Photography and spirituality?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by n_onaga, Jul 6, 2013.

  1. I am interested about what people think about the relationship between photography and spirituality. Do you think there is a relationship generally, and/or do you think your photography has such a relationship?
    I feel like there are a significant number of photographers who articulate a relationship with spirituality, such as feeling a spiritual motivation or purpose to photograph, feeling that spiritual practice impacts their photographic technique, or feeling the source of their photography is spiritual (for instance, the photographs come to them from a spiritual source.) I've also seen a few books about photography itself as a spiritual practice (for instance, the practice of seeing and the world with more care, which is required for photography, can be a contemplative practice). I have a feeling that there are more photographers out there that don't normally talk openly about their relationship with spirituality.
    I'm also interested in why this topic seems to be under-discussed. Is it because of contemporary art trends (as well as world trends) devalued such ideas? I wonder for instance, whether there was more discussion on this topic when Minor White was a prominent figure. And whether some views that are critical of his work and his significance is related to the devaluation of the idea that photography does/should have a relationship with spirituality?
     
  2. I can't answer your question, but I can offer some background to them, non-religious and religious.
    First the non-religious from the Preface and Coda by Robert A. Sobieszek to the book Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul, 1850-2000:
    .
    "... In order, then, to differentiate between the container and the contained, let us consider the human machine, or more particularly its face, as something of a malleable shell that encompasses and reveals the unnameable ghost(s) residing within each of us.
    "Ghost in the Shell is the title of a Japanese graphic novel (manga) and the animated film (anime) based on it. Both include a discussion of just how many prostheses or synthetic components may be added to a human and how much intelligence or emotion may be programmed into a cyborg before any real distinctions between the two cease to exist."
    "... "ghost in the shell" echoes an important essay by John Welchman:
    • For the 20th century the photographic became the crucial domain of conflict between the real and the reproduced. It put on a series of masks ranging from the supposedly pure social presence of the documentary to the pure abstract materialism of formal experiment. ... But both extremes of the photographic stage their signification through an implicit notion of the absolute: thus photography becomes the ghost in the machine of rational and universalist knowledge, the very flicker of the God-form.
    [ ... ]
    " ... What lies behind the face does not matter so much as what the face lies behind: it rests behind speech and has become the philosophy of both language and body."
    " ... When it comes to discerning what is beneath the surface that hides the human psyche, there are countless clues and no solutions: The "puzzle is not the lack of meaning but its excess." François Dagognet, a philosopher and medical doctor, is convinced that the "psyche emerges from the most complex corporeal structures": the "interior overflows; mental energies always spill over. Let us learn to recover and interrogate that overflow." Nothing is concealed; everything is there to see, and the possible theories are numerous. But sometimes, as in "The Purloined Letter" by Edgar Allan Poe, even careful searching will not reveal what is most obvious: the eagerly sought letter remains safe, resting atop the surface of the mantel, hidden in plain sight to all the detectives looking for it."
    " ... Forget about skin, bones, and muscles. Ultimately there is only the irido, the iris that looks out and sees the other's face, and the eye that receives and returns the glance. At this point the surface is indeed profound: at this juncture between the interior and exterior, there is a ligature of mind and body, consciousness and countenance, camera lens and human eye, the iridic surfaces of platinum prints and the carnal surfaces of human faces."​
    .
    And, now, the religious, from the Preface, by Thomas Keating, Abbot to Saint Joseph's Abbey, to the book Presence by the photographer Shirley C. Burden:
    .
    " ... The light of faith may resemble the rays of the sun filtering through a stained-glass window and illuminating the various tints and delicate intricacies of the glass, as well as its cracks and flaws. Thus, faith filters through our human faculties manifesting, along with the evidence of human frailty, the beauty and goodness of our personhood by the quality of the thoughts and actions that it inspires.
    "Faith can also resemble the rays of the sun pouring through a transparent glass window, an experience of light that is much more powerful. At times the glass seems itself to be transformed into light. Thus, surrender to faith leads to a more intimate relationship with God — even to a kind of identification that deepens the experience of presence, giving it a wholly new meaning and perspective.
    " But there is a further possibility. Suppose that somehow the glass is shattered, leaving in place of the window a great open hole. Presence would no longer be a relationship between two parts, but a oneness. Such is the ultimate destiny of human presence. Love is what changes the perception of ordinary reality into insight, and presence into unity. As love grows, therefore, so do insight and unity. Art seeks to assist this transformation by pointing to it or by expressing it. Everything depends on the artist's level of insight and openness to reality. Is the function of the art of photography to preserve the artist's moment of insight or simply to let reality speak for itself? Perhaps it is not for the photographer to reply, but to open himself and to present his lens to the light."​
    .
     
  3. To the extent that photography is just another form of communication, it can be as involved (or not) as speaking, writing, dancing, music, sculpture or any other form of expression in conveying one's world view. Compassion, reflection, empathy, remembrance, judgement, passion, or any of the other things that flow from the human mind (I don't find the word "spirit" to be necessary, really) can be influenced and strengthened (or diluted!) by communication. Certainly photography (like poetry) can be a powerful vector for stirring contemplation or conveying its results.
    I have a feeling that there are more photographers out there that don't normally talk openly about their relationship with spirituality.​
    Perhaps they prefer to let their photographs do the talking. Or, they don't consider themselves to have a relationship, per se, with a construct they've created within their own brains (is it meaningful to say you have a relationship with yourself, as opposed to simply being yourself?).
    ...related to the devaluation of the idea that photography does/should have a relationship with spirituality?​
    It might help if you provided your working definition of "spirituality," in this context.
     
  4. I have a feeling that there are more photographers out there that don't normally talk openly about their relationship with spirituality.​
    The moment you point yourself out as being spiritual, you lose it because being spiritual comes from humility, not from ego. The truly spiritual don't know they are.
     
  5. Three answers, three different takes on spirituality. The question is very valid, the problem is that spirituality isn't as defined as a dictionary may lead to believe. Easy short descriptions won't catch exactly what it could mean, and most probably every next person has an ever-so-slightly-different take on what it is, and what it isn't.
    And, in my view, there is probably also the core reason why it is discussed so little - the real meaning any individual gives to spirituality differs, the value of it differs, the scope differs, the impact on their psychological well-being might even differ - and then the big pink elefant Julie already touched upon: religion (or not) - with all the risks of running into a fundamentalist proclaiming singular truths. It's a tricky subject.
    It's also more and more a very individual and private subject; it's about hopes, fears, doubts and rock-hard beliefs. How far are you willing to open up on the internet, where any anonymous insensitive bully can have a go at you? Plus, what would you get out of the conversation?
    Really, I don't think it's undervalued, and I think spirituality (in any shape or form) is a red herring in art and in personal creative expressions (and photography can be both that). But it's a discussion better done between friends, people who know each other well and can be empathic and non-judgemental about it. People who don't offer statements as a reply, but are more willing to ask you questions to gain a mutual deeper understanding. Web forums tend to be the wrong medium for that.
     
  6. The pianist Glenn Gould didn't want to play music in any standard way. He created some sort of spiritual communication in the music of Bach, Schoenberg and some other composers by seeing between the musical lines and interpreting the music in his own, and one might say, other-worldly way. For me that is about as good an example of spiritual presence in the arts as any. He apparently did not succeed in that sense with Mozart or even Beethoven, but did with the other composers mentioned. Apparently his vision was formed before he reached 20 although he wasn't released to the public until 23.
    Taking the listener or viewer to an other-worldly perception/interpretation exists in all arts, albeit infrequently. No reason why it is not present in photography.
    It is encouraging to have made a photograph and then realize later that it has something that was only partially intended, or even not. If we see something new or unique it may be akin to a Gould performance or just something random and less significant. Some of these experiences may have a spiritual content, although it is dangerous to suppose all may be of that nature. I like to think that many of the more positive results may be more by chance than by intent (with high level artists it is probably by intent). Yes or no, it probably doesn't matter which, as how the image affects a viewer is what is important (in addition to the process enjoyed by the artist).
     
  7. The word is overused in too many ways. Where's a better word? I impulsively close my BS filters when I see or hear it. Having to stop and consider the use of what has become such a junk word by an otherwise sincere, feeling, reasonable person, the word asks for a wait, wait they didn't really mean that reflex.
    There needs to be another single word in our vernacular (besides "awesome") to distinguish transcendent from the merely ineffable feelings that everyone fully human experiences.
    In the creative realm work may evoke wondrous feelings or present the author's experience of them without being explicitly transcendental.
     
  8. Alan, your points are vaild, as are any concerning the non-adroit usage of words, but the case for spritual, at least in the non-religious use of the term (religion allows a specific usage of the word as much as a general one), is not compicated.
    Herewith three definitions that pretty well speak in simple terms of the same thing:
    Google définition :
    "Of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things".
    Oxford dictionary (the secular definition option)
    "Relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things":
    Wikipedia discussion of spiritual :
    The term spiritual, matters "concerning the spirit", is derived from Old French spirituel (12c.), which is derived from Latin spiritualis, which comes from from "spiritus" or "spirit".
    So, these adjectives can pertain in admittedly rare cases to any creative activity of man, whether thought or deed.
    So, again, why not in photography?
    (Or in another sense, can anyone show that some photography CANNOT allow a spiritual communication or result for the viewer?)
     
  9. Arthur,
    I could testify that, indeed, I found photographing something sooo spiritual, meaning nothing at all transcendent. Trying to evoke a wondrous, feeling or an epiphany is challenging. If I stumble across something THAT affecting to me I just enjoy it. Like telling about a dream, it can't measure up and is nearly always boring.
    My first photography instructor was a Minor White devote. I remember one thing in particular. He pointed out the importance of symbolism in pictures, like circles. A prominent circular shape gave a picture a spiritual boost. Symbolic tokenism!
     
  10. Ah, Alan, therein lies the difference that I think is important. A warm and wondrous spiritual feeling sensed by the photographer is not the same I think as something from the spirit of the photographer and something that the ensuing creation may evoke in the viewer.
    I understand your point I think, and have at times come across artists who seem to enjoy speaking (or writing) of how they have had some spiritual experience in making their works. Often that has seemed to my ears and mind as just so much BS.
    If spherical forms give the picture a spiritual boost, we should all run out and buy a 6mm or 8mm fisheye lens. Symbolism is but a visible component of the image, like the use of red versus blue to evoke passion or danger as opposed to calm or peace. Well used, symbols are important but they can also be simply superficial icing on the cake (nothing wrong with icing in some cases) and not as deep as it can get when the image has a more spiritual content or message.
    Isolating a subject within an environment is a sort of circular or point compositional approach that can sometimes help in raising the spiritual nature of the message, at least if the photographer and that subject have made contact in a less material and more intimate and incisive way. But that is only one of the possible conditions in the realisation of a spiritual photographic communication and by no means sufficient in and of itself. Getting closer to the solution or cause renders analysis even more difficult. If I can digress, those at the 1959 Berlin concert of Gould (or so I am told) noticed at least one mistake in his playing, but the rest, and his youthful creative energy, was "awesome" (a disliked and overused word...) and bordered on the spiritual, as it did when he made the Russian composer Scriabin and the German composer Schoenberg known for the first time to a Moscow audience.
     
  11. A friend watching me photograph with an 8x10 camera pointed out that the entire process had many parallels with a kind of secular sacrament.
    First there is a recognition of inspirational subject matter then an intense contemplation of it followed by enough ecstatic rapport to motivate setting up the camera.
    The camera on its tripod is a portable shrine that is erected worshipfully in front of evocative subject matter.
    In the small dark private space under the focussing cloth the photographer and the glowing image on the ground glass engage in a binding communion to make the photograph.
    A large piece of expensive film is an offering to the subject. It is an offering that will be "burnt" at the moment of exposure.
    The "burnt" film contains something that a moment before was part of the subject. It is a like the relic of a saint.
    The finishing of the negative and the subsequent positive completes the ritual and culminates a homage to reality that, for an atheist, is as near to a religious experience as can be deeply experienced.
     
  12. Spirituality effects conversion of the will.
    To the extent that one feels that one's will participates in one's creativity, spirituality (in one form or another) will be the root source that impels (compels).
     
  13. Couldn't you then, Julie, just substitute "purpose" for "spirituality" in that context?
     
  14. You feel that "purpose" precedes "will" and not vice versa? What impelled the "purpose?
     
  15. Judaism contains a directive for people to engage in Tikkun Olam. This Hebrew phrase usually is translated as "repairing the world," but I vastly prefer "transforming the world." In a religious sense, this refers to acts that confer holiness on an object, an action, a person . . . within one's experience. More generally, just substitute the word "meaning" for "holiness".
    Can the above be applied to photography? You betcha. Any time a photographer presses a shutter, there is at least a tacit expression of the photographer's hopes, dreams, preferences, values, etc. Making a photograph is tantamount to engaging oneself in dialogue, whether it be external or internal.
    I probably need to provide a considerable amount of unpacking regarding what I said above. So I do apologize for what may appear to be an incomplete line of thought. Fire away, and I will do my best to respond.
     
