to fill column inches they push the idol off the pedestal by showing them looking bedraggled and ordinary. Always an agenda.
    So to me photos perhaps don't so much tell deep truths or lies about the subject or even about myyself as about themotives of the photographer and their agenda. So when I see a portrait by Fred Goldsmith I don't ask myself, 'What deep truth is expressed here?' but more likely, 'I wonder why Fred wanted to shoot it like that?'
    Or do those two questions tend to the same answer?
  7. To view it non-dualistically ( The Truth ), the only difference between a truth and a lie is that they are simply two ways of looking at one thing. In a photograph the truth is always evidenced through that what is photographed, even though what's evidenced ( the photograph as a document ) may be a lie. And also the truth may be suggested in a photograph, certain ideas being triggered by that which is evidenced ; by the subject that is being photographed and the way it is photographed. Those ideas will flourish by use of imagination, which is neither lie nor truth >> = always elusive.
    but what will become the expression of the photograph​
    I like that, the expression of the photograph. I photographed a friend not too long ago, she didn't liked the way she looked in the pictures. Maybe I photographed myself a bit too much through her ( I think I did, couldn't help myself not to ), and the balance between subject/photographer became unbalanced. I should have told her that it was not about her, not about me, but about the expression of the photograph.
  8. It seems not so constructive to talk about a photographer's ability to tell "a" truth (I use quotes, there, because I dislike the constructs built atop the shaky notion that A is not A) without first making at least a minor side trip to assign meaning to the word "truth."

    Fred: would you, please?
  9. Umesh, thanks for bringing up that good old saw, "a picture is worth 1000 words." I know you're being tongue-in-cheek, but I will say that reading or writing 1000 words of text never was difficult for me. ;)))
    Julie, for me, photography, philosophy, and discussions about photography are slippery. I want them to be slippery. That's part of the reason I approached this post as I did. And whatever terms responders such as yourself choose to put their thoughts in are fine with me. I often frame my thoughts in these discussions in such a way as to leave things open enough for personal interpretations to flourish and creativity of the other posters to thrive. That you've come up with "new knowledge" as an alternative is part of the reason I participate here. You open my eyes a little. My own difference with how I read your post is your emphasis on knowledge. The way I, at least, use "truth" here is as much in terms of an emotional depth and recognition as a conceptual one. Now go get all airy fairy on us. We can handle it!
    Craig, oh, Craig.
    Rebecca, we seem to be on the same page.
    Colin, I agree with you . . . to an extent. I am often aware that a photograph is telling me more about the perspective (which is often an "agenda" but often more benign) of the photographer than a "truth," as it were. But that more often seems to come to me in an analytical stage. I guess I would feel that if I were constantly aware of photos of a particular photographer being just their perspective or agenda, especially on my first gut reaction, I might consider them not as effective photographers as when the photographs really seem to have a ring of truth to me, a more universally-applicable emotional or conceptual quality (which can still be quite personal). So, if most people reacted as you do (and if I reacted as you do) to my photos, I'd begin to question myself. Or I might simply question the way you relate to them. I think one can feel the presence of a personal perspective while also reaching beyond that perspective to a more all-encompassing place . . . transcendence.
    Phylo, good point about them being two ways of looking at one thing. I can relate. And, thanks, I've long been considering how different the photograph is from the moment, how different a facial expression is from a photographic facial expression, and how differently light affects me from how photographic light affects me. I think you're using "expression of the photograph" as coming from a different perspective than either the subject or the photographer. And that's part of what I'm getting at in my response to Colin.
    Matt, sorry, no. A definition of truth would be a philosophical post in itself, a lengthy and potentially unwieldy conversation, and would likely get us far afield from photographs. Rather than begin with definitions (which, I think, can be a bad way to start, because it attempts to fix a discussion . . . though admittedly there have been times I've done it for one reason or another . . . but with a word like "truth," I think not), I'd rather work toward constructing the thread. Rather than "define" truth, let's just discuss our usages of it relative to photography. I feel I've put enough out in the OP to give a sense of what I'm talking about and to leave enough room for the experiences and insights of others to flesh out helpful and significant ways of talking about these matters.
  10. I think most photographs have more affirmation than negation. Just my perspective as curious viewer.
  11. Fred, I derailed from your thesis at your first sentence (I say thesis but really intend postulate, as a thesis requires an unequivocal equation capable of being turned at some point into a law)
    "Photographs tell deep truths."
    Why should we assume that? It is infinitely easier to distinguish photographs that tell lies, but "deep truths"? I know none. I do know photographs that communicate what the artist is intending and even sometimes not intending. I know others that speak to elements of beauty or surprise or anguish or hope or despair, and so on. These are not "deep truths" but simply images of some significance and which contain values of a particular observer/creator, the artist, or on the other hand, of the perceiver /viewer.
    Philosophy is perhaps a search for truths, but not a conveyor of them. Paintings, photographs, writings, music, sculpture, dance and architecture are also explorations of values and communication which are hardly ever, perhaps never, what you refer to as deep truths. For me it is not the question of "getting a truth", but simply communicating via a photograph or series of photographs a value or some combination thereof. For the honest and sincere practitioner, his works might well exprees his values and be devoid of lies, for him, but not examples of deep truths.
  12. Umesh: Fred is delightfully wordy, and rhapsodizes, sometimes eloquently, about himself. To you and Craig, here's advice: If the PN-format "question" isn't in the first paragraph, and your attention span is straining, race down to the last one. It's usually never in the middle.
    Fred: " I will say that reading or writing 1000 words of text never was difficult for me. ;)))"
    Speaking of Deep Truths...:)
    Julie: Photography, philosophy, and discussions about photography are diverse and often difficult. Julie knows this better than most of us. I read Julie's "new knowledge"and her intensely personal voyage of self-discovery as a kind of Neo-Gnosis. It's not something that I put nearly that much emphasis on, but I engage in it, and find Julie's challenging thoughts, teases and scoldings like being in a saltwater taffy machine. When I emerge, I'm looser and sweeter!
    Rebecca, we almost never seem to be on the same page, but I read every word and think about what you have to say.
    Colin, In life, we simultaneously inhabit multiple levels of existence in everything we do. I agree with you, but think there's much more.
    Phylo, Thanks for often refining and clarifying ideas expressed here, and for making fine discriminations, without always defaulting to lecturing about your own work or making it too personal.
    Dana, I agree with you from the angle of Robert Adams (as found in his excellent small book, Why We Photograph). Whatever else it may be, most photography is an affirmation of life.
    Arthur By calmly and gently calling us out on our assumptions and other matters, you keep us on an even keel and ground us (without tying us down).
    Some people lie, some tell the truth. Photographers are people, therefore some photographers lie, some tell the truth. Photographs as media can carry these energies. Photographs per se, can neither lie nor tell the truth. They can only transform.
  13. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    As human beings, we seem to live in a permanent tension between what we want and what other people want (the poor old guy who wanted women in high heels and short skirts probably never considered that the appeal of what heels do to calf muscles is to show allusions to orgasm).
    Our fantasies have to avoid killing us directly (Ghost Dancers or any other belief system that says it can protect against bullets and other projectiles). If the fantasies make our lives more bearable, they're as much truths as anything as cruel as physical limits on elephants stumbling in the dark.
    I don't even think photographs can transform -- and we haven't considered film where the light is dotted on with something like a laser, or people who can write jpeg code. We let art impact us or not depending on the social systems we subscribe to, which are fine as long as they serve us. It's always our decision to see or not see, and to even imagine what's not really necessarily there (see accounts of wine tastings and the self-deceptions that can be actually measured).
    If the reality of the photograph, or any art, is in our mental agility to find meaning, does this matter?
    (I think there's always at least some projection in art, but it doesn't explain everything).
  14. A definition of truth would be a philosophical post in itself, a lengthy and potentially unwieldy conversation, and would likely get us far afield from photographs.​
    philosophy, when you get down to it, deals with the meaning of life. As soon as one understands there is no meaning to life one can propose anything ;-)
    Truth in photography at its best is a fluid concept. You frame it and as such create your own "truth". Phylo perhaps said it best: "Maybe I photographed myself a bit too much through her"

    In that context there is neither truth nor lie in photography.
  15. Dana, I understand that perspective and appreciate your sharing it.
    Arthur, we shouldn't assume it. I stated it and it's how I was thinking. I didn't intend it as a thesis, didn't intend it as something to be proved or assumed . . . just a starting point for where I was going. I like hearing how you think of photography.
    Luis, for me these forums are about me, my work, how my thinking relates to my work, and it's about others' ideas and the relationship of those to their work. I assume that, for you, they are about more than me.
    Rebecca, you lost me on this one.
    Ton, truth has fluidity, yes, and not just in photography. Frame is important both to photography and truth. I don't see truth as only my own, photographically or otherwise. I think truths are shared.
  16. Please don't leave point of view out of all this. Consider the gymnast performing a floor routine. She is able to observe her surroundings through the entire sequence of twists, jumps and flips. At the end she has an entire sequence of points of view that can be guaranteed to be different from anything spectators in the galleries saw.
    Each point of view is selective. It has an orientation and a focus. They are all true in the sense that viewer is not fabricating any of her experience. But there's a certain arbitrariness about them. You can't see everything at once, especially with a limiting device such as a camera to filter what you see. What's more, everything is in motion at the same time. So point of view is a way for the mind to simplify things for an instant to get a better grasp on them. But they keep on moving just the same.
    Turning something over in a mind. Flips and turns. Selective visual judgement. The equipment is neutral. Post-processing for many is inevitable. The point of view is the thing. As soon as you think you know what something is, why it's something else!
    Perhaps Fred really does see the unseen life beneath the surface of his subjects in his photographs. This would feel pretty amazing when it happens. I'm afraid I'm pretty ordinary when it comes to this sort of thing. When I look out over the ocean I don't see the whales swimming way under the surface except in my imagination.
    Things like "reality" and "truth" suggest a certainty about things I think of as mostly unfounded. It suggests an insensitivity to detail and complexity that inevitably leads more to confusion than anything else. As soon as you start talking about the truth beneath the surface, you assert that you have at your disposal an awfully good, just about dead-on, explanation for what it is all about. Truth doesn't do anyone much good without a good story that you actually believe to support it.
    So what is the truth found in the sitter's eyes? How can you tell? How do you tell a viewer, a stranger as it were, what you mean? If it's hard to figure out what truth a photo conveys to you, how much harder is it to figure out what the part that was left out might have done?
  17. Albert,
    But some pictures are good or better or .... something more, more, more than others. What might that "more" be? Because we here on are spending enormous amounts of time (threads, critiques, galleries; wars!) trying to find that "more." To your "How can ... How do ... It's hard ... " ending paragraph, yes! Exactly!
    I think Roland Barthes on myths (from his collection, Mythologies (1957) is relevant to lies/truth because myths may be just the kind of lies that Fred is interested in turning inside out. (Quote-haters, don't look below!) He's talking about "myth" in the sense of socially assumed truths -- not of fantasies.
    ... Myth hides nothing and flaunts nothing: it distorts; myth is neither a lie nor a confession: it is an inflexion.
    ... The function of myth is to empty reality: it is, literally, a ceaseless flowing out, a haemorrhage, or perhaps an evaporation, in short a perceptible absence.
    ... every day and everywhere, man is stopped by myths, referred by them to this motionless prototype which lives in his place, stifles him in the manner of a huge internal parasite and assigns to his activity the narrow limits within which he is allowed to suffer without upsetting the world: bourgeois pesudo-pysis is in the fullest sense a prohibition for man against inventing himself. Myths are nothing but this ceaseless, untiring solicitation, this insidious and inflexible demand that all men recognize themselves in this image, eternal yet bearing a date, which was built of them one day as if for all time.
    ... Myth is a value, truth is no guarantee for it; nothing prevents it from being a perpetual alibi; it is enough that its signifier has two sides for it always to have an 'elsewhere' at its disposal. The meaning is always there to present the form; the form is always there to outdistance the meaning. And there never is any contradiction, conflict, or split between the meaning and the form: they are never at the same place. ... in the mythical signifier, its form is empty but present, its meaning absent but full.​
    Luis: "It's not something that I put nearly that much emphasis on ... " Slacker! [*snapping my bullwhip*]
  18. Also, I meant to say in the previous:
    The biggest liar of all -- the most common, the most subversive (we look right through it; it gets in undetected), and often the most unintentional -- is color.
  19. ---the only difference between a truth and a lie is that they are simply two ways of looking at one thing.​
    That's only what the guy who doesn't benefit from the truth will say. There is only 1 truth and EVERYTHING else is a lie. I will concede that we humans propose mostly opinions ... some closer to, others further from the Truth.
    But let's quit pretending that "calling" a fish a bird makes them a bird. It makes us a liar. And it makes those who believe us fools.
  20. Calling a fish a bird is not anymore a lie as calling a fish a fish is the truth, both are simply descriptions and constructs of language which we use to point to the world around us and accept or don't accept as such.The universe, reality, is not involved in dualisms and notions of truth and lie, good and evil,.... Those are concepts and chains of language.
    There is only 1 truth and EVERYTHING else is a lie.​
    There is only ONE. The opposites we create in it are labels, different ways of looking at and pointing to that one thing.
  21. I think it's fair to say that Thomas's fish/bird example wasn't about the use of the labels, but rather about actually representing a fish as a bird (regardless of the words you use). Implying that something is what it is not ... that's not the truth at work. There are two flavors of this: ignorance/mistake, and deliberate deception.