  16. Michael, I enjoy what you've introduced into the discussion, but how on earth can you suggest "just" substituting "meaning" for "holiness"? That's like saying, "just substitute 'rational' for 'irrational'."
     
  17. You feel that "purpose" precedes "will" and not vice versa? What impelled the "purpose?​
    Purpose is shaped by both biological need (baked-in, DNA-based drives/motivations) and, with development, a value system tied to one's understanding of the world. Will is something (like strength or pain tolerance or quickness of mind or any other manifestation of many complex intersecting qualities) that is a measure of one's ability to act on the purpose in question. But it can be messy: a strong-willed person with rudderless purpose or a world view built on mixed premises can seem dangerously irrational. A clear-thinking person with integrity of purpose, but lacking in will, can allow the irrationality of others to swamp them.

    Having no coherent purpose, I think, weakens the will. Like getting no muscle one from being too conflicted on which direction to jog, and thus getting no exercise.

    Photography, and every other form of communication, can be used to reflect on or communicate about all of that. Having a flash of insight or clarity about it while creating or consuming such communication might be called a "spiritual" experience by some, but that word choice brings along far too much baggage and implied mysticism, I think, and muddies the waters.
     
  18. Matt wrote: "Having no coherent purpose, I think, weakens the will." I would claim that having no will weakens the purpose.
    How do you get creativity out of your formulation? If we already know what we want/need to say, why do we need creativity at all?
     
  19. I would claim that having no will weakens the purpose.​
    We're starting to split some hairs, here, but I'd argue that having no will weakens the ability to act on the purpose.
    How do you get creativity out of your formulation?​
    Creativity is a complex phenomenon. It's like being "smart," which is to say it shows up in varied forms. But generally speaking, I'd say that creativity is that well-evolved trait that came along with things like opposable thumbs and a big enough brain to outwit, rather than outrun or overpower game for food or predators on the prowl. Making even simple tools required innovation. Creative thinking is a selected-for survival trait in us naked apes. Once it's got some free time on its hands that capability, it can be put to work in the service of more than just day to day survival.

    In the same way that creative hunting skills increased the odds of thriving and reproducing, creative communication skills increased one's standing and influence within the group (and among potential mates). At the evolutionary level, for early humans, creativity was right up there with athleticism or a solid immune system.
    If we already know what we want/need to say, why do we need creativity at all?​
    We know what we need to accomplish, and use creativity to find the most efficient or motivating ways to do it and/or communicate about it.
     
  20. Matt wrote: "We know what we need to accomplish, ... "
    We do?
    Or, when/if, to the extent that we believe that we do, I would claim that it is the spiritual that effects conversion of the will to, and then impels the will toward, that which is, as you say, "what we need."
     
  21. OK, I'll rephrase. When one decides (based on one's value system) that there is something one needs/wants to accomplish, one also needs the will to act upon that decision.
     
  22. Making reference to the wonders of life, as artists we might accept mystical views of things not fully understood without embracing them ourselves. We are rationalist, as far as that can take us, and then give way to satisfying alternatives of the metaphysical kind. We forego reason, making a ritual or symbol out of an idea, to give it a satisfying cultural fit. Is our work seen as metaphor disguised as a true belief or the just opposite?
    I use the term "photographic mystique" to describe my admittedly narrow, essentialist view of film photography. I could say " Film is like the potter's finger print on a vessel." To me there is a quasi-magical component to the true photograph.
     
  23. [H]ow on earth can you suggest "just" substituting "meaning" for "holiness"? That's like saying, "just substitute 'rational' for 'irrational'."


    As you stated, my substitution was merely a suggestion. I did not make any truth-claims.
    For some people, there is no meaning in human life without holiness. Other people take the position that there is no such thing as holiness, and that whatever meaning may exist in human life is what we impose upon it. Still others, like me, feel that holiness and meaning are not mutually exclusive concepts. You, on the other hand, seem to think otherwise.
    As I recall, there are many shades of gray in between black and white. We don't need to make the current matter a black vs. white issue. I think we both can be happy living with the gray.
     
  24. You have to have that sort of mindset before you would ever "see" spirituality in something. I would not say it's been undervalued or under discussed in photography, or any art medium. I would say it is totally irrelevant. Art is about just that, not side issues. Someone with no knowledge of Christianity, for instance, would read the Western world's work of Michelangelo's time very differently than a Christian would. Someone w/ no knowledge of Buddhism would see something different in a Buddha statue than a Buddhist practitioner would. In fact, a Zen practitioner would see it for what it really is, a statue. Someone w/ a devotional Buddhist practice would also see it as a statue, and also as what it may symbolize to them. Spirituality, as far as I can discern, is learned, not innate, and different cultures have different teachings on it. It's up to each individual to accept those teachings as their own truth, or go another way. Of course the earlier someone is indoctrinated w/ a teaching, especially in a culture which enforces that teaching, the more it is somewhat hardwired into an individual, a fact that is not lost on religious and political leaders.
    Minor White was an exceptional artist, and one need not subscribe to any particular spiritual belief system to appreciate his work.
     
  25. Michael, what gives meaning (i.e. holiness) cannot = meaning. If what gives meaning = meaning, you are circling (you have a tautology).
    I am very interested in what gives meaning.
     
  26. Julie, it's a shame that you apparently feel like you have to lecture me in minutia. And this is not the first time. I find your style of communicating with me polemical, and it really gets us nowhere.
    Besides, for someone who appears to be so knowledgeable in philosophy, you are conflating a tautology with a circular argument. But don't believe me - do the research and look it up for yourself.
     
  27. Interesting to see how many turns and interpretations and details of cause and effect are being brought forward to explain the parameter called spiritual and its relation to art or photography. While I do not want to suggest that all of this discussion is somewhat akin to Brownian movement, it may be appropriate to remind ourselves of the latin and medieval definitions of word spiritual as being "of the spirit, soul, or mind". That seems quite simple and fruitful in this context, but how one wants to view it in regard to evaluing or interpreting a work of art is more subjective.
     
  28. Arthur: Indeed, "spirituality" has broad application, whether religious or otherwise.
     
  29. Oh, I forgot. The definition of "spiritual" Arthur provided encompasses meaning.
     
  30. Arthur, I think we use interpretations and explanation to tell what spiritualism is *not.* By its negative we try to catch it in our nets ...
    A change of color in the plain poet's mind,
    Night and silence disturbed by an interior sound,
    [— Wallace Stevens, Note on Moonlight]​
     
  31. I don't catch the negative in your example, Julie (my brain has contacted the scent of only one coffee this morning....), but I think that a poet often uses analogies in a spiritual connection/creation (and from the definition I accept of spiritual, almost anything a poet writes is indeed of some spiritual content). When we allude to (and apply) symbolism and analogies in our photographic work it may gain some elements of the spiritual in its message (although often not enough).
     
  32. See Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus II, #29.
     
  33. In II-29 Rilke is writing to himself and is apparently referring to the difficulty of communion with the ineffable.
    Wikipedia gives an example of the thoughts of the great German language poet in his own epitaph:

    "Rose, oh pure contradiction, delight 
of being no one's sleep under so 
many lids"
    They remark that Rilke often worked with metaphors, metonymy and contradictions. In his epitaph, the rose is a symbol of sleep – rose petals are reminiscent of closed eye lids.
    Photography has fewer fingers and arms as does poetry and communicating a spiritual message is perhaps more difficult. I am having difficulty finding examples. Perhaps some images of Eugene Smith's Minamata Bay sickness victims and their parents are close to it? Any other examples, perhaps more powerful or convincing ones?
     
  34. "I am having difficulty finding examples." ????!!!!!
    Seriously? Anything by Atget, anything by Sally Mann, Sudek, anything by Minor White, etc. etc.
    Also, Arthur, while I respect your opinion, and am familiar with its logic — that symbolism, analogies are to do with communicating spirituality — my own feeling is diametrically opposite to that. For me, spirituality is what comes before any possibility of symbolism, any possibility of analogy, before ideas. That 'before/behind-ness' originary impulsion is what makes the spiritual spiritual, IMO. It is *because* it escapes ideas that it needs its own name. It's not a word for "special" ideas; not airy-fairy, New Age cotton-candy ideas that are just one category to compare to meat-and-potato ideas.
     
  35. Julie, yes, seriously.
    The role of the work of painted or sculpted art, photograph, poem, or other, is in some rather rare cases simply one of catalysing a spiritual response. I am incited by it to consider something bigger than it or me. Such reflection may not go far, but it is in a direction that many of us attempt to know more about, namely the conditions of and reason for our existence as a species.
    Attributing a spirituality to the artist before he produces a work and we react to it may be interesting, but it is not of great concern for me. I react much more to how and why I perceive something to be greater than what it appears to be, which is more about what is happening in my own mind.
    (I wish Fred G could be part of this open discussion (come on, dear moderator, how long a purgatory has been inflicted on a once active PofP debater?). My last sentence relates also to his own feeling on the subject, unless I am mistaken)).
     
  36. Hi everyone,
    I was the one that posted the initial question, sorry I didn't have a chance to comment in the discussion earlier, I got caught up with various deadlines
    There is more that I would want to say, but I'll just start with a few thoughts now:
    First, I wanted to say that I am very appreciative of all your responses, they are so thoughtful and contain wonderful insights on the question from so many angles.
    Julie H thank you so much for the quotes from Ghost in the Shell, I will look for the book. I am very interested in the idea that photography can show a reality, whether it's physical or abstract, secular or religious.
    What we each consider reality, and whether "spirituality" exists or not within that reality, and within a photographer, photograph, or photographic experience or creative energy ~ that seems to be at the crux of some of the discussion?
    For people that don't really believe that spirituality exists separately than anything else, it's better not to use the term and to use other words like mind, meaning, purpose. But for people that believe spirituality exists, separately from other things, it's not accurate to conflate it with such words. Does that seem accurate?
    As an example, on the early discussion that Matt raised about whether it's more useful to substitute the word "mind" for spiritual -- doesn't it depend on your view world view? For many spiritual philosophies, there is a distinction between “mind” and “spirit”. Both are hard to define and understand, but I know a lot of eastern philosophies (and non-eastern ones) see spirit/soul as a separate part of the self, that is distinguished from the mind. I think a frequent type of categorization of the parts of the self are mind-body-spirit, or heart(emotions/desires)-mind-spirit-body, etc. That a person contains many aspects is a widely utilized concept, for instance in modern psychology (conscious, unconscious, ego, emotions, etc.) I think “spiritual" views add “spirit” or “soul” as an aspect to a person (and the world), while the secular does not. I think those spiritual philosophies usually see a person's will or purpose as often coming from the mind or ego. (Though as Julie said, I think they see spirituality as having the power to intervene to affect someone's will or purpose (or anything.) But they are distinct.) So while some of the discussion is about words, fundamentally we are talking about differences in world view.
    I agree "spirituality" is hard to talk about because it is broadly defined and each person understands it a different way. But aren't alot of words and concepts the same? Like "beauty" -- hard to define, differs for each person, runs risks of fundamentalism and imposition on others. IF we choose to talk about art, isn't it necessary to talk about beauty, at least some of the time? If spiritual inspiration, process, or impact is something real within photography, isn't it necessary sometimes to talk about it? Isn't it helpful for us to know that Glenn Gould saw his process as being "other worldly"? And that some listeners felt the music had an other worldly effect.
    I think the idea that Alan Zinn raised about rationalists being able to accept more mystical things when it comes in art is totally fascinating. And that a "true" photograph has a quasi-magical component. Some "spiritual" philosophies might consider that one of the functions of art -- the analogy of pointing to the window of light, and breaking it open.
    But I totally agree with Alan Klein's comment early in the discussion that defining or broadcasting oneself as being spiritual might come from ego and can be antithetical to spirituality, and I agree that truly “spiritual” people often don't know they are. I guess my personal view is that it's not good to discuss one's spirituality all the time, but it is good and necessary sometimes, and it can be done (to the extent anything can be done), without alot of ego. If “spirituality” exists, I personally think everything and everyone is “spiritual”, but some people are more oriented to recognizing that aspect in themselves, observing its operation, nurturing it. They may or may not like to discuss it with others. The same way everyone has some kind of philosophical paradigm within which they define meaning and operate, but some people like to think and talk about it, some people like to think about it but not talk about it, some people know it's there but don't want to think about it consciously, and some people don't think it exists at all.
    I think words are generally an imperfect approximation of what we mean, and it's a very imperfect medium of communication, but it's still worthwhile, at least sometimes, to share and exchange our views on things. That's one of the functions that art can serve, to express, communicate and to raise discussion about our views of reality, and our range of human experience? I've personally found all of your comments and discussion have been extremely helpful and has opened up alot more depth and space for me to explore, thank you, and I am sure I will reflect on them more over time. I look forward to any other thoughts and discussion.
     