    As you point out, Phylo, the universe doesn't really give a damn one way or the other. It just is. People can communicate about the universe - through prose, photography, potato carvings, whatever - all they want, and say anything they want. Asserting a false reality doesn't change the real one, and misrepresenting reality (through ignorance or malice) doesn't change it either. Though it might change one's relationship with the audience to whom one's communicating.

    The notion of "different truths" has always seemed silly on the face of it. 2 + 2 will continue to equal 4 regardless of one's personal take on it. A bird is a bird, whether or not you use the word "fish" to describe it.

    I find that people deploy the word "truth" - as it's used in the context of this thread - as a sort of pre-emptive maneuver to disarm another's possible questioning of their earnestness or coherence of the premises used to construct their world view. Earnestly selling the notion of multiple truths (multiple realities) means adopting a fantasy world view, where reality is maleable, and facts are subject to magic or mere whim.

    This has nothing to do with the wildly different conclusions about what some aspect of reality means, in the context of a given person's life. Take a stew of facts (say, the reality of someone's age, appearance, place, circumstance, and a thousand other little details) and freeze them in a two-dimensional photograph. Every viewer, asked to derive some "truth" from that photograph will, mentally, start constructing a back story, a context, and some future possibilities based on what they see. An artist may use visual symbols and other tools to shape and steer that process, at least for viewers that share the same visual vocabulary.

    They (the audience) will go through that process in the context of their own experiences, and may feel quite solid in their conclusions. It's too complex a task, and too contextual a one, to expect any two people to land in the same place as viewers of the photograph. But that doesn't mean there are two truths, only that there are too many variables and possibilities to bother using that word at all, in such a way. Just because something resonates between artist and audience doesn't make true what has been communicated. We can speak about the reality of that experience, but that isn't the same as measuring the reality (or bearing on reality) of what was communicated.
  22. My feelings about truth is that it does not (and probably will not) exist, only our humble approximations to it and subjective evaluations of it. The search for truth, whether in a photograph or elsewhere, is a noble or at very least worthwhile pursuit. I applaud Fred for searching for that in his work. I think we are really only showing at best our personal values and emotions. In respect to reality, truth and portraiture, some of the more challenging thoughts I have read on the subject belong to the deceased French philosopher Barthes, when speaking to portraiture and other photographic realisations in his "Camera Lucida".
  23. Albert: I agree that POV is critical in many respects. Photographs, if nothing else, describe coordinates for the observer and the observed.
    Phylo: "There is only ONE."
    OK, I'll bite...what is it? And how do you know that?
    Fred: "Luis, for me these forums are about me, my work, how my thinking relates to my work, and it's about others' ideas and the relationship of those to their work. I assume that, for you, they are about more than me."
    Relax, Fred, I know all that, and you ought to know by now that I specially enjoy reading your Super-sized posts. Whether you know it or not, you're a natural at branding, and that's a compliment. I still can't understand how you can rule out decision-making for God(s), though.
    Julie: "The biggest liar of all -- the most common, the most subversive (we look right through it; it gets in undetected), and often the most unintentional -- is color."
    It doesn't fib, our perception of it is relational, not absolute. As to the looking through it and detecting part, for any artist, the hardest thing is to see the things we're desensitized to. The things under our noses.
    [Bullwhip? At least you chose the right tool for the job, linguistically speaking.]
    Matt: Being a tiny subset of the universe, information-theory-wise I can't know with much resolution if it gives a damn or not.
    Arthur: In agreement with most of that last post, but truth, like any strange attractant or muse of human attention & imagination, helps to motivate people to get work done. Much like the grain of sand at the core of every pearl.
  24. Albert, thanks for re-emphasizing perspective. It's significant to photographing and framing. I'm struck by your use of camera as "limiting device," yet simultaneously want to reject it in favor of "freeing device." I see the camera and frame as having two roles: 1) walling off, separating the scene seen through the lens from the rest of the world, isolating the photo to be observed; it is a perspective, 2) the creation of a new world, with limitless possibilities. And, yes, what happens when I'm making some photographs and shooting some subjects does feel amazing, really like no other feeling I have. The reason I was hesitant about Julie's emphasis on knowledge is because photographic truth to me doesn't have to do, as you have suggested, with "explanation." It has to do with seeing. I agree wholeheartedly with the story part of your description of photography and truth. As for the stranger, I don't tell her what I mean. I show her the photograph.
    Julie, I'll leave you to defend your observations about color, though I like the spirit of what you're saying. For now, though, I seem to have enough on my plate. LOL. Barthe's insightful use of the word "alibi" is helpful. A good photographic experience, for me, whether from the making or viewing point of view, will free me of previous dependencies, will undercut my excuses, dare I say "rock my world." Not only will special photos do that for me, but taking up photography seriously has done a number on the myths and assumptions I've lived by.
    Thomas, you've got me hooked! 1 truth. Now spill it.
    Phylo, though it's not my way of thinking, I like how you edited "There is only 1 truth" into "There is only ONE." It's crafty and meaningful, both visually and conceptually.
    I thank you for catching the dualisms, which I usually prefer to avoid. By way of excuse, I'll say that posing the dualism was a starting point. But you can look to Julie's notion of myth to see a little disingenuousness in that alibi. Our language is built around dualisms and it's hard to shake them but I think ultimately truth and lie folds in upon itself. Preliminarily, however, and in terms we're used to, I still think it's OK to use them somewhat dialectically remembering that they will be changed as we approach the finish line (that really isn't a finish line at all).
    Matt, you say, "Implying that something is what it is not ... that's not the truth at work." I agree. That's what started me off: that I don't imply that the photograph is the moment of shooting, that I don't imply that the facial expression in the photograph is the facial expression of the subject at the time of shooting, that I don't imply that the framed gesture or framed lighting is the gesture or lighting that existed at some other time and in some other place. That, for me, what's true of a photograph is not necessarily what was true of that reality through which the photograph was created, though those two worlds have a key relationship. ["the expression of the photograph" ]
    2 + 2 is never the complete truth without asserting which mathematics, particularly which measurement scale, one is using. It must always be qualified, even if that qualification isn't stated out loud, but rather silently assumed. Every truth assumes a context within which it's true.
    I learned a while back not to worry too much about the motives behind what people were saying here. Understanding, deconstructing, learning from, and challenging people's ideas gives me plenty of meat without what would usually for me be guessing at why they said what they said.
    Getting back to thoughts, however, you are right, I do think reality is malleable. That's a great word for it.
    I love your description of the photographer and all the viewers seeing the photograph. If that doesn't describe reality, what does? What's left out of your description that would be the supposedly one real description that would defy all the malleability? Who gets to know and use that description? You claim that multiple notions of truth is some kind of magic, some kind of subversive maneuver (and I'm by no means unwilling to make subversive maneuvers). If, from your graphic description of the viewers and the photograph they are all seeing differently, you can't extract the "real" and "true" description, what good is your assumption of one reality or one truth? Why is your non-description any less magical?
    Arthur, the search, big smile. I talked to Phylo about the finish line but it's not as important as running the race. Since my days of being a reckless college student in the early 70s, earnestly trampling on as many myths as I could, I've had a little pink postcard either on my desk or my bookshelf that reads: "I have abandoned my search for truth and am now looking for a good fantasy."
  25. Luis, we were writing simultaneously (my posts take a while to think through, so it happens a lot -- LOL) so I haven't fully absorbed what you said but appreciate your followup. I get a little self-conscious (at best, self aware) sometimes. It's tough when you put yourself in the hot seat of initiating a thread. You become a bit of a target. As you surmise, not a position that doesn't suit me on many levels, but still sometimes a bit tricky to wade through. Everyone should try it.
  26. Thomas, you've got me hooked! 1 truth. Now spill it​
    Matt said it well. What I was trying to say is that I believe that there is an absolute TRUE in every situation. Whether we arrive at a consensus label doesn't change TRUE.
    Let's try an analogy (e.g. A man named Tom stole Mrs. Smiths Purse). That is the 1 TRUTH.
    Now lawyers, media, and certain other "non-truthers" may want to discuss Tom's upbringing, his previous behavior, what a pain Mrs Smith is, or that she has enough money not to care that some was stolen. We can argue whether a witness can ever be certain that they can trust their own eyes, or whether Tom ever planned to return the purse, making this only a case "forced" borrowing. We can line up more people who believe Tom than Mrs. Smith, and we can select a jury who will err in judgement or sympathy toward Tom, declaring him "not guilty".
    In the end, Tom stole Mrs. Smith's purse.
    If we mistakingly decide to declare that there is no truth, or that it is too hard to derive ... we are lost. Mainly, we simply need to be willing to have an honest conversation.
  27. "Mainly, we simply need to be willing to have an honest conversation." --Thomas
    Thomas, I'm with you on this all the way. On the rest, we differ. I actually think that when we declare there is one absolute truth, we are lost, lost in a non-meaningful ideal world, lost in supposing there is a reality without context, lost in the statement, "Tom stole Mrs. Smith's purse," which is meaningful insofar as all the interpretations, including yours, that it describes but meaningless without the interpretations that give it meaning. I don't think meaning is something that exists independent of those of us, individually or as a community, that give it meaning.
    There is a difference between lawyers and media who manipulate the facts in order to deceive or advance an agenda and those philosophers or photographers who genuinely have studied and considered notions of Truth and find it not to be absolute. I guess if I were cynical, I'd attribute such an agenda to philosophers as well, but I think some of them are sincerely searching for ways of describing or showing the world which they find useful and effective. The idea that there is no foundational certainty or absolute truth is not a new one, a tangential one, or one that I would dismiss lightly, any more than I would lightly dismiss those, like yourself, who think of truth differently. There are many contemporary and past great thinkers who do believe in an absolute correspondence between facts and reality. I respect them and learn from them.
    Philosophers who disagree about such matters have been having that honest and, more importantly to me, genuine conversation for centuries, from the time even before Plato when Pythagoras was asserting the absoluteness and oneness of the world while Heraclitus was telling us it was in a constant state of flux . . . "You cannot step into the same river twice." Pythagoras might be said to have emphasized the importance of "sameness" of that river. Heraclitus might be said to have emphasized the difference of that sameness at any given step.
    My concern for the thread, as I originally expressed to Matt, is that the subject of Truth in the abstract takes us away from photography. I used it to talk personally about how I make and view photographs. It is truth as relates to photographs that I'm concerned with. Something I've noticed that is related to what I've been talking about since my first post is that people tend to "mistake" the photograph for what was photographed. I hear people talking about their own photos sometimes as if they automatically assume that what was there at the time of shooting is "magically" in the photograph, because it was there. I don't think that's the case. I think many things in the photograph are very different from what was there at the time. And I think many photographers fool themselves into thinking they don't have to often be proactive and creative in getting what they felt was there at the time to actually be in the photograph.
  28. I think that photography and Art in general lend themselves to this discussion well. While I believe in truth ... I also believe that people get bound up in discussions about opinion matters where "truth" is irrelevant (e.g. Beauty, aesthetics, emotion). I think we can agree that, whether or not you believe in truth, people vary quite widely on their perceptions.
    I think the bias of the photographer is a huge factor in selection of subject, composition, presentation, processing, and selection. Your bias as a human has determined ... prior to even hitting the shutter ... what you find interesting enough to photo and the angle that attracts you. As viewers, we are powerless to escape your decisions.
    Turn about is fair play. Once you post your work for me, now you are powerless over my perception. If your subject and presentation don't resonate, I may find your work irrelevant or even failed.
    Photographs tell deep truths.​
    I think photographs are photographs. That is their truth. Whether or not any message is conveyed is not assured, much less the "truth" the artist intended.
  29. I agree that the perspective/bias/prejudice (subtle differences among them, all applying to varying degrees with different photographers and at various times) is a huge factor, as is taste.
    I like the opposition, even seeming contradiction, you bring into the mix between viewers being powerless to escape my photographic decisions yet also my being powerless over their perceptions. [I'd like to finesse that last word in just a second.]
    And certainly whether and what message is conveyed is not assured.
    Now, though a photo of mine takes on a life of its own once I display it, I don't abrogate my responsibility for the photo and I don't deny my part in some aspects of the response. I actually think I am responsible for your perception, even to an extent your immediate response, much less so for your subsequent reaction. If perception is a reception of stimuli in some sense, I think viewers will be receiving those same stimuli. I sense that many respond immediately in a similar manner. Some will feel good about that response, some will not like that response, some will have very different associations with these perceptions. Their reactions (liking, disliking, being afraid, sensing beauty, feeling mystery, feeling awe, feeling let down, seeing pain, seeing sadness) will be very personal and may vary widely. But, though these reactions are really not under much of my control as photographer, I think perceptions and immediate responses may be more within the photographer's purview.
    This is why painters study how light works and how the eye is led by it. This is why I have watched people's expressions and gestures so carefully and pay so much attention to them when I am photographing. Painters want, in so many cases, viewers' eyes to move a particular way through and around the canvas. Visual artists and craftspeople study texture and composition not just for some abstract notion of beauty, but because these things affect people and, within at least a similar cultural milieu, can be somewhat predictable. It's why symbols are symbols. Because we come to count on certain things. It's why irony can work, why a photo can be humorous, why a painting can risk being laden with pathos. Because the artist can plan, can anticipate, can rely on . . . sometimes if only to undermine the expectations, often the purview of a good artist.
    I think message and interpretation often are secondary (not less important but less immediate) to perception, response, and reaction. I find much more difference in people's interpretations of my work than I do in their perceptions of the work or the responses to it. Their reactions, what they make of those responses, start varying quite a bit. Their interpretations, which seem to follow all of that, then start breaking in a lot of different directions. Sometimes, though, even with widely varying interpretations, there are enough similarities in some of the basic things they say about a photo, that I sense my voice even in their words.
    I'm not a control freak and don't want to maintain anything like strict control over my viewers. I love when imaginations wander. But I also don't want to relieve myself of my vision, my impact, or my responsibility.
  30. One man's truth is another man's lie. Even when it comes to defining whether there is one truth or not.
    I think "point of view" is really the interesting subject (or maybe even the actual subject) here. It's inherently photographical, but it also applies to the amount of 'reality', 'fakeness' etc. that can be communicated through a photograph, and that can be perceived from it. Matt described it very well, in my opinion. Whether there are or are not 2 truths as a result of different perceptions can be an interesting debate, though such discussions tend to lead to very absolute statements. Which usually kills of discussion instantly.
    But it does leave the notion that the photograph, the photographer's intention, the viewer and his/her experience, cultural background, personal interpretations and so on, define the photo as much as what is shown in that photo (and what not). Intention and perception are not necessarily aligned.
    For me, a nice revealing example was a photo used on the cover of a Dutch book. The book is about the differences between normal media coverage of the Middle East in western Europe, and the experience of living there. This photo draws a nice parallel.
    The photo might be a single object, but what it represents to both its creator and the viewers of it is not a truth, or a lie; it's a personal experience, coloured, dynamic, biased, skewed and garnished with who we are at that time. So a photo can speak a deep truth, and lie. Within the same photo.
    Fred, I see we posted at the same time and partially touching the same points.
    Apologies to all for doubling here and there.
  31. I've been thinking about Thomas Powell's:
    "But let's quit pretending that "calling" a fish a bird makes them a bird. It makes us a liar. And it makes those who believe us fools."​
    I know it's been sorted out with Thomas, but I like thinking about it. Because in photography, "calling" a fish a fish doesn't even make it a fish. It has to be the right fish in the right place at the right time with the right expression on its face. Even for the quickest of quick snapshots, the photographer has to do that photographer thing where they go just a schootch this way or that, maybe hunch down a little, then wait ... and fuss ... and then do it again a little bit to the left. Evidently there are a whole lot of fish that aren't fish until they say cheese.
  32. jtk


    "...the subject of Truth in the abstract takes us away from photography. I used it to talk personally about how I make and view photographs. It is truth as relates to photographs that I'm concerned with. " - Fred G
    It seems to me that reliance on words like "truth", while intentionally avoiding agreed-upon meaning, is deceptive...may be intended as blown smoke. Baffles em' with BS rather than learning what they mutually experience.
    If "truth" only has meaning for the person who emits the sound it effectively stops being a word: It becomes a mere self-satisfying noise. I think that'd be a sad outcome for a fine old concept. be useful, words need shared utility: they have no value or consequence if their meaning is significantly personal (especially when it's admittedly non-standard). Words without value or consequence are at best hot air, and at worst are deceptive tools.
    The virtue of "significant" (another of Fred's words) is that it can be tested (unlike his "truth"). If others, especially strangers, fail to respond to our images (heightened pulse, grabbed attention etc), they may not be significant images. Truth is harder to ascertain.
  33. Fred's generalization of truth in his original post was neither deceptive, hot air, BS, or any of the other insulting terms John used to describe it. In my opinion, it was carefully and wisely considered. Many want to get hung up on a specific, consensual definition, and that, as Fred foresaw, ends up becoming the discussion.
    In my opinion, Fred was trying to get the forum members discussing at least two things: One, about the medium conveying what truth (or lack of it) the photographer intended, two, about the intrinsic truth-telling abilities of the medium itself.
    Poetry, literature and the visual arts, tend to be about generalized truths, unlike non-art representations, which are always about particularized, very specific, literal truth. The kind found in receipts, telegrams, owner's manuals, drivers' licenses, etc.
  34. I propose a test. Perhaps, given the vasty - if dusty - expanses of the English language, Fred can convey the same thesis as his original text while using some other word in place of "truth." If, indeed, we shouldn't worry about what a word means, it can't be a very important word at all. If the word - or whatever word is used in its place - is central to the conversation but too troublesome to define, how about using a different word that isn't so freighted with expectation?