  37. Addendum: Julie, I think you are talking more about the spiritual as a personal attribute or experience independent of photography, while some of us are concerned with whether a work of art can evoke a spiritual quality or message, and a response or interaction of spiritual nature or kind in the viewer.
    Religion is but one manifestation of spirituality, but it seems to have appropriated the term in modern times. Perhaps we would be more accurate in referring to "religious spirituality" when evoking the term.
     
  38. [That Jesus in the clouds looks like he's farting on a Celestial scale!]
    Seriously...."All this talk of spirituality will lead you to start taking photographs of sun lit mountains, clouds with jesus figures in them, misty water shots, flowers with dew, kids looking skyward and pretty animals and monks and such."
    ....ridiculizes the idea of spirituality. A minimum of knowledge on photo-history shows the above to be untrue. Sentimentality and fear of death are not the same as spirituality.
     
  39. Kevin, I don't experience spirituality as others do and, like most things, I don't think each person experiencing it has the same kind of relationship to it. As you, I suspect that in some cases claims of spirituality are as spurious as claims of religion. Unlike you, though, I don't think it's all pretension and puffery. I think some of it is heartfelt. Though I would rarely use the word to describe my own experiences, I have a good sense of what people mean when they use it, and I don't mind describing some photos as spiritual, knowing how it's used in a lot of discourse. I could certainly describe photos as diverse as Weston's pepper or toilet, Serrano's Piss Christ (not only for the obvious symbolic or narrative reasons but for its expressiveness and womb-like transformativeness) and some of Stieglitz's O'Keefe portraits as spiritual, which I would do in the context of this thread, though I might not outside of it. I would seriously question an assumption that talk of spirituality would lead sophisticated photographers to take pics of sunlit mountains or misty water. I would consider that kind of connection a rather superficial and mythological projection of what spirituality is like, almost a Disney fantasy akin to the Disney interpretation in Fantasia of what classical music means or looks like. Are there people who have such an obvious and superficial relationship to spirituality? Yes. But I wouldn't, therefore, throw the baby out with the bath water and I'm happy to empathize with others' expressions of spirituality even if I would likely name it and think of it somewhat differently. I love reading The Iliad and The Odyssey and whether I "believe in" Zeus and Apollo is somewhat irrelevant to my experience of these literary works. What is not irrelevant is my understanding that the poet and the people of the times did believe in those things and I have no need to see that belief as silly or to judge it from my own very different context, history, and experience.
     
  40. Kevin, for me, photos aren't necessarily about something. I didn't say any of this would help me make better photos. I said I understood why people talked in these terms. "Better" isn't always the goal. Nor is explaining.
    In terms of focus, I tend to focus on my own process and not get too exercised about how other people going about becoming inspired, though I do find it strangely stimulating to hear what floats others' boats.
     
  41. For people that don't really believe that spirituality exists separately than anything else, it's better not to use the term and to use other words like mind, meaning, purpose. But for people that believe spirituality exists, separately from other things, it's not accurate to conflate it with such words. Does that seem accurate?​
    The question is: what did *you* mean by "spirituality"? If one person makes a statement about a concept to another person that has a different understanding of that concept, there won't be any understanding. To be able to communicate an idea, you need to have the same understanding of the words used in expressing it.
    Wouter pointed this out very early in the thread:
    the problem is that spirituality isn't as defined as a dictionary may lead to believe.​
    and I have not seen anyone producing a definition of spirituality that was accepted and worked with to produce an answer to your question.

    Any answer, to be useful to someone else than the writer, needs to start with a definition of these vague concepts that dictionaries only explain in reference to other vague concepts.
    A few more comments:
    But aren't alot of words and concepts the same?​
    Yes, but that is no excuse for not attempting to explain what they mean to *you* in a way that others can understand your point of view.
    Isn't it helpful for us to know that Glenn Gould saw his process as being "other worldly"?​
    In what way would that be helpful? Can you reproduce the process or understand it because of that description?
     
  42. We can't talk about what's not in the dictionary? Then what did the first dictionary makers talk about?
    "If one person makes a statement about a concept to another person that has a different understanding of that concept, there won't be any understanding." Find me two people that have the very same "understanding" of *any* concept ... then get back to me.
    If we can't talk about what we don't already understand, then there goes not only poetry, but also science. Oh well.
     
  43. [Note to future readers of this thread: Kevin Laracy's July 22 comment, quoted in Luis G's post seems to have been deleted by the mods.]
    Let's try something 'smaller' than 'spirituality.' How about 'red'?
    Dictionary definition of red is: 1. red colour or pigment.
    Clear enough. But then we have G.K. Chesterton writing:
    "Red is the most joyful and dreadful thing in the physical universe; it is the fiercest note, it is the highest light, it is the place where the walls of this world of ours wear the thinnest and something beyond burns through."
    On the other hand we have Robert Rauschenberg writing (against the Abstract Expressionists):
    "How can red be passion? Red is red."
    I can agree with both Chesterton and Rauschenberg. Seeing a red crayon doesn't get me all hot and bothered, but seeing a Rothko red painting often does. Does knowing the definition of 'red' do anything to help this apparent contradiction? Not for me.
    For many people, their conception of art or spirituality or any other such thing is closer to Chesterton's description of 'red' than to Rauschenberg's (note that this is the same Rauschenberg who spent eighteen months doing Canto by Canto illustrations of Dante's Inferno, so it's not a simple divide ...).
    Lest you think that all of this is irrelevant to the making of pictures, I suppose one could ignore one's own strong feelings and get on with button-pushing (sort of like making widgets), but for those who feel it, the source of what one calls spirituality will remain, insistently, and not necessarily pleasantly, there, trying to "burn through."
     
  44. We can't talk about what's not in the dictionary? Then what did the first dictionary makers talk about?​
    The point I was making was that just because something is in a dictionary, it doesn't meant that it makes the same sense to everyone.
    "If one person makes a statement about a concept to another person that has a different understanding of that concept, there won't be any understanding." Find me two people that have the very same "understanding" of *any* concept ... then get back to me.​
    You're missing the point again. The point was that before you start making statements about something to another person, it would be wise to check that you and the other person have the same understanding of that something. You may actually find out that if you spend the time to tune your common understanding (by attempting to define that something), whatever you meant to state either becomes obvious or was not correct in the first place. See the dialogues of Socrates.

    Trying to define something is the best way to discuss something. As common understanding of something deepens, statements about that something will tend to become truisms and to not be worth stating in the first place.
    If we can't talk about what we don't already understand, then there goes not only poetry, but also science. Oh well.​
    Duh, yeah, but you see, if you don't understand what people are saying to you, you're not getting anywhere anyway.
     
  45. Laurentiu, you mentioned Socrates. Plato was big on agreed-upon definitions of things and the constancy and immutability of those definitions. Other philosophers saw flaws in that approach, while still respecting Plato for what he accomplished and how he set things forth in the dialogues.
    I disagree with you, and think that plenty of understanding takes place even when two people have different understandings of concepts, particularly concepts as experiential and personal as love, spirituality, and fear.
    Wittgenstein, partially in response to Plato, talked about family resemblances. We can't always put our finger on them or on the concepts that remain somewhat undefinable, but we can beat around the bush enough to where we reach various understandings of each other's takes on things without having to pin each other down to definitions which will usually become ineffective the minute we utter them because there's often so much more to the concept than what can be encapsulated in a sound bite or a Webster's entry. It's how we use them that is generally more significant that what we might claim they mean.
    Discussion, not definition, IMO, is the best means to understanding.
     
  46. Laurentiu, you mentioned Socrates. Plato was big on agreed-upon definitions of things and the constancy and immutability of those definitions.​
    You do realize that Plato and Socrates are not the same person? We do know about Socrates through Plato, but not all the dialogues recorded by Plato reflect the real Socrates. In some of them we have more of a glimpse of Socrates, in others more of a glimpse of Plato. The idea of the immutability of definitions doesn't have anything to do with Socrates - you never see Socrates saying this thing is such and such - on the contrary, he asks others for definitions and then points out the flaws in them.

    Beating around the bush is an ineffective method, which is why the expression denotes the opposite of efficiency of communication. "Discussion" is a wide term - I am not against "discussion" - I am just against discussion that is lacking method and is beating around the bush instead of trying to figure out what's in it.
     
  47. I am not against discussion either. There was an interesting one taking place here at an earlier point . . . about photography . . . and spirituality.
    I tend to associate photography with some level of transcendence, and that's how I can best relate to what others may call photography's spiritual aspect. In the sense that a photo often transcends its subject and the so-called reality of the subject. (I suppose we will have to define "reality" now, each for ourselves.) What we often refer to as the capture of a moment, for me, transcends that moment, as it becomes transformed into the fullness of a photo.
    "Spirit" and "God" and "afterlife" and "hell" and even pejorative words for gay people like me can either present a roadblock or an opportunity to understand something foreign. Rather than defaulting to an assumption of BS with any of these, I listen carefully to what it means for the person using it and try to understand its use also within a cultural and demographic milieu. It keeps me more sane, less annoyed, and helps afford understanding rather than judgment.
     
  48. I don't believe in God and have had huge problems with how the church has handled itself as an institution throughout history. Nevertheless, Bach seems to have had a pretty serious relationship to God and been inspired by religion. Many great composers produced for the church. Things beyond my own beliefs, tastes, and proclivities are the source of great inspiration to others, thankfully. I'm fairly sure that many things I'm inspired by would send up the BS filters (or worse) of others, if they have such filters. I'm sure I'd find it fascinating to talk with Bach about the role of religion and God in his music, even though I don't believe in God. Maybe that's an irony, I don't know. The thing is, even though the object of a belief may not be "real," beliefs themselves are very "real" and pungent. And they often guide us, sometimes unconsciously. Just as the "reality" of what's depicted in a photo is sometimes or even often not the point, the truth or falseness of a belief is often also not the point, as much as the power and influence of the belief itself.
     
  49. I totally agree that there is difficulty of communication about spirituality because people have different understandings of words and concepts related to spirituality and spiritual meaning and experiences. But I still think it can have meaning to talk about it because it is part of some people's experience.
    It seems to me that people that have no interest or experience in spirituality, do not have those words in the vocabulary, because they don't understand those ideas or experiences, and therefore think discussion about those ideas and experiences are meaningless. But to me it's like how there are many different languages in the world, and each language has its own paradigm of culture and thought. There are always words in a language, that has no precise equivalent in other languages, because it's a cultural concept or phenomena that has no equivalent. The best we can do in that instance, to try to understand that word, is to get a description of the concept and its context, and guess at the best translation. We shouldn't dismiss what people are talking about as their experience, just because we don't have that personally speak that language. To me that is like saying everything that is spoken that is not English is gibberish and has no meaning unless translated into English, and the words that are not translatable should simply be discarded. Yes it's true that it's disconcerting that we won't all understand each other perfectly because of barriers in language (and experience), but it's still worthwhile to be open minded and trying to understand and hear as much about different human experiences as we can.
     
  50. Getting back on topic ...
    While I can think of many, many examples of black and white photography that is, for me, spiritual, I have a hard time coming up with color photography that is, for me, spiritual. Richard Misrach's work stands out, as well as, again, for me, Peter Fraser's stuff. But other than that, color seems to work against spirituality in photographs, for me -- not just by accident, but by design. It's part of the power of color pictures to *be* carnal.
    A fun/interesting example of a color picture (not by either Misrach or Fraser) that simultaneously is spiritual (for me) while commenting on its inability to be spiritual (an ironic picture), is this one by Tom Friedman; Caveman (Photograph of a National Geographic Magazine Featuring a Drawing of a Prehistoric Man), 2006.
    The blast of the flash is photography's frontal, brute assault -- its failure and yet, in making that blown white hole, its success in opening the picture to a spiritual conception.
     