    "Truth" connotes fidelity and actuality. It seems particularly ironic to waive off worrying about it actually means while also placing it at the heart of the discussion.
  35. Of course Roland Barthes is wrong about myths and myth-making. He doesn't seem to understand that there is a basic mental process at work in myth-making and truth-seeking that simplifies and explains the overwhelming detail in our lives. We ignore most of the detail around us because it is less noteworthy that the other things occupying our minds at the same time.
    The confounding thing about detail is that things do not explain themselves. They just show up. Fred asks what makes cameras limiting. They make you select what you want to see, and it's always less than you can see than you can see around you without them. So while you're looking at one thing you have the opportunity to trip over another! Every time you make an effort to tell the story or explain the presence of such ordinary detail, you are engaging in myth-making. The fact is that much of the world appears to have come out of nowhere. It's just there! Myth doesn't attempt to make things true, it makes them comfortable.
    It is hackneyed to say things like, "Truth is what you make it," but there are times when you just have to explain things a little. Call it truth-making if you will. The whole thing is fallible and prone to error. Language approximates experience even for those with a gift for explanation. When making a simple description is about as successful as pushing a piece of string, how difficult can finding the "truth" in a photograph be? If only the world would yield to our simplifications and be a simple place to live in!!
    I think it's a mistake to talk about there being only one truth because there are so many to choose from. Which truth do you mean exactly? Why that one now? Won't there be another one for the same thing later? This change in perspective is the very thing learning does for us.
  36. never mind...
  37. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Thomas, we have a social contract that says that defines stealing. If another mammal took a human's purse, this is not stealing, though the act is the same -- the purse no longer is in control of the person the human social contract says is the owner. You have to be human to steal -- and some cultures would not necessarily have the same social contract we do. In some cultures, stealing can only be done against members of the tribe; taking from a person who isn't a member of a tribe is something else.
    We have a sub-cultural social contract that art has intrinsic value beyond entertainment. Many college intro lit classes belittle using fiction for fun (I would always tell my own classes that the text book writers were crazy when they said that).
    The truth is what we make it -- and many times, as with defining stealing as unlawful taking from a fellow human (we only metaphorically steal eggs from hens, though the hens would consider the truth to be different), the definition has general value in structuring our dealings with other humans.
    We have a subcultural belief that art is progressive and leads to better thinking, better consciousness. There are some social structural use in believing this, but I seriously doubt it's a Big Truth and it may be delusional. Plenty of very entertaining artists have been total wrecks as human beings (but not all). Plenty of perfectly good citizens have been crap artists (but not all). The truth may be that art entertains us and that entertainment allows us to think better, just not along the lines that the artist intended. Art in some instances seems to make us self-satisfied and self-satisfaction is quite emotionally rewarding and feels very True. I enjoy taking photographs. If other people enjoy looking at them, that's even better. If I can figure out how to slice and dice social expectations, that's a game I enjoy, even if others aren't inclined to play.
    Art may all simply be the equivalent in humans of my dog standing his bones on end when he's finished playing with them. I have absolutely no clue if this has any meaning to him, but he is a smart dog and is learning to blow the car horn when he's left behind when I take photographs.
    I don't trust any artist who doesn't allow the possibility that art is a human form of play, often elaborate play with intriguing rules, without any great stretching toward truth or revelation. Trying to teach other people through art seems to lead more often than not to turgid art, repressive governments, and no fun.
    Only a puritanical and hierarchal culture would think that socially constructed and even useful Truth was more important than pleasure or that one person's pleasure was more valuable than another's. We all take our pleasures in different ways, but pleasure is wonderful and marvelous and what keeps us neotenous and adventurous.
    If Truth or art takes itself too seriously, then I could care less about either. When I was an undergraduate, I was miffed that my anthropology teacher called art play, but now I think it the greatest compliment. Gratuitous play is what makes us something other than economic robots.
  38. A lot of people seem not to want to talk about photographs, the making of them, the viewing of them, or even photography (a bit more abstract but still significant topic).
    The thing about being the OP, WHICH I AGAIN ENCOURAGE EVERYONE TO TRY (!), is that stuff gets attributed to you that you never said and never meant. I want to clear some of that up:
    Albert, I did not ask what makes cameras limiting. In fact, I did almost exactly the opposite. I agreed with you and then gave my own take on it . . . See point 1) in my post of Mar. 31, 11:42 am. I then added the idea that while cameras limit in just the way you were thinking (though I might prefer "focus" to "limit") they also allow for "the creation of a new world, with limitless possibilities."
    Albert and John, please point in the direction of where I said (or someone said . . . and now I see that Rebecca just said it before I had a chance to post this, but I haven't read her carefully yet and probably disagree with her on that) "Truth is what you make it" (Albert) or where I can be accused of impying that " 'truth' only has meaning for the person who emits the sound." Albert and I haven't had many interactions, so he's not familiar enough with my thinking to know how ridiculous both those quotes sound to me. John should, and I suspect does, know better. If not, John, see Luis's comment.
    John, as often is the case, you addressed only this word issue and chose not to address any of the photographic dimension or spirit of my posts. I am always disappointed in that. Especially when it comes from you, since I know you generally strive for and appreciate when others talk about their experiences with photographs and making them and how that relates to the Philosophy of Photography. To get mired in the definition of truth at the expense of all else, well, if that's where you want to go . . .
    I happen to think that truth is only something shared. It is not a solipsistic concept. I recoil when people say "my truth" as if it is up to them to determine just as I recoil when people say "art is completely subjective, it's whatever you think it is." Again, John, come on, you have to know that much about me after all these years, no?
    Here's what I did say about truth, without giving a definition, which I would abhor, just as I would abhor the attempt to define rather than discuss (discussing is much more productive) art, love, or beauty. Much of this is in the context of photographs, so those of you who have an aversion to talking about photographs might have missed the substantive parts about truth:
    Fred: "This is expressing not necessarily what would accurately reflect the moment of capture, but what will become the expression of the photograph. . . . In this way, the photograph may rely on its seeming (often considered illusion as opposed to reality in the history of Western philosophy) more than on what was."
    [The above suggests that, unlike folks like Plato who believed in objective and immutable truth, truth connected to Being, to something infinite and beyond us, I think truth is related to Seeming (to the senses and to our experience, not to the great unknown).]
    Fred: "That negation, that nothingness can be a more significant truth."
    [Like Luis says, the above suggests that some ideas of truth apply in some situations, like receipts, telegrams, and driver's licenses, and some ideas apply to photographs. Because I think the significant aspect of truth for my way of photographing is not accuracy of representation, I find that when a photograph in some way negates being a representation it can convey, portray, or express a deep truth.]
    Fred: "The way I, at least, use 'truth' here is as much in terms of an emotional depth and recognition as a conceptual one."
    [I hope this is self explanatory. I also hope that no one is confusing the fact that I am using truth this way with my thinking that truth signifies something only I can see or that only has meaning to me. That would be an absurd conclusion to draw. The emotional depth I speak of is one that would be shared among the photographer, the subject, and the viewer, though it wouldn't fit neatly into descriptive words or concepts. We would feel it . . . and I wouldn't really care whether what we felt was "the same." That would be a word game I wouldn't enjoy playing.]
    In my answer to Colin on March 30, at 4:44 pm, I even said: "I am often aware that a photograph is telling me more about the perspective . . . of the photographer than a 'truth,' as it were."
    So, come on guys. I am saying that "a perspective" doesn't connote truth. Neither my singular perspective nor anyone else's is the truth. The sentence above contrasts "the perspective of the photographer" from "truth." I think truth is a matter of perspective and is limited to and by context but I do not think it is any one person's perspective or context. Truths happen within a context and from a perspective. 2 + 2 = 4 only happens within certain scales of measurement. It is not an absolute truth. No, Fred doesn't decide whether each mathematical proposition or equation is true. Not even Luis decides it (sorry, Luis, had to -- LOL)! But it is a truth only within a context and perspective, in this case, that of a particular scale of measurement.
    Finally, Fred to Ton: "I don't see truth as only my own, photographically or otherwise. I think truths are shared."
    [DUH! Imagine my surprise when I'm understood as saying truth only has meaning for me.]
    OK. Enough examples. You get the point.
    Matt, stop with the challenges. Even before this post, I've given plenty of myself. Don't keep expecting more . . . from me. I will communicate my way.
    Julie, I get it. There's a certain kind of exactitude that a photographer may not play with. I talked about accuracy of representation being less of a concern to me than say, the illustrator of a tech manual, where I hope it would be a major concern. Even while the bird photographer is being exacting in her precision to get her great shot of the bird, the truth of that photo will be with the photo, not necessarily with the bird.
    Wouter, point of view is a very photographic and significant part of all this. I agree that, as you say, "intention and perception are not necessarily aligned." But I think we get closer to truth in photographs when a photographer tries and learns how to bring his intention in line with a viewer's perception. This goes back to what I said earlier, and I'll end by requoting that:
    "This is why painters study how light works and how the eye is led by it. This is why I have watched people's expressions and gestures so carefully and pay so much attention to them when I am photographing. Painters want, in so many cases, viewers' eyes to move a particular way through and around the canvas. Visual artists and craftspeople study texture and composition not just for some abstract notion of beauty, but because these things affect people and, within at least a similar cultural milieu, can be somewhat predictable. It's why symbols are symbols. Because we come to count on certain things. It's why irony can work, why a photo can be humorous, why a painting can risk being laden with pathos. Because the artist can plan, can anticipate, can rely on . . . sometimes if only to undermine the expectations, often the purview of a good artist."
  39. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Values and morals are constructed and contingent and often species specific (no farmer thinks he's stealing eggs and milk the the way that the hens and cows and calves might believe he's stealing, if they could think in words). There are cultures that only allow for portable personal property and don't allow for owning land or caches of private food. Some things are factual (I have a drivers license; I'm planning to drive to St. Louis on Friday; my car needs gas). Plato's truths were beyond mere facts. A chair was a manifestation of the Idea of a Chair, the Form of a Chair.
    The lack of facts never stopped any number of believers from investing in their concepts of higher truths. No small number of them have been willing to kill for things not evident in facts.
    I don't think we can escape the constructed and contingent world we live in as highly imaginative social animals, but it's not a bad idea to realize that a great lot of it is culturally relative (something the Masons stressed in requiring that their members follow whatever the local god was while realizing that all men could be good Masons whatever the local religion) and even as invented as any other part of the human tool kit.
    The theft of a rose from a garden is treated differently from stealing a man's wallet, and early Jewish custom was that eating fruit in another man's garden wasn't stealing, but taking it away for storage or sale was. In some areas, using supplies in a stranger's stocked cabin during an emergency is perfectly expected and wouldn't be considered stealing. The fact is that X ate Y's beans. Whether this was stealing or not depends.
    Photography serves many functions -- as recording medium, as a visual entertainment, and sometimes as the excuse for playing with excellently engineered machines.
    That works give us pleasure may be factual; that these works do good things for our perceptions and ability to function well in our social universes seems to be possibly more a matter of faith than fact (or can someone cite the studies).
  40. Rebecca, I think your examples in the above post provide some meat to the idea that truth is a matter of perspective and is contextual . . . and not individual. They show ways in which truth is a shared notion. There's probably some significant misunderstanding because of the ambiguity of "we" and "you" when it comes to their plurality. When some suggested that it's been argued that "truth is what you make it," I took "you" to be singular, as if they were saying the claim had been made that each of us determines truth. Likewise, when you said "truth is what we make it," I initially thought you meant "each of us," mistakenly reading into your statement "truth is what we [each] make it." I see now that your examples are illustrating the contractual nature or agreeing part of truth, its cultural and community-oriented status as opposed to those who would insist on its greater universality or absoluteness. That works for me.
    I'd even watch how much a fact "X ate Y's beans" is, since there are likely cultures that don't see possession as we do and would say that beans are not something that can be owned by one human but are rather a product belonging only to Earth, even if Y grew them. For them, Y's beans could never be a fact.
    This is where imagination comes in and helps bring it back to photographs for me. Because all it takes is a good imagination to come up with qualifying clauses that will undermine any supposed absoluteness to a truth. Imagination is being used in that instance to come up with possibilities. That's what I see the camera and the frame doing . . . providing not just limits, but also possibilities.
  41. Fred, thanks for a very clear 'back-on-topic' post.
    As much as I appreciate Rebecca bringing in Plato (translating him in high school made me interested in philosophy in the first place, and it's still a fascinating read), whether truth and reality have a singular, unified nature or not, it's an endless discussion. The quest matters, the thought-provoking-ness of Plato matters. The actual outcome... I don't know. It's good to think about it, whether one needs to reach conclusions on it, is quite something else.
    Anyway, back on what I see as the topic. I agree, Fred, that as a creator you can put in a lot to ensure the viewer will be led to see what you actually want to show. Composition (*) and light are indeed strong means to get such a thing done. When succesfull in doing that, it's conveying your message, your vision. Whether that's truth or lie, I'll let that part go.
    But how possible it is, I think, strongly depends on the type of photography. A portrait of a friend, an unknown to the bigger public, it's very possible for the photographer to transmit his ideas. But a portrait of a famous person, people will see with prejudices and preconceived ideas, it is much much harder. Not impossible, but the barriers are more significant. News photography is much worse in that respect, I think.
    So whether a photo can be self-contained enough, it depends on quite a lot of external factors of which many are beyond the creator's control. To me, the significant limiter in your quote is: ".....within at least a similar cultural milieu...". Look at this very website: it's world-wide, many people from many different backgrounds (cultural, educational, interests).. sharing a photo here does nowhere near give you that similarity in cultural milieu, and hence a much lower predictability of reactions. So, while I do not disagree with your statement, for me, it has strong human limitations making it less practicable (if that is a word).
    (*) Thanks for the notion, which escaped me earlier, on leading the eyes and tracking eye movements. For me, noticing that this happens was one of the biggest steps I took in learning to appreciate good compositions way more than I used to, because it enabled me to explain why it pleased me, to some extend.
  42. How dependent is the "seems," the "truth/lie" on the viewer's (my) awareness of the "speaker" or the maker of the thing that I am "reading"? How is my perception of "seemingness" changed when I do not know who made a picture? Is "seemingness" almost entirely dependent on what Fred (and Felix) has -- in other threads -- called "voice," his voice? And if so, does this require that I see more than just a few of his photographs to learn that voice?
    If I read or hear a line of poetry that I really like I will look it up to find the full poem. If that poem disappoints me, I devalue or at least reconsider the line that I originally liked. It's "seemingness" is changed when I learn more of the poet's voice.
    Near the top of this thread, we had Luis explaining to other posters what Fred's posts are like. I know what Fred's posts are like so I already know how to take his textual "seemings."
    Recently I bought a book of photographs, Violet Isle, by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb. Alex Webb is a photographer that I find very interesting, and I had been thinking of buying this book for a long time but had been hesiating because I don't know anything about Rebecca Webb. When the book arrived, the photographs were wonderful but they were mixed up together; I couldn't tell for sure which were Alex's and which were Rebecca's. I had a pretty good idea, but I wasnt' sure. I know Alex's work; I know his voice. It was upsetting, to me, to try to look at the pictures without knowing if it was his "voice" or hers that I was seeing (luckily, I eventually noticed that the pictures are labeled with tiny pale initials, AW or RNW, in the corner of the pages).
    In contrast to Wouter's interesting post prior to mine (above), I'm interested not so much in whether the photographer is effectively creating "seemingness" but in my (as a viewer) ability to receive "seemingness" before learning his/her "voice" -- by seeing more ... and more and more of his/her work. I know what Alex Webb's voice is like, so I receive, understand, am able to "get" (more of) his inflexions. I'm learning to know Rebecca Webb's voice -- and it has been interesting to be forced to try to discern which of the two I am "hearing" without looking at the bottom of the page. But I do seem to need or at least want/prefer to know who it is that I'm communing with.
    Can a perfect stranger lie to you? Isn't a "lie" dependent on an expectation, and what is that expectation? (I'm out of time and I have not resolved these questions for myself. Help!)
  43. Julie,
    The only reason why I focused on the creator, and less on the receiving end, is because I followed up on Fred on that topic.
    My own main interest is more in between the two. As a photographer, I feel it is beneficial to be considerate about both. What do I want to tell (frankly, I have no clue yet). But at the same time, as somebody who can appreciate photos, I'm trying to be aware of the 'clues' I pick up from those I like (or disklike). What makes some photos catch me more than others? How do I see myself employ such ideas in what I try to achieve? This is a practical interest mainly.
    But as a generic process, the connected disconnection or disconnection connection that a photographer makes to his viewer is a fascinating thing. It's less practical (though it touches on my work), but the 'analysis' of it tells a lot about implied messages, cultural annotations etc. that can clarify or cloud communication.
    Thanks for dropping the word 'expectation'! It sends me straight back to the "drawing board of thoughts"...
  44. JH: "Can a perfect stranger lie to you?"
    Yes. Expectation can be based on a cultural definition of a transaction, whether it is with someone you know or a stranger.
    What do we expect to see when we view a photograph?
  45. Julie, I think all information will affect our experience of a photograph. Exposure to a photographer's other work will certainly play a role. Yes, context. Additionally, as Wouter pointed out, knowledge of the subject of a portrait (a famous person or just someone with whom we're familiar) will play a role. Hell, knowledge of what camera and/or film was used will play a significant role in some people's reactions to photos, and why shouldn't it?
    Luis nailed it. My greatest sense of accomplishment is when the photo itself does it (and I understand that I can never extract the photo completely from its context, from what might ring bells for various viewers). The photo may convey my intentions, in some cases, because I have a strong voice, but it is not the specific voice that is necessarily getting conveyed or that's significant in each photo's case. It is what that voice is saying.
    I can look through my own portfolio and say, as you do, that when you know my work, your experience of many of the photos may take on a certain flavor because of that knowledge. I can also identify photos that will be affected more by that knowledge, by coming from my voice instead of someone else's, or less by that knowledge. I'd like to identify a third group, photos where knowledge of my actual biography (more than my body of work) will make a difference.
    More: gene
    Less: josh dunham-wood, february 2010, from series "portrait in 3"
    Biography: dad, florida, july '09
    On the latter, several people told me it made a difference knowing the third photo was of my father. At first, I was hesitant about titling the photo "dad . . ." because I didn't want people liking it or appreciating it more because it was my father. Then I decided that was too crucial information for me to keep from any viewer, and why someone liked the photo wasn't as crucial.
    A photo can be responsible for that empathy we talked about in another thread even without the viewer knowing anything about who, specifically, she's empathizing with.
    Wouter, please give me a bit, I want to formulate some thoughts in response to you.
  46. Luis,
    What if I don't know what their culture is? Or, more precisely (and what I meant but did not say above) where they are visually -- which is a different terrain from the verbal. (As if I asked a perfect stranger to play me some music and then had to decide if it was a lie.)
    Without disagreeing with you (I think I would like very much to agree with you), the fact is that I did not buy the book that I describe above -- or any art photograph book -- because I am interested in the subject they are shooting. I buy the books to see photographs BY so-and-so. The book in question happened to be of Cuba; I don't mind that it's of Cuba, but I did not buy it for that reason. I don't buy Weston books to see Charis or other nude women or shells or peppers. I buy them to see what Weston does and how he does it. In other words, I am interested in "seemingness" regardless of its particular material embodiment; almost disembodied "seemingness" (the music, not the instruments) BUT ... what does that leave? What is it that I'm looking/listening/reading ... to/at? The shooter? Myself? Am I, should I be seeing the photo as a found thing as opposed to a message/communication (from Webb, from Weston, from Fred)? (In which case I return to how can this be a lie?)
  47. Julie, got it. I understand more what you're saying. Though I probably did, I didn't mean to emphasize content or subject quite so much. I was more trying to de-emphasize specificity of owner of the voice.
    It's a dilemma. I, too, buy the book because of who the photographer is, except when I buy books like one devoted to Marlene Dietrich or one devoted to The Hollywood Portrait Photographers or one devoted to Avant Garde Photography in Germany or photographs of Soviet Jews in the 20th Century, in which case to be honest on my first several viewings I often pay no attention to who the photographer is and am much more involved with each photo as photo.
    This stuff is very hard to sort out, and it's not like we can separate out which part affects us now, which the next time. But even when I look through one of my most recent acquisitions, a book of photos by Steichen, I think I am looking and seeing on several simultaneous tracks, not all of them even noticed by me unless I stop to think about them and, even then, my thinking will likely miss a few of those tracks. Sure, they are Steichen's photos for me, but at the same time they are photos of whatever and at the same time they are just photos, operating on a much more gut and abstract level than my concern with who took them or what they are of.
    My motivation for looking at something or buying something (which may be who the photographer is) is different from my experience of looking and certainly of seeing.
    How can a found thing be a lie? When I browse through old photos at thrift or antique stores, I often admire portraits out of context and by unknown photographers. I am aware of the truth/lie of even these portraits (the truth/lie within the very same portrait) because I know photography. I know I am seeing a truth and I know there's a lying aspect to that truth because I know that I cannot necessarily "trust," nor would I necessarily want to trust, the accuracy of representation. I know I am looking not necessarily at just the expression of the subject or just the expression of the photographer. I know I am looking at the expression of the photograph. Is it too much to say it's a photographically transcendent truth?
    And, of course, Julie, there's no way you or I should be seeing the photo. Though others may point out other ways of looking and seeing which may further open our eyes, and often do, I'd hesitate on the should and emphasize the might. There are other ways we might see photos.
  48. Something to consider that is anecdotal and not meant to be decisive by any means:
    I know music the best of all the arts. When I listen to recordings of Beethoven, I am more likely to feel like I'm listening to Beethoven's voice, more likely to think about comparisons to other composers and to his own other works. More likely to consider what he's doing and saying in the piece I'm listening to. More likely to ponder music appreciation 101 things like how he bridged the classical and romantic periods and even touched on impressionsim in his late piano works. When I'm at the symphony, live and in person, I am more inclined to lose myself in the music, to soar with it (am I rhapsodizing yet?), to be much more in the flow of experience and out of my head, away from the messages, the communications, the truths, the lies, the authorship, the biography, the history, the cultural milieu. I am just (and it fills me up) listening. (Of course, that listening still may filtered through what I know, if even unconsciously at the time.)
    It's similar, I think, with photographs. When I'm thumbing through or even intently studying books at home, I am more likely to be listening to the voice (seeing the vision) of the photographer and be conscious that I'm listening to that voice. When I'm at a museum or gallery, looking at a framed authentic print, I am more likely to have a more sensual experience.
  49. “Photographs tell deep truths. They speak [metaphor] to us intimately. They can portray an expression or a gesture, a story or a moment that strikes within a core of feeling and/or thinking.”
    A lost verbose poetic colloquialism…….touching on the lingua tongues of intimacy… of a truth. Alas, sadly, not so.
    A Photograph is our imagination of a truth……
  50. Fred,
    Better, closer!! I agree; there is a difference at a museum or a concert (or even the radio) and it does allow me to see the picture or hear the music unmediated. Yet ... there is a little bit of "foundness" going on since the thing gets its own "place" in the "out there." It's odd, thinking about it further as I'm writing this, it feels as if when I am more active (out in public, being myself) as opposed to passive (at home, looking at a book) the picture becomes more active, in turn. It sort of separates or fills out as a thing unto itself to the extent that I do the same. Does this have to do with the fact that other people can see it and me; that other people are there so the absent photographer/composer retreats from my mind? ( <<< airy fairy!)
  51. It is quite impressive, as Fred says, that when listening to the music of different composers we hear their voice, their state of being, their passions, their misgivings about man or their hope for the future. I am currently listening to a Berlioz song cycle (Songs of a summer night) that does that for me, but if I was to hear another of Britten or Mahler or Schubert or Delius or Gesualdo I would be hearing different but evocative voices. Same thing for popular music, the fire in the voice of Joplin, the social resignation of Dylan, the fresh simplicity and pure somics of the MacGarrigle Sisters or the onlooker of society that is Cohen (also Dylan).
    Each is searching for their idea of truth. The existence or pretention to lies are easy to ignore because we are already won over by their force, their attitude. Lies become palatable in the face of the honesty of the lies or their use as a vehicle for other things, to evoke specific feelings or thoughts in the listener.
    I lie in some of my photographs. Sense of reality is a secondary objective in many cases. I want the viewer to be curious, and if my image hasn't aroused that curiosity I have to consider that it is a bit of a failure. Whether the photograph emits truth (or some attempted approximation to an unattainable truth) or a lie is often of secondary importance to me. The photograph has to satisfy the objective I set out for it, which may be more complex or intriguing than truth or false. It is an investigation of something, which may not lead to an answer (so much the better as that would be a closed book), but will intrigue me and hopefully the viewer.
    It is fashionable to speak of our successes. I think I would not gain as much in discussing those as I do from my failures. Case in point. A few years ago, in order to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of our town, I did a series on the cartographer-explorer-founder by using some of his texts and creating diptychs and triptychs in which some of the elements of his work, and some still fairly 'virginal' scenes of his visit, played out together in my attempt to evoke what he may have thought and seen here those 400 years ago (he had already visited Acadia Park in Maine 5 years before, so the land wasn't a complete surprise). It was fun, it allowed some different forms of expression, but I am not at all happy with it. I used facts and lies to get there, but it didn't achieve my first goal of strongly evoking a curiosity and voyage in the mind of the viewer (I know this as they were hung in an exhibition space I spent some time in). It appeared (rather they appeared, being a series of images) too cold, too analytical. I may get another chance this year, the 475th of an earlier explorer to these shores and his discovery of natural wine plants and the indigenous people of the time. Again, it wil be a combination of "truths" and lies. Hopefully, together with an altered (experience) personal mindset or approach, a new mixture of truths and lies that might be convincing, or at least better sculptured, in its message.
  52. Mediated
    Intransitive verb to work with both sides in a dispute in an attempt to help them to reach an agreement
    Okay, I give in, what do you mean by your new word ;)
    “Each is searching for their idea of truth.”
    Yes, believe on what is the truth...a personal take.
  53. Wouter, though I agree to a great extent when you say "Look at this very website: it's world-wide, many people from many different backgrounds (cultural, educational, interests).. sharing a photo here does nowhere near give you that similarity in cultural milieu, and hence a much lower predictability of reactions," I have an example that will tie together two of your insightful musings, this one and the one about the "loaded" effect the portrait of a famous person might have. If she's good enough, experienced enough, and she wants to, a photographer can overcome cultural barriers by choosing a subject that is so universally-known and symbolic that, though reactions may vary by culture, I think initial perceptions and immediate responses may be anticipated to be somewhat similar. I think you can also shoot something less universally known but in a particular way that will be more widely felt. (One wouldn't always want to do that. Sometimes it's important to express your own more specific, personal, and local cultural values, mores, or feelings.) In the following example, Brits will be entitled to their own more personal reaction to this portrait, as will the Queen herself, but around the earth I'd suggest that most will see and "get" the very same thing here. It seems almost unmistakable to me, because the woman, the clothing, the demeanor, the posture, the environment, and the weather tell such a true story of this woman. The Queen may certainly not react the way others will, her grandsons may in fact be snickering knowingly behind their velvet curtains and suits of armor, but I think we are all seeing something and at a gut level experiencing something quite similar. For me, that feeling of unmistakability is photographic truth: when it feels like it just has to be this way. No doubt, in spite of all I said, that some here will react to this portrait very differently, but I don't think that will be because they see it so differently.
    Queen Elizabeth II, by Annie Leibovitz.
  54. Julie, I was thinking that the difference between being at home vs. in a museum/symphony hall is a matter of the kind and quality of attention I achieve . . . captivation. Also breath. In the symphony hall, I can hear the violins breathe and it sounds and feels like the breath of a singer. In the opera house, without a recording device, I hear the humanness of the voice which carries the song. On a recording, I hear more just the song. In the museum, I am in touch with the textures of the prints much more (as I said, the sensuality) as well as with the focus that the frame provides. Perhaps the live performance and the gallery viewing are much more a blending of form and content, of medium and what art that medium brings me.
    I think other people being around creates something important as well. Sharing these experiences, even with strangers, can add magnitude and dimension. Funny, for me, I tend to be often distracted by others in museums and at the symphony (especially when they fidget with their purses or candy wrappers during sotto voce passages). On the other hand, no matter the distractions, even of text messaging, I much prefer going to a movie theater to see films than watching them at home. Some of that is the superior technology and bigger screen afforded me in the theater. But I know a lot of it is liking to watch them while surrounded by strangers in the dark.
  55. Arthur, I quite agree that these are palatable lies I'm talking about, for the most part. There have been some nonpalatable lies that have reached me, too . . . Mapplethorpe's, Goldin's.
    I'm glad you bring up curiosity. I can relate to the objective you may have for your photos. Mine are sometimes well formulated in my mind, sometimes not as clear to me, by design. Sometimes the objective is for me to wander visually without a particular destination in mind. The destination seems to come into view as I explore and I seem to arrive simply when I feel I'm finished. There may be smaller objectives within that overall journey, but the overall objective may more come to be and not necessarily be there from the beginning. That can be a matter of my own curiosity as opposed to the arousal of the viewers', which as you do, I also see as something significant to work with. I think these photos may still have my voice, regardless of how formed my intentions were toward it. And I think they will still have aspects of truth and lies regardless of how much emphasis I put on that or attention I pay to it. I agree with you that truth and lies may not always be the most intriguing aspect to focus on. They may just be.
    I definitely understand what you mean by "failure," which is clearly related to our own expectations of ourselves . . . and others. Perhaps because I have a history of being so judgmental of myself, I'm actually happy to say that making photographs has liberated me from that to a great extent. I tend to see what I might otherwise call "failures" as process. I couldn't get anywhere without them. So, failures though they may be, more importantly they are experiments and they are part of my evolution. As I try to channel my disappointments in life into my photographs, whether as catharsis, or motivation, or for genuineness of expression, I try to channel my disappoints in my photographs into my next photograph.
  56. jtk