  51. I totally agree that there is difficulty of communication about spirituality because people have different understandings of words and concepts related to spirituality and spiritual meaning and experiences. But I still think it can have meaning to talk about it because it is part of some people's experience.​
    While it seems to disagree with what I wrote a good while back, I fully agree to this. My point (and I think also to some extend Laurentiu's) is to zoom in a bit on what spirituality is within the context of this thread as present, as a framework for discussion and as a way to understand one another clearly. The deleted posts by Kevin were well beyond the outer edge of what I thought might happen, but it's the word 'spirituality' that for some seem to be like a red cloth for the bull (all airy fairy stuff bla bla bla). Just the word itself already, without consider what it could mean to someone. Likewise, some might start to ramble true-isms from their religion - in both cases, the discussion gains nothing but closed minds and flase dichotomies.
    But luckily, you gave feets and hands to the word, which makes it (to me) at least a bit easier to start organising thoughts:
    There are always words in a language, that has no precise equivalent in other languages, because it's a cultural concept or phenomena that has no equivalent. The best we can do in that instance, to try to understand that word...​
    I really like these words. They unleash a nice string of thoughts, and inspire to dive deeper into the profoundness which a culture and cultural heritage has on shaping us as individuals (but that would make a nice thread in itself). But... spiritualism, in part for me transcends also the culture we're part of. It's beyond those untranslatable words.
    For myself; my upbringing is Catholic, I recognise the values I have and hold as being largely inspired by the Catholic teachings; but I usually don't regard myself a Catholic. Large part also coming from North-West Europe, where a certain emotional restraint and intellectual criticism is quite highly valued. I'm a typical blend of those backgrounds, I guess. I do not find any spiritual meaning in this. However, in learning about other religions, in visiting (or experiencing) other cultures or how other cultures celebrate the same religion, I found there are a great many things different, but also a great many things the same.
    It's in those culture- and religion-transcending things that I find spiritualism; it's not the particular instance of the "divine" (*), but a glimpse of the divine itself. It's not about the love between Romeo and Juliet, but about love, period. About what connects, not about what divides. To openly abuse the mentioning of Plato before, it's entering the cave and looking the other way.
    It's the words that are in the dictionary, but you'd never look them up because their meaning seems so clear, until you start to think about them and how we feel about them. Or finding those words that represent "cultural concepts or phenomena"in fact do have an equivalent in other languages - but not in the phenomena itself, but in how people experience them.

    Does this find its way into photography? Trickier question than it may seem - part of me would say "how could it not?", but it's not that apparent. Ultimately, our photography is in large ways defined by our culture, by that "instance" of the (shared) spirituality - for starters, for simple and practical reasons as the availability of subject, but also cultural defined reasons as the point of view used, colours (or not) and so on. Spirituality lies behind all that. It's there, but not for the naked eye.
    ___
    (*) I know, a tricky choice of word, but my vocabulary ran out of ideas. I mean it in a non-religious specific way, so any reference to any specific religion is not implied ;-)
     
  52. Wouter/N Onaga, rather than defining it, we might simply ask questions of each other, which will likely elicit direct and indirect answers but get us moving. Julie's last statement, which is significantly something about photography and welcome here, may be a good springboard. She and others won't be surprised that I don't look at color and black and white photos as she does, but that doesn't matter. A question I would have for those who consider themselves spiritual or at least have some understanding of and/or empathy with those who do is whether carnal and spiritual are in contrast with each other and/or separate and/or mutually exclusive. To my mind, spirituality envelopes, and so the carnal would be as much a way to and a part of spirituality as anything else. If Piss Christ* is spiritual, and it would be in my mind, it is its carnal nature that helps it achieve its spirituality, as it depends upon and also transcends the former, in part, to get to the latter.
    ___________________________________
    *One reason I like this particular example is that it seems superficially or almost too literally spiritual because of its subject matter, but the photo itself, and the use of inherently photographic qualities, even while offering said subject matter, actually sort of abstractly transcends that subject matter as well. There are clearly carnal matters in the photo, which one can't deny (the body and the piss) which would help me in arriving at a spiritual place and would not disappear but, in fact, would remain, for me, deepening rather than weakening whatever spiritual nature it had.
    __________________________________
    Assuming this particular photo wouldn't work for everyone, rather than simply trying to approach the "meaning" of spirituality as theory, would it be of value for others to take a particular photo or a particular photographer (as Julie did) and talk about its spirituality, or in lieu of that, a photographic action or aspect of photographing that feels spiritual to you?
     
  53. Fred, for sure no objection from my side on that approach; mine wasn't an attempt to 'seal off' a definition but rather to give an idea where I place spirituality. But indeed it's an approach that leaves little room for 'mutual exploration'.
    ___
    Piss Christ, to me, is a photo with two distinct faces, one leading to something spiritual, the other one far more earth-bound. The earth-bound side is that I cannot ever escape seeing it *also* as a protest against the church. I don't know if I'd use the word carnal (fitting, though, as it would be), but very earthly and very human it is. I think we're just using different words there for pretty much the same idea. And yes, for me that is in contrast with the spiritual. Where the spiritual transcends, the carnal bounds back to earth, makes things more literal, more "real" (yeah, ooops), more down here. But it's a contrast with the spiritual, not an opposite (no mutual exclusion). The spiritual is still 'within' it, it's just to attempting to (or aspiring to) transcend into that.
    The spiritual side of this image is the light. That brilliant glow. The Catholic upbringing rears its head - it is the transfiguration, liberation. Maybe a schizophrenic reading, but in a way, this light puts the crucifix in exactly the context the church wants it to be seen in. I do find spirituality in that message. Making light visibly a subject in a photo for me fairly often works; Weston's Peppers spring to mind.
    ____
    To offer a bit of photographic foundation on my ealier posting. To me, an image as this one, despite having elements that seem universal (the closed nature of religion, the inequality of sexes), it remains too much tied to a single culture, and specific period in time. I see it as an image of women overcoming the bias against them; but the context wears too thick (*).
    While this photo does bring me some reference to spirituality. There is something more universal about it, a simple humane humility and submission that's not specifically tied to the background culture of the photographer; a geste that has a similar meaning wherever and references (even if subtle) to something more profound behind, out of time and place. As a viewer, I feel more free to interpret into it, less bound by the actual subject it shows (I know this sounds vague, but I hope it's a bit clear all the same).
    (*) Not saying I find it a bad photo, in many ways I find it better than the second example.
     
  54. Wouter, some great thoughts to chew over, especially relating to universal and culturally more specific photos.
    The spirituality I'd find, if I did, in the second photo would be somewhere around the connection/disconnection between the bald, faceless head and the hat. Though the hat lies on the table, it's animated (animation seems related to spirituality) by my knowing that it would usually be found on the man's head. The tension between what is and what could be or what usually is sets up a world seemingly ethereal or in some sense elusive.
    Spirituality, for me, is elusive and I have more questions about it than answers . . . so, on the universal tending to yield a more spiritual experience than the culturally or temporally specific, I wonder if there isn't a counterpoint to that as well. Some of the most spiritual acts are small, local, individual, simple, not grand and not necessarily applied universally. The spirituality of the acts of a Mother Teresa might seem to be spiritual in part because of her wide reach and the universal acceptance and adoration of such acts of "goodness." Yet, what about this . . . ?
    "Zen doesn't confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes."
    --Alan Watts
    It could be that it's more in the specific and grounded acts we perform than in the universal symbols and situations we experience or imagine that spirituality exists, if it does. Which would mean that Bresson being caught up in (maybe better to say "at one with") his culture and milieu is, in fact, a very spiritual place to be.
     
  55. Out of Wouter's posts, I will agree with this fragment: "not specifically tied."
    Spirituality is not tied. It is not what arrives; it is the gap that allows "what" to arrive. It is the opening; it is not what comes through that opening.
    "If you close the gate you know no one will cross the road; it does not follow that you can predict who will cross when you open it." — Henri Bergson
     
  56. Julie, I think you captured quite well what was missing in my descriptions. Spirituality isn't the action itself (big or small), but an opening to a wider experience (a realisation, revelation, lightning strike of understanding,...) of emotional significance, transcending the action into something of far bigger value (to me).
    ____
    Spirituality, for me, is elusive and I have more questions about it than answers​
    That, for me, is certainly true too; all I wrote before is still in doubt and under scrutiny. And frankly, I hope it will stay that way :) It's among those things where the question simply seems more important than the answer to me.
     
  57. N.Onaga:
    It seems to me that people that have no interest or experience in spirituality, do not have those words in the vocabulary, because they don't understand those ideas or experiences, and therefore think discussion about those ideas and experiences are meaningless.​
    You are now accusing those that asked you to explain your understanding of spirituality for lacking any understanding themselves. That is disingenuous. All that you were asked to do is what you suggested on your own later, in the same paragraph:
    The best we can do in that instance, to try to understand that word, is to get a description of the concept and its context, and guess at the best translation.​
    So what is your description of spirituality and its context?
    There are always words in a language, that has no precise equivalent in other languages, because it's a cultural concept or phenomena that has no equivalent.​
    Yes, but that is not the problem we are having here. Spirituality as a word exists in all languages I am familiar with. We are not talking about a term specific to one culture and one language. A quick look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirituality shows the complexity of the topic - click on the language specific pages for even more takes at explaining it.

    In my experience, if people cannot explain things, it is because they do not quite understand them. Or otherwise put, I did not yet find something that I could say I understand without being able to explain it and thus pass my understanding to others. If this thread is about sharing knowledge, it can do a better job about it. I cannot help but remember HCB and his goal of capturing the decisive moment - somehow he found a concise way of expressing his approach to photography - something to learn from there.
    Wouter Willemse:
    To openly abuse the mentioning of Plato before, it's entering the cave and looking the other way.​
    What did you mean here by looking the other way when entering the cave? Not sure how the cave allegory plays in the context of your message.
     
  58. Laurentiu,
    First of all, using the cave allegory is mostly a play of words. The point I tried to make is that spirituality for me isn't the shadows we see, nor trying to find (through study and knowledge) the Ideai that form those shadows. If anything, it's looking for the fire used to light up the cave.
     
  59. Laurentiu Cristofer wrote: "I cannot help but remember HCB and his goal of capturing the decisive moment - somehow he found a concise way of expressing his approach to photography - something to learn from there."
    What is concise about HCB's statement? How is "moment" any more* definable than is "spirituality"?
    [*or less]
     
  60. Laurentiu Cristofer finds "Photography and Spirituality?" too squishy, so let's try switching to something solid. How about "Energy in Physics." His first demand, of course, would be for us to define "energy," so here it is: energy: n. the ability to do work. Which demands a definition for "work"; that being n. the operation of a force in producing movement. What might that force be? Energy! This seems to be going in a circle. Let's switch to biology. How about we discuss "Selection of the Fittest." First demand, as usual, is to define "fittest." Well, DUH! the fittest is the one that survives! Hmmm ... circles again.
    Let's go, then to the already approved "decisive moment." Pretending that we've already defined "moment" (I'll be waiting with bated breath) -- let's give it a provisional definition of a "location in time" the next question is, doesn't the rest of time have "location"? What makes a moment have location and the rest of time be without? Well, DUH! because a "moment" is "decisive"! It's the "fittest" moment. Circles again ... oh dear.
    How about HCB's other favorite phrase (and one used, quite usefully, by many of us) -- "the mind's eye." Does the "mind's eye" need another mind to operate the eye of the mind?
     
  61. Wouter:
    The point I tried to make is that spirituality for me isn't the shadows we see, nor trying to find (through study and knowledge) the Ideai that form those shadows. If anything, it's looking for the fire used to light up the cave.​
    So, it's like a search for truth so to speak? For the essence of things? If that is the case, why not just call it that?

    Julie:
    Laurentiu Cristofer wrote:​
    I know my name is tricky to pronounce, but it shouldn't be a challenge to copy paste it in your posts to avoid misspelling it.
    What is concise about HCB's statement? How is "moment" any more* definable than is "spirituality"?​
    Well, one practical way to see the difference is to start a thread about decisive moments in photography and see how many people ask you to define what you understand by "moment" :) Funny that you picked on "moment" when "decisive" is really the part that deserves more attention here.
    Let's go, then to the already approved "decisive moment." Pretending that we've already defined "moment" (I'll be waiting with bated breath) -- let's give it a provisional definition of a "location in time" the next question is, doesn't the rest of time have "location"? What makes a moment have location and the rest of time be without? Well, DUH! because a "moment" is "decisive"! It's the "fittest" moment. Circles again ... oh dear.​
    So you just shot down your own confusing definition and in the process you displayed how disorganized your thoughts are. Great job!
     
  62. Rephrasing a question sometimes helps, if I may:
    I am interested about what people think about the relationship between bongo playing and spirituality. Do you think there is a relationship generally, and/or do you think your bongo playing has such a relationship?
    And as a listener, how could you differentiate sacred from profane , and if you did differentiate, wouldn't it only matter to you as the listener? What could the artist know of something so personal in each member of the audience? It probably wouldn't matter that the bongo player were spiritually sourced, it would be your soul that received it and you wouldn't be able to tell why, or from whence. I would say it wouldn't matter to you why or whence because it's your meaning, your treasure as it were and that you wouldn't be able to explain it adequately, but you would still know it. And that would be enough, that you knew it, either from bongo playing, seeing a photograph or taking one, or washing the evening dishes, or feeding the cat.
     
  63. Charles, it really does make a difference. For example, I have no idea what the game of cricket is all about. I've seen enough pictures that I could put on their white cloths and wave around the bat thingie but I'm not going to be "playing cricket." Even washing the dishes would make no sense to people who didn't have dishes. See cargo cult science for further examples.
    All knowledge -- ALL knowledge, scientific as well as spiritual -- starts from unfounded assumptions, postulates, axioms -- whatever you want to call them. Euclid's geometry worked fine until somebody looked back at his postulates and wondered ... hmmm. And we find non-Euclidian geometry.
    Spirituality may be about beliefs settled on assumptions that do not come from logic or science. It may also, and very differently be, about being agnostic about assumptions. It may be where instead of going "forward" unthinkingly from one's founding assumptions; instead, "looking back" at those founding assumptions with an open mind. It doesn't necessarily demand belief in alternative assumptions; it may merely mean (as it does for me) always wondering "what if?" and explicitly trying out/on what happens with different founding assumptions.
    Scientists who are considering 'dark energy' have to be willing to question assumptions. To be able to even think about 'dark energy' you have to be willing to question assumptions.
    A small example is provided (unintentionally) by Laurentiu Cristofor, above. He assumes that there are moments in time. I don't think that's true. Time is continuous; the only moments in photography are in pictures that have already been made (my provisional definition of "locations in time" works for memory; it does not work for "live," shooting time). 'Moments' are in history, not in lived time.
    Further, HCB (Henri Cartier-Bresson) took his famous quote from a religious figure from ages before photography -- he gives, as the epigram to his chapter 'The Decisive Moment' this quote "There is nothing in this world without a decisive moment." — Cardinal Retz -- who was presumably not talking about the making of pictures.
     
  64. Charles, the reason it might not matter only to the listener or viewer is empathy. Photos and art establish intimate connections between artist and viewer, among viewers, and between artists and subjects and viewers and subjects.
    "What could the artist know of something so personal in each member of the audience?"
    Answer this and you've discovered what's at the core of so much art. The artist's ability to tap into something so personal and significant in the viewer.
    "It probably wouldn't matter that the bongo player were spiritually sourced, it would be your soul that received it . . . "
    Leaving spirituality aside for a moment, since it's obviously a loaded term, what this seems to suggest is an unbridgeable rift between bongo player and listener or photographer and viewer. I receive what I receive regardless of the source? What, then, if any, is the relationship between artist and viewer? What is any relationship? When you speak, do I just hear what I will hear or do your words affect me, even if I then personalize them? Does the artist even matter or is it all of the viewer's making? I think the artist matters and is intimately connected.
    " . . . it's your meaning, your treasure . . ."
    For me, it's ours, not just mine. Listening to music, viewing a photo, are acts of sharing. I may be alone in the room with the photo but I am not traveling solo. This photo does not just exist in a vacuum. It's part of history, part of culture, part of us. I see it not just through my eyes, but through eyes which have developed in a culture and a social environment.
    . . .
    There's a thread in another forum asking if we'd die without photography, by the OP's own admission an intentionally melodramatic question, and I'd agree! Why not ask if we'd die without music, without the beach, without our spouse, our children, without bongo playing? One of the answers may be simply because it's a photography site.
     
  65. So, it's like a search for truth so to speak? For the essence of things? If that is the case, why not just call it that?​
    Laurentiu, that's a very simplified reading, and almost insultingly so. If you reread any of my previous posts, I think it was more than clear I never meant "a quest for the truth". If I would have, I'd call it that. The fact that I did not do so, could also be a reminder for you that maybe it's not summarised all that easy.
    ___
    [edit, added after Charles replied]
    ___
    Charles, I agree on the aspect of "just knowing it" when it's there - but I'd see that more as the 'spriritual experiece', which in itself can already be profound. But as Fred, I do not see it as a uniquely personal experience. Music is a nice example - who do some readings of work get all the extra praise? Why does the 1962 Karajan reading of Beethoven's 5th symphony (certainly among his best recordings of the picece) feel like listening to Beethoven, while listening to Carlos Kleiber conducting the same symphony like being taken into a rollercoaster which touches on what Fate and Redemption are? Look up reviews, and you'll find I'm not the only one to think so. Must be something Kleiber did, then?
     
  66. Good points. For example Julie - "It may also, and very differently be, about being agnostic about assumptions."
    Spirituality is indeed a loaded term. In some contexts it may refer to seeking, in some contexts, finding. We might think of someone as unspiritual if they were so rooted in a fundamentalist view of one of the major religions that the individuality of that person was almost indistinguishable from texts, and any seeking exhibited just a rifling through a collection of texts that they had already 'found', not seeking at all. Seekers wouldn't necessarily see anything of the spirit in that mere 'exercise of the thumb and index finger', but the fundamentalist would disagree, seeing his practice as seeking for one answer or another that has escaped him but for just a moment, and seeking for those answers where the answer can be found, precisely in the text somewhere, on this page or the other. We've all probably had the experience of trying to divert such a person elsewhere when they reach for the text and it gets soon tiresome to have no influence on their reaching. Their reaching is a spiritual act if by spiritual we mean seeking. But their finding isn't ours and those two orientations of mind cannot meet satisfactorily when it comes to other than going to the beach or on a picnic.
    But Fred, I do agree there is a connection between artist and viewer, song writer and hearer, and empathy, yes, I agree. At the same time, each viewer's reaction is uniquely personal and full of personal contexts, and it seems that the artists appreciation of a particular appreciator's appreciation would have to be fairly general.
    I also think that its possible that a photograph not intended as spiritual could have a spiritual impact on a person, the photograph a mediator, just as the act of washing a dish, or feeding the cat could mediate something sacredly meaningful to the actor. A spiritual meaning could attach to anything and I'm not sure art can make a claim of better efficacy as a mediator between the sacred and the profane. But I don't see any reason why photography couldn't be used that way.
     
  67. Wouter, yes it would be something Kleiber did. But I also think that Kleiber would be pained to convey to us, if it were the case, that he took his inspiration, his inspiration for all the transforming themes of fate and redemption, from, say, the eating habits of his cats. His interpretation of the music makes sense to us, his inspiration is his mystery and his alone.
     
  68. Charles, yes, I agree that photos not intended as spiritual could feel spiritual, and the reverse would be the case as well. Photos intended spiritually might not have a spiritual impact . . . on me, for example.
    Your paragraph above, the one starting with "But Fred" nicely captures what I think of as the irony (or fullness) of art and of most experience, even forgetting about art for the moment. It's why the philosophical question about freedom and determinism is so challenging. I think we are each free (free to uniquely and individually respond to others, to the world, and to art) and also biologically, historically, culturally, and socially determined to a great degree. We share so much and yet remain the unique person we are. To me, it's that kind of oneness/manyness that would come closest to spirituality.
    How do symbols work? They are shared in order to be symbols, so they have something universally common and special, yet they are among the most personal of things to each of us.
    Sacred and profane is a different matter, for me, having nothing but a superficial relationship to spirituality. Sacred and profane seem to me wrapped up in moral judgment rather than spirituality. They tend to be used as axes, a means more of categorization and separation.
    As for the fundamentalist who claims spirituality, this happens all the time just as some people claim to be artists and some not nice people claim to be nice. Not all claims made about oneself are true. Though we are very intimate with ourselves, we often don't know ourselves terribly well.
    I operate under the assumption that the traditional notion of self is evolving away from something "inner" and that much about us has to do with how we are seen by others and how that experience of us by others reflects back not only on how we think of ourselves but becomes part of who we are. Rather than being located or split off individuals, I see "us" as participants in chains of overlapping experience, experience that was here long before we were and continues long after we're gone. For me, the key is in the experience more than in the individual having it. That's often where connection or connectedness lies and often where I find art.
     
  69. For me, the key is in the experience more than in the individual having it. That's often where connection or connectedness lies and often where I find art.​
    Okay, I think I see what you're saying.
    You know, as I age, I find that what I'm connecting more to, not so much when I was younger, are the broader themes that connect us all and that will survive us. On the one hand I feel more connected, on the other hand, it is not as personal a connection as I had thought my connections were in my past. But you may be saying something not like that at all!
    I suppose so, your comments as to the connotations of words like sacred and profane. Have the thumb and index finger exercisers co-opted those words too? Are there no words then?
    I don't have the knowledge to say if our Western religious traditions have a symbol for a satiated seeker or not. If it did, it would compromise the notion of faith as the only answer, that traditional stale answer being that we can't know. But in the East, a character from their culture comes to mind, legitimating seeking for suggesting that there is something to find: http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl...OaatiQL18IGIDg&sqi=2&ved=0CDUQ9QEwAg&dur=2836
    On the other hand, if all that the fat Buddha found is a bunch of texts, a collection of moral judgments, then that image is just part of the spiritual pabulum cultures offer, not nourishment at all. I prefer to think that culture could heal even though our dominant culture injures, despicably injures and can't heal, prefer to think that not all culture is as ours, yet that may not be so, though culture could be made to do so.
     
  70. Fred - Assuming this particular photo wouldn't work for everyone, rather than simply trying to approach the "meaning" of spirituality as theory, would it be of value for others to take a particular photo or a particular photographer (as Julie did) and talk about its spirituality, or in lieu of that, a photographic action or aspect of photographing that feels spiritual to you?​
    Okay. Here's one of mine: http://www.photo.net/photo/16675292
    The larger theme is parenting. What connects me to the coyotes in the photo is the familiarity: Dad coyote checking his son for scents, clues as to where the son has been and with whom, the safe places, the not so safe, with an intruder, or with the rest of the extended family. And for what the son has been rolling in. A typical human father's concern for a youngster. For me, there is a connection being established with nature, and I hesitate to call it spiritual. But as to the feelings for me, it confronts me just how much I can relate to a coyote father and son. If recognizing love in those acts is as Wouter suggests, a part of the experience for me, it is astonishing and what Wouter might call spiritual. But I wouldn't have called this a spiritual photograph or one particularly evocative in that way. Because on the one hand it's just familiar parenting. But on the other, on a recognition of the power of parental love in nature, it approaches what I personally would circumscribe as close to or within the 'sacred'. But even talking about it risks its ruin as such. So I don't know: a lot of what may move us on the deepest level is something where the best we can expect upon telling others is "Well, I guess I sort of see how you could see that in that." Maybe with more dedication and care more can be said in a photograph, something that wouldn't wilt on closer inspection. I don't know.
     
  71. " . . . it is not as personal a connection as I had thought my connections were in my past. But you may be saying something not like that at all!"
    I think I'm saying something very much like that. You and I have connected! Which is more important to me than fully "understanding" each other! :)
    " . . . a symbol for a satiated seeker . . . "
    Big ol' fat Jerry Falwell? I don't know about a symbol, but a phrase for it might be "know-it-all."
    " . . . our dominant culture injures, despicably injures . . ."
    As far as our "culture" is concerned, tough one, yes. I try to run in smaller circles/subcultures, think locally, and that helps. We save the world one person at a time, not one culture at a time.
     
  72. Charles, just saw your photo post, which you posted while I was writing. Don't have time to look or respond now. Will get to it later. Thanks for continuing photographically!
     
  73. Charles, had a sudden change of schedule, so I have time to respond. I do see what's moving you in the photo and also probably wouldn't call it spiritual but would understand others doing that, especially given the way you describe it, which makes a lot of sense to me in terms of parenting and the naturalness of it all. You mention familiarity, and I think that is sometimes a key. When a photo or an aspect of a photo or quality of a photo feels familiar, that can be a kind of resonating that is very powerful. Mysterious and strange can also be powerful, of course. But that sense of "I know this" or "I've felt this" or "This seems so easy or genuine" can make for the kind of connection we've been talking about.
    By the way, I see a face in the trees behind and to the right of the coyotes. First thing I saw even before the coyotes.
    "But even talking about it risks its ruin as such."
    Not an uncommon sentiment expressed by many. I'm skeptical of it, though. Of course it depends on who's talking and what they're saying. Some talk is just that . . . talk. But talking is just another experience, another act we do, another means of communication and sharing. I don't see talking about pictures as a substitute for what the picture can accomplish. I see it as an accompaniment. Especially in trying to learn about myself or deepen my photographing skills and vision, talking about stuff like what I see in my own pictures and hearing what others see has been of great benefit to me. We can skip over a lot and articulating things can force us to look more deeply. That doesn't mean EVERYTHING can be put into words. Photos are photos for a reason. But it also doesn't mean words have to be avoided when dealing with photos.
     