    "...Poetry, literature and the visual arts, tend to be about generalized truths, unlike non-art representations, which are always about particularized, very specific, literal truth. The kind found in receipts, telegrams, owner's manuals, drivers' licenses, etc." Luis G
    1) I don't think poetry, literature, and visual arts are inherently "about" anything...except to people who need to impose their interpretations on the critics, teachers, people paid to talk rather than produce.
    2) Hearing that there's an alternative to "literal truth" evokes "fair and balanced" and Carl Rove.
  57. "For me, that feeling of unmistakably is photographic truth: when it feels like it just has to be this way. No doubt, in spite of all I said, that some here will react to this portrait very differently, but I don't think that will be because they see it so differently."

    The photographs are cold and sterile.

    A good portrait photographers relaxes the subject draws out their personality...they, the subject, become an instinctive part of the photography not just a cold dish served on a platter like a pigs head in medieval banquet.

    A very poor street photographer working in the candid format would have done a lot better.

    I see very little photograph truths in those photos unless you relate them to photographs of a brick wall.
  58. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    One of the best metaphysical fiction writers of my generation posted yesterday in another place that writers were vampires. He meant this metaphysically. I said that I was going to ask here if being a photographer would save my soul.
    Both the writer and the various hands talking about the public being out of step with Post Modernism and the making of souls through art are being rather silly, I think. Art is play that goes toward making us human, however much ego is required to draw on one's imagination, experience, and other people's experiences filtered through ones very own sensibility and then make something that one expects will be more interesting to other people than their own thoughts.
    The writer in question is better as a writer than most of us here are as photographers (and gave me permission to drop him in this conversation anonymously), but he doesn't believe that writers as a group have a better handle on truths than other humans who aren't self-absorbed and self-centered, and he's particularly caustic about artists who try to do political work through art, though he's probably as left-of-center as anyone here.
    Why would photography save us if writing fiction makes us vampires? I think the writer in question is simply having a bad day, but I think the myth of artist as hero and truth finder ahead of common humanity is comes from equally bad days, just manic ones rather than depressive ones. The metaphysical writer in question is also sure that writers are crazy, especially the ones who are sure they're sane.
    On my own bad days, I think that the arts are simply how we flatter ourselves. It's all the primate strut.
    And perhaps there's absolutely nothing wrong with that and perhaps the animals we are and the societies we create are as beautiful as a Baltimore Oriole's nest or an orchid, and the arts simply hope to catch a glimmering of the sublime (Longinus ref here) that's our common human heritage, the play of being mortal imaginative creatures who create time on their hands by being smarter about catching their food than most critters.
  59. Fred, I sympathise with and share your objectives in the process of making photographs. Disappointments are just another stop on the route and often additional motivation to pursue one's particular view. Maybe the images in question were unsuccessful or maybe not (they might just appear that way at the time), but they inform us about our own process and what we may do next. I also agree that notwithstanding intentions prior to actual image capture we are sometimes better to drift towards the result rather than plan it too precisely. This is not to deny control completely. I can drift on one river or windstream or drift on another. They are not completely unknown to me.
    Interesting image of the Queen. The pose and clothes remind me of Antonioni's controversial portrait of the younger queen, or of the formal paintings of Nelson or Wellington or other British generals of past. The stereotypes used by Leibowitz are certainly conscious ones, a bit too conscious and clichéd (my personal viewpoint). I first thought that I was looking at an image of one of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Tongue-in-cheek or satyre aside, it could be for me any formal portrait of a prominent figure. The portrait does have its values, particularly in the facial expression of the person. The rest of it for me is mainly lies (the illicited comparison to military figures). I think I would react more positively to her being placed in a tea shop having tea and some scones, or fragiley walking down a line of soldiers at Horse Guards, or perhaps encouraging a small child at school. Would any of these be more lies than the military pose of KLeibowitz? Possibly not. It is unforunate that the face is not a close up where we could ignore the rest of the "supports" and "clichés" of formal posing.
  60. Photography, like anything else is subject to branding. Tell, enough people, enough times, something is great, it will become a universal truth of greatness...humanity follows the herding instinct. That is how simple our truths are to understand.

    A senior executive once told me that they could put anything in a Mars Bar because it’s the brand that folks buy above anything else. The Tory party in the UK have always had the majority of the female vote because they think it is posh to vote Tory and their candidates always look rather handsome.

    Cold realities when we are discussing perceptions of truths.
  61. Julie: "Luis, What if I don't know what their culture is?
    That could change the outcome, though even if you didn't know whether or not they lied to you, it would not rule out the possibility of them doing so in their own way. I read somewhere that the average college-age person tells between 1-2 hundred lies a day. This appears to be not only a survival tactic, but a useful social lubricant.
    Julie: "Or, more precisely (and what I meant but did not say above) where they are visually -- which is a different terrain from the verbal. (As if I asked a perfect stranger to play me some music and then had to decide if it was a lie.)"
    It might not be seen as either truth or lie, but as something not fully understood (something one doesn't hear very often). They would see it in their own way. When the English began touring Europe, they saw the Swiss Alps as a true manifestation of God's wrath (or displeasure) against the Swiss.The way we describe things says more about us than what we are describing.
    Music, like photography, as a medium (literally in-between), can neither lie nor tell the truth. It can convey any combination of the above, however. A bridge doesn't go anywhere, but it helps other things get there.
    Media do that too, but also transform perceptions (and more) into exo-neural encoded forms.
  62. Rebecca, given your feelings about not just your own but about why others make art and about other artists, why would you ask us if being a photographer would save your soul? Isn't that something you should answer for yourself. I'll answer nevertheless. I don't have a soul so I have nothing to save.
    I think artists are no better at accessing truths than anyone else. I think they often access truths that I'm inclined to be drawn to and/or care about. Mathematicians access different truths and when I studied math in high school I was quite moved by those. Were I in a Philosophy of Mathematics forum, I'd be talking about those truths, but it wouldn't be because I thought less of photographic ones.
    I was at a coffee house with my dear scientist friend just yesterday and we were talking about so many similarities between us, including as relates to truth.
    Arthur, yes. I think Annie is good enough to show us the same thing and to elicit different reactions, based on taste, context, our own perspectives, etc. I think the symbols she's offered and the clichés as well and, of course her known subject, are what's similarly reaching us because they work. We are reacting differently to those symbols and clichés and I assume she would fully expect and invite that. It seems clear that we both "get it." And we make of it very different things. With bad photographs and photographers, we often have to say we don't even "get it."
  63. Luis,
    "Medium" is good.
    A word is defined by using words that are not that word. A metaphor describes by lying (a thing is what it is not).
  64. "A metaphor describes by lying (a thing is what it is not)."
    Thanks! Great. The importance of negation again.
  65. "I don't have a soul so I have nothing to save. "

    Seems sort of a sad thought.

    Well, Fred, you can never be to sure of anything. We are not all seeing any knowing.....and the good books are very subjective to interpretation and what gospels some bloke decided were suitable for the mores and politics of the time.. Poor Judas, he's Gospels found in the Dead Sea scrolls, never got a word in edge ways.....and, hey, what about those other Jewish creeds lost in time.
    Now science has discovered dark matter which created our universe...what is that all about? Could that dark matter be sentient? Who knows?

    Just what do we know....not much?

    Maybe it's not just about good books but something else.
  66. Art cannot have the same truths as science, in the sense that it is not dealing with the more measurable physical reality as is science (I recommend a couple hours of pleasant digression provided by the film "Einstein and Eddington", in which the challenge to the truth of Newton's laws of motion by the mathematics of Einstein was first rejected strongly by the scientific community but eventualy accepted in part through the measurements of Eddington. Truth in physics prevailed). How do you measure values, sentiments and visual communication which uses no dimensions or time (only fleetingly but as a time point in photography and not a line or space)?
    Leibowitz has done better than in her portrait of the Queen, which is too formal to be compelling. The most succesful portraits of famous persons are in my mind those which portray their character and not their position. Perhaps it is easier to photograph ordinary persons. I find more to interest me in my image of the young girl in the apple orchard, not because it happens to be mine (although I have imposed my style somewhat on her and that is perhaps a lie in respect to her), but because it expresses something about someone whom I do not really know and which activates my curiosity. Where is she now (like the Afghan girl with the green eyes). Is she well?. I would prefer a photo of the Queen that would tell me something new (Again, if it was not such a very commercial portrait, perhaps Leibowitz would have highlighted more her face by a close-up instead of her Madame Tussaud's pose - yes, I am not a very nice and possibly jealous person, so I'm told).
  67. An Ant sees reality as an Ant.
  68. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Fred, I try to follow in the footsteps of St. Frank O'Hara whatever art I'm in and not take art too seriously unless it's as good as the movies. The writer who decided that all writers, himself included, were vampires was taking himself too seriously, also. In that other thread, we have agreed that all humans are whacks.
    I believe that what intrigues us seems more valid and valuable to us than things that don't intrigue us (people who don't deign to read or see popular fiction or art strike me as faking all interest in any art; people who genuinely love art love the stuff that's good, popular or esoteric). Things that appeal to our clever brains are the things we declare to be truths, but it's thrills, joy, and pleasure, all the turtles down.
  69. Arthur, for the purposes of this thread, I wasn't concerned with whether I or anyone else thought the portrait of the Queen was good or whether anyone liked it. It was to illustrate something about cross-cultural understanding of a portrait and about portraits of famous people. You've picked up on that in comparing your general feelings about portraits of famous and not famous people. I certainly understand your disappointment with this portrait. (I actually prefer THIS ONE by Leibovitz but it didn't illustrate my point as well because the iconic weather wasn't obvious. And I'm reminded that the Queen had a lot to say about how the portraits would be made, though Leibovitz seems to have gotten away with the first one, sans crown.) I sense, perhaps, your disappointment with Leibovitz overall. Would make sense because you prefer the portrayal of character to the portrayal of position.
    What I think Annie does so well is combine those two. She brings me both character and persona and I see the personae of many of her subjects as very much part of their character. I do like to honor the personae of my subjects as part of their realness. The Fred I present to the world may be different from the Fred that looks himself in the mirror first thing in the morning, but I'm not convinced by any means that the one shown to the public, even when it's a somewhat conscious creation, doesn't show Fred's character precisely because that's what he's chosen to show.
    I'm not sure I would or even could separate who Johnny Depp is from who Johnny Depp is for me/us. Is that Johnny Depp in the portrait or is that Johnny Depp's persona. Are the two so separable? Is he more real when he's frolicking with his kids and dog in the backyard than in this photo? Not to me. Or DeNiro, Dennis Hopper, Scarlett Johansson or any of Leibovitz's others. Actors create images (and we help them) not only of the characters they play but of themselves. Would I deny the conscious or even unconscious creation of their own persona as part of their character if I were trying to do them justice or even just make a compelling portrait of them? I'd likely want both.
  70. I can't see any way to derive truth from art. A photograph is a mere brush stroke - a personal glob of light from an infinite source of light. When we resurrect 6,000 year old artifacts, we have a series of truth squads make their proclamations. The archaeologist and the sociologist and the historian all fight for primacy, no? Fertility Goddess or object d'pornography? Both? Neither? Don't you really have to know every individual who came in contact with it? How do you integrate all the possible inputs into a truth?

    Eye balls and film and sensors only see what their design limits allow. A very narrow spectrum of EMR, for instance. And, it captures no aura. How does an instrument with obvious known limits detect any sublime truth? I say that without needing to get far into the meaning of truth. You could say in fairness of a photograph, "it contains some bits of reality." Is a skin portrait in any meaningful way a truth about a human being?

    The purpose of art is to delight and surprise. You splash light or paint around, and that's the simple game. It's something you DO, not something that IS. Look here what I did! Isn't that delightful? Isn't that enough?
  71. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    What makes a photograph delight and surprise us, then?
  72. @ Rebecca-
    I can only say what delights and surprises me. I only shoot images for my own amusement. I like the idea that a camera sees a different world than my eye-brain sees. If I stand on a busy street corner let's say, and shoot 100 frames over a few minutes, I'll find 100 delights I missed in real time, 100 surprises that never registered in my brain just using my eyes.
    I was not too surprised to learn some time ago of a key survival feature we humans have. Our brain filters out perhaps 98%, or more, of all inputs because it is only searching for danger. If it didn't do this, we'd be overwhelmed with data, and possibly miss the threats to our existence. So for me, the camera becomes an unfilter. But, that's just me.
  73. Julie: "A metaphor describes by lying (a thing is what it is not)."
    That's more of a bludgeoning, than an operant definition. In a metaphor, two different things are linked, fused or substituted, usually one is unfamiliar, referred to as the tenor, and one familiar (the vehicle). This is done to imply a higher order resemblance, tension, or structure. There are many kinds of metaphors, and some make very fine distinctions along this line.
    It's semblance, substitution, link, etc., less so negation. My favorite thing about metaphors is that they can and often manage to convey more information than their envelopes can carry, in the sense that they can be virus-like, using few bits of information to generate much larger amounts.
  74. Mark: "I was not too surprised to learn some time ago of a key survival feature we humans have. Our brain filters out perhaps 98%, or more, of all inputs because it is only searching for danger."
    If our brains were only searching for danger, we'd be extinct in short order. They're searching for a lot of other things as well: Food, water, shelter, mates, a safe route and/or environment, recognizable faces, places, animals, plants, new things, etc. And the brain rewires itself as it goes (although this varies wildly among individuals) and thus become individuated.
  75. (Visual) Metaphor:

    "... Paul saw the face as a light that struck him to the ground; John, as the sun when it shines forth in all its strength; Teresa de Jesús, many times, bathed in serene light,although she could never say with certainty what the color of its eyes was.
    Those features are lost to us, as a magical number created from our customary digits can be lost, as the image in a kaleidoscope is lost forever. We can see them and yet not grasp them. A Jew's profile in the subway might be the profile of Christ; the hands that give us back change at a ticket booth may mirror those that soldiers nailed one day to the cross.
    Some features of the crucified face may lurk in every mirror; perhaps the face died, faded away, so that God might be all faces."*