  74. Very good Fred.
     
  75. Charles, I could call a photo like the one you offered for discussion as spiritual indeed. The parenting is transcending culture, country, language and in this case even species. Seeing a father and son, for example, closely, seeing the world between them as family members can have, are photos that for me can transcend relatively easy into more. (to be honest, your photo did not have that affect on me, but maybe also because of the way I "meet" your photo now: prepared, and looking at it with a bit preconceived idea).
    Adding to that the idea of being connected to it (on an emotional level), or recognition and familiarity is a very good point. I think it helps opening the ports; helps relating back to your own emotions, ideas, memories, expectations, trashed dreams and so on.
    Let me slightly devilish, and offer another photo that somehow connects to me in a way that I perceive as spiritual: it's an older photo by Fred. I always refrained from leaving a critique or comment on it, as I never manage to describe well how this photo moves me. But to me, it's fitting this context; Fred, I hope you do not mind?
    It's more than a portrait of his dad, it's about growing older, about vulnerability, about needing one another; it's a tender loving photo that reveals a son's love and care.... it's a photo that transcends itself in every way (for me) into something much wider bigger - it ttalks to me of life with its highs and lows, but so worth living. It leaves me contemplative, with some sort of inner glow that enlightens without becoming factual; it's not knowledge, it's experience(s). This photo connects, and moves me.
    I know I am getting fuzzier and fuzzier in my descriptions, as Fred said, not everything can be put into words. But in this faint attempt to verbalise, it actually became more clear to myself - so, it's worth the shot for at least one of us :)
     
  76. Wouter I'm with you and yet to one extent, not with you and Fred on one point. Because let's say my picture of the coyote pair is a symbol that associates to known meanings, to commonly felt universals, and yet however an element of the spiritual is also that of an unknown. But instead of the word symbol I would prefer to use the word 'sign.' A sign points to something known and familiar, whether common place or profound. I reserve the word 'symbol' as an expression for something that is not known, that can't be known completely, or fully understood, or be finally integrated in some way into our lives. One example, and I hesitate drawing from Christian symbolism, is that of Jesus pierced on the cross. It is a symbol of a wounded deity, and what can we really know about a deity and its wounds? So I'll drop that example immediately offer another.
    http://www.readysetfashion.com/2010/08/androgyny-story-pretty-boy.html
    The second image on that page. Is it of the divine? I'm thinking of what androgyny means to a culture, and asking seriously, because in some ways, there is something beautifully beyond culture, hard to talk about, in such an image, and the subject becomes hopelessly confused if we stick to the literal when trying to comprehend what I would all the fascination. Consider Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189) "He is considered one of the greatest and the most popular warriors of his era, and one of the most famous samurai fighters in the history of Japan.[" If you have seen the Kurosawa film "The Men Who Tread On the Tiger's Tail", note the androgynous actor who portrays Yoshitsune. That is because among the traditions in Japan that interpret the legendary general, one treats him as just such a personage. It's odd for the heterosexual to acknowledge that there is something there, but there is also no explanation for it. It just is. But what are we to make of it? There is something there that for me, speaks more to the spiritual than the physical, speaks more to the unknown, than to the known, is a symbol, not a comfortable 'sign.' As a symbol, there is some veneration involved and present in Japanese culture, the veneration of a general and the representations of that general as a pretty boy. Something is being expressed in that, in a figure culturally in Japan venerated almost to the point of ascribing divinity to Yoshitsune.
     
  77. Wouter, thanks for your words about the pic of my dad. Hard for me to talk about right now, so I'd prefer to leave it as you've said it, which is a nice tribute to both of us.
    Charles, great points about symbols/signs. Thanks for that.
    Counterculture as divine . . . ??? Interesting idea. Maybe not a place I want androgyny or sexual ambiguity to reside. Too heavenly. I'd rather think of it as acceptably, alternatively, diversely, even shockingly profane . . . but in the most positive of ways. Rather tweak people's notions of profanity than yield to an acceptance of divine as better.
    When I would say a photo is spiritual is, in most cases, when there seems to be more than meets the eye, when there's an intangible quality (maybe like Charles's "unknown" as opposed to known) even to the most tangible of subjects. Weston's Pepper? Or when I can't quite put my finger on something. Or when atmosphere becomes more the subject than the subject residing in that atmosphere.
    Wouter, a lot of your photos have it or have that potential . . . it's in the sense of mood . . . in the space beyond the facades, in the feel of your approach which comes through visually often as much as the rendering of your subjects.
     
  78. Wouter:
    Laurentiu, that's a very simplified reading, and almost insultingly so. If you reread any of my previous posts, I think it was more than clear I never meant "a quest for the truth". If I would have, I'd call it that. The fact that I did not do so, could also be a reminder for you that maybe it's not summarised all that easy.​
    Wouter, I was merely working with your use of Plato's cave allegory. You mentioned looking for the fire that causes the shadows, which seemed to suggest looking for the cause. None of your previous posts used this allegory so I could not use them to help me understand your reference.
    Fred G:
    Sacred and profane seem to me wrapped up in moral judgment rather than spirituality.​
    They're not necessarily related to either. Eliade's book, The Sacred and the Profane, first made me realize that the sacred sometimes just reflects a need to be at peace with the world. The concept of "home", for example, is an example of sacred that neither implies moral judgment nor spirituality.
     
  79. Some Deleuze ... on the abyss that we are circling here ...
    "Philosophy has not remained unaffected by the general movement that replaced Critique with sales promotion. The simulacrum, the simulation of a packet of noodles, has become the true concept; and the one who packages the product, commodity, or work of art has become the philosopher, conceptual persona, or artist."
    [ ... ]
    "Philosophy, science, and art want us to tear open the firmament and plunge into chaos."
    "In a violently poetic text, Lawrence describes what produces poetry: people are constantly putting up an umbrella that shelters them and on the underside of which they draw a firmament and write their conventions and opinions. But poets, artists, make a slit in the umbrella, they tear open the firmament itself, to let in a bit of free and windy chaos and to frame in a sudden light a vision that appears through the rent -- Wordsworth's spring or Cézanne's apple, the silhouettes of Macbeth or Ahab. Then come the crowd of imitators who repair the umbrella with something vaguely resembling the vision, and the crowd of commentators who patch over the rent with opinions: communication. Other artists are always needed to make other slits, to carry out necessary and perhaps ever-greater destructions, thereby restoring to their predecessors the incommunicable novelty that we could no longer see. This is to say that artists struggle less against chaos (that, in a certain manner all their wishes summon forth) than against the "clichés" of opinion."
    "Art is not chaos but a composition of chaos that yields the vision or sensation, so that it constitutes, as Joyce says, a chaosmos, a composed chaos -- neither foreseen nor preconceived. Art transforms chaotic variability into chaoid variety, as in El Greco's black and green-gray conflagrations, for example, or Turner's golden conflagration, or de Staël's red conflagration. Art struggles with chaos but it does so in order to render it sensory, even through the most charming character, the most enchanted landscape (Watteau)."
    "Opinion offers us a science that dreams of unity, of unifying its laws, and that still searches today for a community of the four forces. Nevertheless, the dream of capturing a bit of chaos is more insistent, even if the most diverse forces stir restlessly within it. Science would relinquish all the rational unity to which it aspires for a little piece of chaos that it could explore."​
     
  80. To Wouter and Charles, it's been a pleasure to come back to the forum and to have this discussion. One of the best for me in a long time, especially because I've been able to process some thoughts and learn a few good things. Also to be exposed to how some others work and think.
    I always keep in mind that what I'm doing in these threads is thinking and talking, not making photos. And, when I'm making photos, that's what I'm doing. Hey, maybe I'm spiritual after all! Though my mind does wander on the rare occasions when I peel potatoes.
     
  81. I'll take a photograph of a potato then!
     
  82. they tear open the firmament itself, to let in a bit of free and windy chaos and to frame in a sudden light a vision that appears through the rent​
    I like that a lot.
    Then come the crowd of imitators who repair the umbrella with something vaguely resembling the vision, and the crowd of commentators who patch over the rent with opinions: communication.​
    The sentence immediately above makes more sense to me if I rewrite it:
    And when the rent closes, when the vision subsides, the artists may try and repair the umbrella with something that can only vaguely resemble the original vision, a commentary of patches, the artist patching up the rent with honest opinion and with the effort of communication. The poor artist, perhaps then feeling poorer than even the crowd! Yet the art lives, is something, even though with vision's subsidence, all mere talk of its creation is as a clanging cymbal or banging gong. We're all like cargo cultists, though our particular cult is of words and texts. We only know if we're on to something, or getting close to it, when our words fail. Where our words fail, art begins. What you have given me Julie, is a new admiration for mere words.
     
  83. "Where our words fail, art begins."
    Tell that to Steinbeck. :) (I know you're talking about criticism and opinion and not novel-writing but I couldn't help it!)
    "all mere talk of its creation is as a clanging cymbal or banging gong"
    I'll agree only since you include "mere." All "mere" talk can be cheap. Lots of other kind of talk is helpful, constructive, insightful, inspiring, and cathartic.
    Good critique is not mere talk. I critique others and talk about art to help my own vision and to start dialogues. Others likely have other reasons. I find honestly critiquing and discussing photos means taking chances -- the chance that I'll step on some toes, the chance I'll be told off, the chance I'll see something superficially or naively, the chance I won't know what I'm talking about, the chance I'll strike on something significant that will mean something to the person receiving the critique, the chance I'll force myself to articulate something and, thereby, see more deeply into a photo. Giving a critique makes me vulnerable, sometimes as vulnerable as sharing my own photos. Good critique from others, in the form of words, has helped me tremendously to develop and grow as a photographer. If I didn't want opinions, which are a genuine kind of reaction and response from viewers, I wouldn't share my photos. I'll take any kind of response a viewer wants to offer. And I won't, as a photographer, shun the viewer or critic who has an opinion, or separate him from my supposedly lofty place on high in the heavens of art.
     
  84. Well said Fred, Julie, point taken. I would have, yesterday, said that talking of such private things isn't necessary unto oneself, and that the talking carries risk, and that the private somehow gets drowned out despite the well intended effort. Today, I acknowledge that it's worth the risk and the effort to communicate more fully, and I appreciate that others have been more willing to communicate that way than I. I will not, however, be able to get caught up on the reading, talking, and listening that you all have done!
     
  85. Wonderful to hear, Charles. And I look forward to more compelling exchanges. Who'd a thunk a thread about spirituality would have been so appealing to me? Not me!
     
  86. Charles, : )
    The risk can be private. Think of Emily Dickinson with her unpublished bits of paper.
    In the name of the Bee -
    And of the Butterfly -
    And of the Breeze - Amen!
    Emily Dickinson
     
  87. Laurentiu,
    Your picture is a really interesting exploration of the deliberate use of one of the things cameras do really well -- the meaningful exploitation of blur/sharpness (movement). In particular, it's interesting that the cloud-fluffiness of the water doesn't seem very scary; those toe marks look like missiles ... is the water running away from the toes?
    I'm purposely ignoring the overt "message" that would be something like 'The Transience of Life' -- because, for me, the message erases the image. To the extent that it is Hallmark-ish, it stops being seen. This is not necessarily a bad thing; Hallmark knows exactly why it uses that kind of image -- it communicates a familiar message almost instantaneously, and there are times when that's exactly what is wanted.
    Which, with apologies to Laurentiu (thank you for posting the photo; I truly do like it for the reasons said, and as I hope you'll see, even if explored negatively, may carry this discussion into new, interesting areas) -- leads me to the topic of mythology. Mythology encompasses religion or settled belief. This is the side of "spirituality" that the deleted comment of Keven Laracy: "All this talk of spirituality will lead you to start taking photographs of sun lit mountains, clouds with jesus figures in them, misty water shots, flowers with dew, kids looking skyward and pretty animals and monks and such. I say embrace life in the here and now for what is is, a painful march towards our eventual demise. Once you have all the romance squeezed out of your style you can focus on things that really mater (subject, form, composition) and leave all that maudlin crap to photo magazines with oversaturated colours and HDR" is talking about. Further, and even more negative is this from Roland Barthes:
    "... 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 pseudo-physis 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, as if for all time."​
    LOL . (Okay, Roland, we get that you don't like it ... )
    Aside from the fact that the strait-jacket interpretation of myth/religions is not the only one available (and is not mine), I think there is truth in the fact that a myth's -- or this negative formulation of spirituality's -- code of fixed beliefs can work to prevent exploration of a photographs -- can empty them of their "own" meaning; close rather than open minds.
    **********************************************
    Compare that to the work of Sally Mann with her wet plate collodion photographs of the South. You may be able to get examples by Googling (I don't have time to scan and link). The collodion process gives an uneven, blotched, wavy, irregular ... strange black and white image that is, as she says (of working in the hot-humid South) "... the resulting image often appears to have been breathed onto the negative, a moist refulgence within deepening shadows."
    But, to get to how her pictures escape mythology even though swimming in it, first, her description:
    "Flannery O'Connor said the South is Christ-haunted, but I say it's death-haunted. The pictures I took on those awestruck, heartbreaking trips down south were pegged to the familiar corner posts of my conscious being: memory, loss, time, and love. The repertoire of the Southern artist has long included place, the past, family, death, and dosages of romance that would be fatal to most contemporary artists. But the stage on which those are played out is always the Southern landscape, terrible in its beauty, in its indifference."​
    That last bit, "terrible in its beauty, in its indifference" is, to me the spirituality that interests me. It is "indifference" that escapes (blows away!) myth. It is "indifference" that is the chaos, that terrifies and attracts, and that salts the "terrible" beauty with mystery and power. Hallmark doesn't do "indifference."
    [Aside: Charles, who likes to edit (and I enjoy his edits), if you missed it, Dickinson's poem is an 'edited' version of the trinity.]
     
  88. Yes Julie I did miss that. Don't mistake me for someone well read ;), but not to worry I suppose, no one would so mistake me.
    As to myth, if we have new wine we may put it into old wineskins and have it still wine as potent and enduring as new wine in new wineskins, spirit being indifferent to its container, and in Laurentin's 'Facing oblivion' the ocean is there in the picture with its indifference and chaos (though in a cream-soda sort of way). Given that it is foot prints pictured, not two feet: because it is footprints pictured it make me wonder if the walker moved into oblivion or away: though Hallmark-like it would never be a Hallmark because they just wouldn't offer a Contemplating Suicide series of cards: is Laurentin's photograph a Hallmark lampoon? If it is a lampoon of a Hallmark card cover, imagine the fun we could all have scribing the message inside the cover. (I do have a old family friend who writes for Hallmark, has done his/her own line, has an advanced degree in literature or something and was told by my mother that turning those Hallmark phrases is harder than you would think!)
     
  89. http://www.google.com/search?q=footprints+in+sand&client=safari&rls=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=Xs_7Uc3DO-OkiQKt6IC4Bg&ved=0CCwQsAQ&biw=1920&bih=1102
     
  90. Well, I did say I didn't read.
     
  91. "Myths are nothing but this ceaseless, untiring solicitation, this insidious and inflexible demand that all men recognize themselves in this image, as if for all time."
    Yep. That's the problem with telling a story too many times.
     
  92. In many cases, myths were innocent and grounded in nature, which appeals to me. Especially early myths are, in many ways, a kind of original art.
    The re-telling of myths often comes with era-specific and culture-specific changes, which wind up telling their own story.
    I tend to think of the way repetition works in music.
     
  93. - Especially early myths are, in many ways, a kind of original art.
    I wonder if every prehistoric home had its own Venus figurine and which by repetition endlessly drove the point of fecundity home.
     
  94. It's hard to place other ages into my own moral context. I'm not sure it works terribly well in terms of making the most out of history. Which doesn't mean I turn a blind eye, but might mean I gain understanding, perhaps empathy, and even a little humility if I don't impose my morality backwards in time, especially as far backwards as Venus. Like so many things, nuancing understanding, appreciation, and judgment are a balancing act and a dance.
     
  95. Well I don't know if prehistorics winced at repeated messages in their then form the way I wince at proselytizing today, but I can imagine them coming home pretty tired from the hunting and gathering and that damn venus statuary nagging them for the nightly chore may have been a little much at times, all that be fruitful and multiply stuff can be tiresome.
    So for Laurentiu's wordless presentation: I don't know now if he was proselytizing by his submission or offering a parody of Hallmark classics. It seems with these footprints in the sand images, that there are in the original worded story supposed to be two sets of footprints. In that story, the message and impact is accomplished by the story's waiting to put the second set of footprints onto the stage until the end of the story, a delay technique.
    So what is going on Laurentiu? Am I supposed to think that when someone takes photographs of their footprints that the un-pictured pair's presence are supposed to be assumed by the viewer? This one pair of footprints photographic form: is it becoming a sort of spiritual graffiti marking everywhere that the feet went with the unseen but present 'lord' in their travels? In photography, isn't the delay supposed to be accomplished not by omitting an object altogether , but by including the object and using a visual slight of hand to but momentarily conceal it from the viewer's attention? There isn't given in your photograph even enough room for the missing second set of footprints to be placed. Are we to think of them as beyond camera left, right, if not in the water, or behind you? If in front of you, then the message is that the lord's footsteps are in oblivion, not your intent unless your intent was parody. If behind you, to save you from or push you into oblivion? If no room for the other footprints in the frame, what, the lord is riding on your back? You, I would argue, are better to root those other footprints firmly somewhere that doesn't leave the viewer wondering those sorts of things. By the story when two sets of footprints aren't present, the visible set of footprints are the lords. So literally, even the parody doesn't work, because what you have pictured are the lord's footprints, a kind iconic and not considered universally to be in good taste. Literally, it says that the lord is always carrying you around. Or perhaps "carried away" by your spirituality, so much so that even in a picture, you are almost not even there.
     
  96. So here is the question. As photographers, do our photographs always say more about us than we may be aware of? If Laurentiu's photograph contains a message to him, the message may a warning to him that he may be in the throws of a psychological inflation, an identification with message, and his photograph reveals that state, ideally to him, but not necessarily to him. The photograph is an odd arrangement of symbol. By the footprints in the sand story, his picture is of the lord's footprints. Yet the photographer represents them as his own. That is the core of inflation, identification with unconscious psychic complexes, an undifferentiation. Has the symbolic content been arranged, despite the photographer's intent, by some unknown Ouija board guiding his hand, by an unconscious internal operation, to accurately portray his "carried away by something" psychological state? Is this always the case with photography, that some unknown but independently formed intent is present in the photograph's creation? Is there a devil at work in Laurentiu's photograph, forming it into an admonition to him, an admonition towards proper balance within, the true voice of a spiritual authority, a devilish voice? Is his photograph an example of a Freudian slip?
     
  97. Charles, now you've made me grumpy. I feel I have to defend Laurentiu, or at least his picture, and I *really* don't want to do that, but I also feel that it needs at least a public defender of some sort. So I'm going to try to get by with an anecdote (so, if nothing else, you'll have been entertained).
    I live in the mountains, in a wilderness (relatively speaking) and I often hike by myself. Putting wilderness and hiking and by-myself-ness together, you'll not be surprised to hear that sometimes (maybe two dozen times) I encounter bears. Such was the case (the first in almost two years, I'm sorry to say) about two weeks ago (July 18 to be precise). Going up rough access road that leads to communication towers at the top of a mountain, the bear crossed above me, a short way ahead of me. It did not know I was there; paused mid-road to snuffle something. It was a really big bear -- the second biggest I've ever seen (the biggest was huge, but that's another story). It was also quite close (maybe fifty feet; I strongly suspect, since I hike so much, that they see me all the time and are bored by me and so don't bother to get out of the way). Getting to how this relates to Laurentiu's picture; there are things in life that are simply stop you. No matter how many times I encounter bears in the wild (nothing between me and it), it *always* seems ... strange. They are very "other." If I had had a camera with me (I didn't), I surely would have taken a picture. Yet if I showed it here in this thread on spirituality, it would look kind of silly. A photo interferes, does not "get" that kind of encounter, in its primal simplicity. Seeing the full moon does the same thing to me, and think how cliché and common are photos of it.
    I am not ashamed to admit that *all* of the things that Kevin Laracy sneered at, "sun lit mountains, clouds with jesus figures in them, misty water shots, flowers with dew, kids looking skyward and pretty animals and monks and such" also ... often move me (okay, maybe not Jesus in a cloud -- haven't seen that one yet ... ). I just have sense enough to know that the semiotization of an image pretty much kills the effect when mediated by a photograph.
    Nevertheless, or because of my empathy for what I suspect Laurentiu felt, on seeing those footprints real-time, in the sand, I defend at least the making of his picture (read the Flickr comments to for background).
     
  98. "As photographers, do our photographs always say more about us than we may be aware of?"
    Single photos, without other knowledge of the photographer, probably not. I tend to think of bodies of work, or at least selected photos in a group or series, as revealing more about the photographer.
    And yet, a single critique, such as yours, can reveal a lot about the critic, which is why critique can be so important and engaging. Thanks for that and for making yourself vulnerable.
    I assume my photos reveal stuff about me, more as a collection than as individuals, and I generally assume I'm not completely self-aware so there must be things I can learn about myself even from my own photos. Making photos gives me an outlet. Not only to reveal stuff about me but to reveal stuff about my world and some of the folks around me. To make visible what might otherwise be or seem invisible or barely visible.
    But it's a revelation in pictures, which can make it more suggestive than definitive, often more figurative than literal. That's nice for me who, though I have long used words to describe things, found words wanting. It's the imprecision, when it comes to figuring out meaning or expression, of the photographic world I like. The looseness, the open-endedness, the intrigue. It can be the show without the tell.
     
  99. Certainly if Laurentiu had with his picture included as personal and clear an explanation of his thoughts and feelings as Julie I wouldn't have ranted. Fred's invitation for us to post photographs was an invitation to take the discussion of spirituality and photography forward with photographic examples and our own words about the photographs, a suggestion offered to help us with our difficulty in deciding what the word spirituality meant to us personally.
    Here are Laurentiu's own words, contained in his earlier contributions to this thread:
    Yes, but that is no excuse for not attempting to explain what they mean to *you* in a way that others can understand your point of view.
    I am not against "discussion" - I am just against discussion that is lacking method and is beating around the bush instead of trying to figure out what's in it.
    If this thread is about sharing knowledge, it can do a better job about it.​
    Laurentiu, What is your excuse "for not attempting to explain what they mean to *you* in a way that others can understand your point of view"? What's in the bush of your own photograph so that we don't have to beat all around it? How might you better share knowledge, to show us how to do a better job of it? Because in my bush beating Julie has become grumpy, and together we must own our effect on her and take the thread forward.
    It surprised me that he didn't include commentary with the posting of his own picture. How read his intent for so doing other than as just another example of his offering criticisms of his fellow contributors? Beats me.
     
  100. That photo was simply meant to be my good-bye from this thread. It shows a thing coming to an end - the marks on the sand that will get erased by the water. I am surprised Julie had to ask if the water was coming or retreating - how could it have retreated while leaving the marks untouched? A bit of detective work would have helped more than art critique here. The description on flickr was irrelevant to the use of the image in the context of this thread - I linked to the flickr page because I always link to it so people can check image information. An image can be interpreted in many ways, but doesn't have any specific meaning - it can have an intended meaning, but meaning is assigned by people, it is not an inherent property of things. You can read many things into any image, but that says more about your imagination than about the image. Finally, one thing I was curious to see was how my post will be misunderstood. My comments in this thread were about being clear to avoid misunderstanding, so I was deliberately vague to see where things would get (and I also wondered whether an image is worth 1000 words). After several comments, Charles hit the obvious on its head - ask the poster what they meant rather than speculating on their intentions. All I meant was: good bye and don't forget that misunderstanding is easy.
     
  101. http://www.photo.net/photo/7463568
    To me this is a spiritual photograph because it touches on what I see as a spiritual theme: to thine own self be true; and underscores the point that being true to one's self is about the hardest and most painful thing that anyone can do.
     
  102. Fred earlier: Assuming this particular photo wouldn't work for everyone, rather than simply trying to approach the "meaning" of spirituality as theory, would it be of value for others to take a particular photo or a particular photographer (as Julie did) and talk about its spirituality, or in lieu of that, a photographic action or aspect of photographing that feels spiritual to you?​
    In fact, I read Fred's invitation as an honest acknowledgement of some of your points and as a creative way to move have us all move, you included, the conversation forward.
    So Laurentiu, I read Fred's suggestion as an invitation to continue, not as an invitation to say good bye. Now I find that your pictorial contribution was intended as a good-bye, and intended to add to the misunderstandings you had already pointed out and had asked us to be clearer about. I for one would have been happier had you responded by engaging, not by disengaging; and had you fully engaged, you would have saved me from publically thrashing around with my imagination in an effort to both understand your photograph and to get a better understanding of you; had you honestly responded to Fred's invitation, you would have saved me from some embarrassment and would have saved Julie from becoming grumpy for my part. Am I understanding you now?
     
  103. Julie - Going up rough access road that leads to communication towers at the top of a mountain, the bear crossed above me, a short way ahead of me. It did not know I was there; paused mid-road to snuffle something.​
    Here in LA it is mostly concrete and there aren't any bears. But I'm concerned for your safety. Are you talking black bear or brown? Do you carry a repellant? Do you make plenty of noise as you walk? 50 feet, if I read you correctly, seems pretty darn close to be to a bear, but if its behavior didn't change for becoming aware of you I just read in bear safety material that that was OK and two years with one sighting seems safe. But... Do you carry something that you can throw down in front of a charging bear? For noise how about wearing some bells around your ankles that would ching chang with each step?
     