    -- from the story, Paradiso; XXXI, 108 by Jorge Luis Borges
    Not (Visual) Metaphor:
    "... Sometimes an idea occurs to me: I catch myself carefully scrutinizing the loved body (like [Proust's] narrator watching Albertine sleep). 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 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 particularly 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."
    -- from A Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes
    Returning to Barthes as he now moves toward that which can often best or sometimes only be portrayed via metaphor:
    "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 desire 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.)"
    [*I used religious metaphor as my first example because it is by far the most established in art tradition. My choice is not meant to privilege religious visual metaphor over any other kind.]
    I would never use the word "mere" to describe lies, but I take your point.
  76. Thank you, Julie. A little dazzled here. All this before coffee.
  77. JH: Fascinating metaphors. Thanks. The food of the imaginations of Borges and Barthes, and Proust (in his oftimes 30 page descriptions of a single phenomenon or event). That photography might increasingly apply that mysterious art, without rejecting the quest of truths.
  78. Fred, agreed that the very skilled photographers can break the barricades of expectation of an audience; the referenced Queen Elizabeth II portrait certainly shows that. Thanks for the clear example (and I happen to like the photo, and it put me on yet another trail....In a way, I think there is an element of surprise in that photo. The unexpected, meaning expectations are not exactly met, without that being a negative remark concerning the quality of the work.
    Expectation, surprise, curiosity - a nice chain in the interaction between creator - creation - receiver that can make work stand out. It seems far away from your topic start, but in ways it's also close for me. If the expectation is not met, for me as a viewer, then what is it: am I looking at a truth which is different from my previous understanding, or is it lie? Either way, it provokes me to think, and I tip my hat to the creator.
    When I stretch the above a bit, you could even go as far as saying that truth or lie in a photograph are no more than braingames. If one takes a very radical viewpoint in a discussion, how much different is that from searching for a really different angle of view on a subject. Most portraits taken with wide angle lenses from up close are not really attractive, and most people would call the exaggerated perspective a lie. But it's just a different point of view of the same subject. Maybe not as pretty as the classic choices, but no less valid.
    Lie versus truth, and the recurring references to negations, also makes me think here a bit too about the Catholic church's view on the devil. Despite popular beliefs, the church does not consider a devil the opposite of God. Evil is not the opposite of good. Evil happens where God isn't, simpler: evil is a lack of good. Is a lie the void of truth, so in a way an empty slot waiting to be filled?
    To me, the more I think about it, the more it is all just comes down to an old lesson in physics class: the doppler effect. Your location, relative to the sound (or light for stars), defines how you experience it. There may be one correct interpretation of the phenomenon, but as humans, we're limited in what we can and cannot see and understand. And looking at a photo, it's no different.
  79. “I wasn't concerned with whether I or anyone else thought the portrait of the Queen was good or whether anyone liked it. It was to illustrate something about cross-cultural understanding of a portrait and about portraits of famous people.”
    Nether less, you offered an opinion which subsequently you elaborated on as we go deeper into the thread. So, you can expect that opinion to be challenged…particularly as we are discussing photographic truths.
    “She brings me both character and persona and I see the personae of many of her subjects as very much part of their character. I do like to honor the personae of my subjects as part of their realness.”
    Stuff and nonsense.
    My understanding is the Queen was very disturbed by the authoritarian nature of the Photographer resulting in photographs which portrayed that very image. To hide behind the claim they were about the personae is a weak untruth and at best a betrayal of the understanding of portrait photography. Reality is the photographs portrayed a subject at odds with the photographer resulting in cold harsh photographs where the subject and photographer were extremely uncomfortable with each other.
    A truth..not a branding.
  80. Wouter, lies as the absence of (void of), rather than the opposite of, truth. That works. A lie, especially a photographic one, could be a truth waiting to happen. In turn, considering the history of supposedly true statements (like "the world is flat"), the truth may just be the future's lie, or at least grand mistake. I talked a bit nebulously above about truth and lie kind of folding into each other as a way to avoid Phylo's concern about dualism and your thoughts seem to clarify that.
    "Lie" is often used morally. I don't think photographic lies have to be bad, though some are. If a photojournalist doctors his photos, most consider that unethical. If Nan Goldin resaturates colors or washes them over her shadows, that is unethical mostly to photographic purists. I see Goldin as being true to her vision.
    Expectations, yes. Anticipation is part of the process of making a photograph . . . in the planning, the somewhat more spontaneous shooting, and the processing. To varying degrees, I anticipate, for example by pre-visualizing when appropriate and when I can and by remaining close enough to my subject (emotionally) to sense when I will press the shutter. And, as you suggest, viewers have expectations. I can ignore those, fulfill them, disappoint or undermine them, redirect them, explode them.
    You ask an interesting question and I'd love to hear others' thoughts on it if they're still engaged:
    "If the expectation is not met, for me as a viewer, then what is it: am I looking at a truth which is different from my previous understanding, or is it lie? Either way, it provokes me to think, and I tip my hat to the creator." --Wouter
    I will think more about it but I have a feeling my answer lies (no pun intended) somewhere in the root of your final word . . . create.
    Luis, you actually brought this up earlier, with your question "What do we expect to see when we view a photograph?" I'm not sure if that was meant rhetorically (if it was, it was effective) but I wonder if you might actually be thinking of an answer, especially in relation to what Wouter has talked about.
  81. On Wouter's question of expectation, I think there lies a trap. What should we expect of the image? What right do we have to have any expectations other than a general desire to see and experience a work that is original and might communicate something. I expect only to be surprised, delighted, disappointed, educated by new approaches or creations, reinforced in my own thoughts and approach, and come away enlightened.
    That is certainly the case for fine art and photography in that sense. If you are a client who has mandated an image then, yes, you have a right to expect something more specific or related to truth versus lies. When I go to an exhibition, I do not expect anything specific at the start. If what Wooter means is that he expects not to be lied to, or that he expects something that for him is true, or that he expects something that lies but does so in a specific waùy, then he must accept the limitations of his desire and accept that in all likelihood he may come away unsatisfied.
    The only way that makes artistic sense to me is to go to an exhibition and expect nothing except something akin to personal pleasure or intellectual fulfillment, but to interact with the works and interface with what the artist has done, and profit from that, but to have a very open and curious mind about it.
  82. Arthur, I interpreted the expectations question a little differently, though I definitely agree with your thoughts coming from the perspective you did. I would answer the question you're answering very similarly, as a matter of fact. Your openness to receive as a viewer seems significant even insofar as the kind of photographer it would make you.
    I was thinking more internally to a specific photograph or body of work. As a photographer, I can play with expectations. For example, that is how symbolism works and how moving symbolism forward works. So that, if I am including a cross in a photo, I expect that people will recognize the symbolic nature of the cross, depending on where it is and how I shoot it, of course. Knowing that, I may want to put that cross in a jar of piss as Serrano did, thereby being pretty sure I'd elicit some strong reactions and perhaps stimulate some contentious dialogues about photography, about religion, etc. Or I would more likely come up with something of my own to do with the cross that would either work with or work against the expectations I could predict a viewer might be likely to have.
    As a viewer, I have had my expectations played with in some pretty creative ways. For instance, a couple of times, I've received invitations to an artist's show with a painting or photo included on the invitation. When I arrived at the show, it became clear that the example printed on the invitation was a setup of sorts, in one case suggesting one kind of show when in fact the show was nothing like what most of us expected, even though we saw how well the piece on the invitation fit into the very unexpected context of the overall show.
    What I described can even happen within one photo. At first glance, sometimes the surface quality (perhaps the color palette, overall style, etc.) of a photo will really belie what I wind up experiencing once I spend a little time looking deeper. That's something I find good photographs doing often, revealing themselves slowly. And sometimes, as they reveal themselves slowly, they manage to set up and then defy expectations. Imagine a photo of a pastoral scene, perhaps with a glowing sunset. At first I'm seeing "pretty." As I look, I realize there are dead body parts strewn on the beach, what I initially thought were rocks and seaweed. Expectations undermined.
  83. [] Wouter's idea of truth and lie seems like a parallel to light and dark.
    [] I have no problem with the word, performance, theory, practice and/ or outcome of art. No more than I do with the word "love", "Human", etc. Everything human contains the seeds of its opposite, or can be seen in a negative light, diminished, soiled, etc. I see art as one of the best things humans do.
    [] Viewers, considered in a general sense, fall into a bell curve of sorts. A sidewalk art show artist gets a different portion of that curve than, say, an MFA candidate showing at his university, or artists in certain communities at their local venues, or a tagger in a neighborhood full of others like herself. Thanks to fluctuations in the (cultural) vacuum or anthropics, now and then creative people pool, fields form and cluster in unlikely places. Most photographers, quite a few artists (schooled and unschooled) and a large portion of the audience is visually illiterate. This doesn't mean they are blind or insensate. Nor should they be overlooked. They are our last, best hope for the future.
    People see what they know. All along that bell curve, different people are expecting different things as they approach a photograph. Many viewers have told me they expect to be entertained, illuminated, exposed to culture, surprised, and have their horizons broadened. Most focus on the "Window" aspect of a photograph, that the frame acts as a window which shows the subject or scene.
  84. Here's an illuminating read on this topic:
  85. Excellent article, Luis, especially the author's conclusion:
    "But photographs are neither true nor false in and of themselves. They are only true or false with respect to statements that we make about them or the questions that we might ask of them."
    That is, the importance of the viewer.
    I have just been listening this morning over coffee to CBC radio's series "The age of persuasion" (analyses of marketing and advertising), in which the history of the Benneton company advertising was one subject this morning. Visconti, the photographer who initially (1980s?) created the united, international, concept of Beneton, went on to later provide (until he left Benneton in 2005) provoking images in advertising (war scenes, aids victims dying, even the so-called shocking image of a new born baby, umbilical cord attached) that were either accepted, or not, by the media. The images were of actual events, controversial, not typical of advertising. The viewer was incited by these to feelings of displeasure, of peace, of unity, and so on. The company combined public image and moral responsibility in one message.
    The photographs became true or false by the interaction of the viewer.
  86. denotation: the surface or literal meaning encoded to a signifier, and the definition most likely to appear in a dictionary
    connotation: a meaning of a word or phrase that is suggested or implied, as opposed to a denotation, or literal meaning.
    "... each connotation is the starting point of a code(which will never be reconstituted), the articulation of a voice which is woven into the text. [ ... ] connotation releases the double meaning on principle, corrupts the purity of communicatioin: it is a deliberate "static" painstakingly elaborated, introduced into the fictive dialogue between author and reader, in short, a countercommunication [ ... ] Structurally, the existence of two supposedly different systems -- denotation and connotation -- enables the text to operate like a game, each system referring to the other according to the requirements of a certain illusion. [ ... ] denotation is not the first meaning, but pretends to be so, ... it is ultimately no more than the last of the connotations (the one which seems to establish and close the reading) ... This is why, if we want to go along with the classic text, we must keep denotation, the old deity, watchful, cunning, theatrical, foreordained to represent the collective innocence of language."​
    -- from S/Z: An Essay by Roland Barthes (for Albert, who liked the previous Barthes so much)
  87. Julie, I guess especially the beginning of this thread played out on the battlefield of the denoters and the connoters, the old guard and the discursive disobedients.
    Ain't it the truth.
  88. This thing between the literalists and those who dare go beyond (even if they respect the literal) is played out routinely on this forum.
    "'We can create a land of dreams.'
    "'But how can we make it solid?'
    "'We don't. That is precisely the error of the mummies. They made spirit solid. When you do this, it ceases to be spirit. We will make ourselves less solid.'
    "Well, that's what art is all about, isn't it? All creative thought, actually. A bid for immortality. So long as sloppy, stupid, so-called democracies live, the ghosts of various boringpeople who escape my mind still stalk about in the mess they have made.
    "We poets and writers are tidier, fade out in firefly evenings, a Prom and a distant train whistle, we live in a maid opening a boiled egg for a long-ago convalescent, we live in the snow on Michael's grave falling softly like the last descent of their last end on all the living and the dead, we live in the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, in the last and greatest of human dreams..."
    --- William Burroughs, "Western Lands"
  89. Fred,
    Except ... except for the photograph itself (that piece of paper embedded with silver or pigment). There you encounter the connoter in denoter clothing (or is it denoter in connoter cloths?) and/or some sort of mongrel crossbred schizoid creature that claims that the photograph IS the REAL scene but that's ALL that it is.
    On the bright side, it gives the excuse to post interesting quotes (thank you). If you had posted the above without attribution I would never have guessed William Burroughs.
  90. Luis, it is parallel to light and dark. When one enters the dark, the eyes will adjust and you will see again - differently with physically different eyes. Maybe to find that the thing you did not see at first is there, or vice-versa. The article you link to is very close to what I tried to say.
    The expectation I meant was "per picture based" expectation. You expect a certain result from the artist, a certain view on a subject, a certain use of material, colour, texture, and especially indeed symbols, cultural connotations etc. build up a specific expectation. I think anybody has that, regardless on where on the 'bell-curve' they are. The main difference will be the how graceful can one react when the expectation is not met - I guess that's when the moral judgement on the "lie" start playing a role.
  91. Truths and lies?, what facet of everyday life doesn't carry with it both, all be it in unequal proportions! Why then should photography be any different an expression of the truth we know and the lie with which we express it. I find the struggle between truths and lies to be evident in almost every photograph, why, because the photographer's perception is ever present.
    Fred Goldsmith: "Photographs tell deep truths". I agree Fred. They reveal the truth of ever present lies (an oxymoron that works much like a Greek tragedy)
    I think in a way I take your words.."So, you get a truth, but not necessarily a truth that took place when the photo was shot" to express that very notion of a filtered reality and an expression of truth which is nothing more than a subjective interpretation of reality and thus may very well be the lie of a realist (food for thought and a good topic of discussion)

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