  104. Way OT here, but can I resist? Noooo .... I've been charged twice by bears. The most "interesting "is described here:
    http://unrealnature.wordpress.com/2007/12/04/program-error/
    The other is somewhere in this post:
    http://unrealnature.wordpress.com/2008/03/23/where-are-the-bears/
    The only time I got photos (I usually don't carry a camera) is here (cubs with mother). The most interesting part of these pictures is what's not in them after the first shot -- the mother was somewhere in the vicinity, I knew not where ...:
    http://unrealnature.wordpress.com/2009/04/23/the-un-bear-able-frightness-of-bears/
    ... and a more recent, funny encounter:
    http://unrealnature.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/in-my-way/
    In the summer, I carry a little dog bell so I can be heard (summer = mother bears, which are the ones I'm worried about; otherwise, even with the above described encounters, I don't fear the bears).
     
  105. (Thanks Julie I'll take a look soon at those bear adventures you linked to.)
    I wrote: "Is this always the case with photography, that some unknown but independently formed intent is present in the photograph's creation?"
    Sometimes I think there is an unseen hand at work, but perhaps more as Fred has said, in a body of work rather than in one individual photograph.
    I'm going to attempt to attach a photograph of mine to this post. It shows the point at which I began to relate to my coyote subjects on a more personal level because of what I recognized in the expression of the mother coyote pictured. It doesn't show so I'll have to tell. The shot is the second of three. I'm on a bridge, have been hiding and waiting for her to come under the bridge near dusk. The first shot, not shown, she heard my shutter click and stopped and began scratching. (She had heard my shutter click very many times before.) The photograph show here: Before looking up at me, she stared off into the distance for what was an excruciatingly long time. Just when she least expected it: that tiresomely silly man again. Clarified for me was that she had more important things to do just then than to deal with my impertinence. From that exasperated mother's stare, and then from her slowly turning to look up at me, I recognized her as superior for being complete. That I had, as always, brought a stupid dog into her proximity: that for her just took the cake as to my foolishness in her eyes. I a fool? Yep, pretty much, in that moment with that man she had it right.
    As to the unseen hand and a gestalt moment: that came more slowly and with much else. The more I watched the coyotes the more I understood that my dog hadn't acquired true canine culture. He had a lot of the behavioral pieces but none of them worked together in an entire set of integrated behaviors that could allow him to live independently. With the coyotes, each behavior was a part of an integrated whole. It took me a couple years to figure that out. And lately I've been asking myself how I have lived. Have I lived life more like my dog does, a disintegrated whole, or have I lived more as a coyote lives, where all coyote behaviors coalesce around imperatives that are part of nature and integral to their coyote nature where a coyote can't pick and choose from those behaviors, live just some of them, because if it did pick and choose, it would not be able to feed itself or its family. I can't yet be completely honest with myself on that score. But by intending one thing, some photographs, I do feel that in grappling with my subject matter, much more of myself has come into a kind of uncomfortable focus, and I wonder if that was part of a broader intent present that was not entirely of my own making. Human nature does involve choice in a way a canine's never can. I know we are a different species. Still, she got to me, that mother coyote, in a way I could never have imagined.
    00bsk1-541719584.jpg
     
  106. From Julie's http://unrealnature.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/in-my-way/ "I was, as usual, in a zone." and " I saw a bear not thirty feet from me."
    Just as I suspected. You are out lost in thought in bear country and I am not reassured. Isn't 30 feet from a bear way too close?
    Although I don't have experience with bears, I seriously wonder. If others who do have experience with bears believe that Julie is in her habits entirely safe, or not, please advise us.
     
  107. Charles, to my reading, your posts seem to insistently circle two themes, one of which I think is spiritual and the other I (my opinion) don't. Here's what I'm thinking from what you've written in aggregate:
    First, to my reading, it seems you're fascinated by the feeling that there's a different world or layer or place-of-being that is embodied by the coyotes you've been photographing. Some whole realm of the world that's been, is being, missed even though it's there/everywhere under/behind. I can't tell if you are trying to assimilate their world to yours or if you're trying to assimilate yours to theirs (which way is this empathy going?) or if you're trying rather for sympathy, which does not assimilate. The spiritual stance of a sympathetic (as opposed to empathetic) fascination seems to me to be perfectly said by Robinson Jeffers in his poem Credo:
    .
    My friend from Asia has powers and magic, he plucks a blue leaf from the young blue-gum
    And gazing upon it, gathering and quieting
    The God in his mind, creates an ocean more real than the ocean, the salt, the actual
    Appalling presence, the power of the waters. He believes that nothing is real except as we make it. I humbler have found in my blood
    Bred west of Caucasus a harder mysticism.
    Multitude stands in my mind but I think that the ocean in the bone vault is only
    The bone vault's ocean: out there is the ocean's;
    The water is the water, the cliff is the rock, come shocks and flashes of reality. The mind
    Passes, the eye closes, the spirit is a passage;
    The beauty of things was born before eyes and sufficient to itself; the heart-breaking beauty
    Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.​
    Which (among many other things) is to say that the spiritual doesn't come "from" man; it's not ours to make. It is "indifferent" to use Sally Mann's word. It is man's vanity that makes "the God in his mind, creates an ocean more real than the ocean."
    .
    *****************
    The aspect of your (Charles's) posts that seems to me to be not spiritual is to do with the above repudiated empathy, of inter-personal relation as being spiritual. While that's a huge/valuable/wonderful etc. component of much of photography -- much of the best photography -- to me, it's sort of the opposite of spiritual. It deals with the familiar, the common core and so on. Nevertheless, there's a way that it ties to your coyote project that is interesting (and possibly totally off; it's something I see in the pictures whether or not you intended it).
    Animals can be thought of (from a vain anti-Jeffers perspective) as our most complete minority population. Sort of the ultimate minority. From that view, I borrow from Ta-Nehisi Coates where, talking about the African-American minority perspective in a recent post to his blog:
    .
    " ... power enables ignorance. Black people know this well. We live in a white world. We know the ways of white folks because a failure to master them, is akin to the failure of my classmates to learn English. Your future dims a little. The good slave will always know the master in ways that the good master can never know the slave.
    "I think this is the seed of the "We don't have any white history month!" syndrome. Through conquest the ways of whiteness become the air. That is the whole point of conquest. But once those ways are apprehended by the conquered--as they must be--they are no longer the strict property of the conqueror. On the contrary you find the conquered mixing, cutting, folding and flipping the ways of the conqueror into something that he barely recognizes. And all the while the conquered still enjoys her own private home. She need not be amnesiac, only bilingual. The phrase "code-switching" is overdone, but there is no cultural code for white people to "switch" from. It's not even a code. It's just the world."​
    .
    If you take that view and apply it to animals-as-minority, then you get a blindness that I feel Charles trying to penetrate, though as already said, I can't tell if he's assimilating the animal's view to his own, or is giving them their own space.
    [Don't worry about me and the bears. But thank you for your concern!]
     
  108. Charles, your coyote/dog story sheds light especially on how subject matter can get under our skin and how viewing can be learning as well as how viewing others can be learning about ourselves. It can be unwitting, a pleasant surprise.
    I'm also aware that my photos have been affected by things I want, and my photographing has had an affect on those things. I consciously moved away from lurking in shadows while shooting guys I found interesting. Feeling somewhat shady myself and even a bit lonesome and distant doing that, I made a focused decision to approach potential subjects and do fewer candid shots and more intentional portraits, with a desire to be more connected. Then I moved away from the Abercrombie and Fitch types and onto men of my own age, by design, with a desire to add some level of intimacy. Though I did it intentionally, I wasn't aware when I started how it would affect the way I would come to see my peers and then how I'd come to see myself through that process. I became much more interested, visually and emotionally, in my contemporaries and much less enthralled with and visually enticed by the guys Madison Avenue and Castro Street were telling me I should be looking at. I decided there was more visibility and sensuality in middle and old age than I'd been noticing and simultaneously felt I could make that older complex of energy visible while also creating some visible energy and sensuality myself, especially with the help of those who already were in touch with theirs. Strangely, in some regards, I started seeing stuff in the photos that I was only later able to start seeing in the subjects. So both the subjects and my photos of them were teaching me things and guiding me through a lot of changes.
    As to the photo you chose above, thanks. Never would have thought of "To thine own self be true" and it might make a great title for what I have only titled "Untitled." In part, I like what the phrase expresses because it seems apt but not for any literal reason. It just seems a good accompaniment more than a good description. One thing the photo taught me is that a very ordinary moment can become extraordinary -- a moment transformed and never the same again -- by taking a photo of it and processing it with care. In that case, the photo taught me more than the subject did, though I still want to acknowledge the good graces and role of the subject in the photo coming to be.
     
  109. Julie, the sympathetic seems to be to be a bit out there, and I thank you for making those distinctions for me. In a nutshell, the coyotes for me embody a more grounded existence than I have been able to achieve, though the coyotes as grounded-ness has put my current grounded-ness at issue. That potential for my own growth either has intention or doesn't. Either way my personal view is that the process is natural, of this world. Your synopsis of my meanderings here is fair.
    I didn't really follow the animals as the ultimate minority thing. Animals don't know they are conquered, that's where the comparison breaks down for me.
    Julie - "I just have sense enough to know that the semiotization of an image pretty much kills the effect when mediated by a photograph." Which is my main takeaway from these discussions. On the other hand, I think Fred's, the one I put a link to, succeeds.
    Fred thanks for all.
     
  110. "Which is my main takeaway from these discussions."
    Charles, since this sounds like a wrap-up, which makes sense at this point, can you say a bit more about this and the quote about an image mediated by a photo. I may not be fully understanding the quote, and since it's your takeaway from the overall discussion, I'd like to understand the basics of what the discussion has meant for you. Also, does it relate back to spirituality? Thanks.
     
  111. Julie was writing about having felt 'stopped' in her tracks by the sudden appearance of a bear and how the single image of a photograph, a photograph of the bear in that time and that place proximate to her, wouldn't mediate that event; a single image would pretty much kill the effect, the effect on her of that primal experience. If she wanted the photograph to precisely convey the substance of her experience of the bear, well, heck, it's a single image about which she says that she has the sense to know that a single image would scatter the effect, not focus it. A thousand words about her bear encounter would be better than one photograph, or a video containing a thousand images better than one image. Now I'm not trying to speak for Julie, I'm trying to state how I interpreted her. Bearing with my interpretation, I associate it to the deleted post from Keven Laracy: "All this talk of spirituality will lead you to start taking photographs of sun lit mountains, clouds with jesus figures in them, misty water shots, flowers with dew, kids looking skyward and pretty animals..." "Semiotization", the use of signs and symbols, in a photograph: when set about deliberately the use of signs and symbols does risk ending up where Keven says it will. Like Julie's bear, you just never know where the viewer of a photograph is going to go when the viewer starts snuffling around something in the nature of a sign or a symbol. The viewer can freaking go anywhere with their 'interpretations' as my post on the footprints photo contribution shows.
    Speaking of raccoons, one came into my yard last night set upon eating my grapes. My dogs cornered it and set about trying to kill it. The raccoon wouldn't go along with that and the noise woke the neighborhood, I couldn't call my two dogs off, and I had to just about beat my dogs with a bat so that they would back off and when they did back off the raccoon made its getaway, all uninjuured. That's kind of what happens when we bring up the word spirituality. As Wouter wrote: "Just the word itself already, without consider what it could mean to someone." The raccoon is easier to understand than people, the raccoon just wanted to eat some grapes; the dogs exercising blindly for their own reasons, but without considering what those grapes might have meant to the raccoon. For the raccoon it was sustenance and I really could do better at understanding all the different ways that as honorable people we set about to meet out needs.
     
  112. Thanks. Got it!
    Yes, a photo and the subject of a photo are two different things. So, a photo of a sunset can come as an unimportant and uninspiring cliché even though the sunset itself was a joy to behold and transformed the person beholding it.
    I tend not to think of photos as mediating the events, scenes, or people they portray, though there is a documentary aspect to photos that can't be ignored. But they are also the creation of new events, scenes, and visages of people. I rarely expect a photo of mine to convey the experience I had when shooting it. I think of the photo as a new experience, somewhat loosely or more tightly based on some experience I had or vision that was before my camera. What's before my camera can be just a means to create a new vision, one that I don't believe is yet there until the photo is complete. The memory aspect of photography is important, and it's only part of the story. I often don't think of photos as being about their subjects or the events they depict. Photos show me something framed by a lens and that framing gives a photo a very distinct and new kind of significance perhaps tied to but also separate from the original experience.
    Shakespeare would likely disagree with some of your conclusions. And . . . you never know where a viewer is going to go with anything or any aspect of a photo. I don't see symbols as so special in that particular aspect of unknown viewer possibility. For me, symbolism and working with signs, in the right hands, can add a layer of meaning and relatableness and significance that can command attention and give things a double-meaning or deeper meaning worth pondering. What would Piss Christ be without it? How would film noir work? How could Hitchcock convey his wry humor without the train going through the tunnel in North By Northwest or without the two closeted homosexual protagonists' feet knocking each other as they cross their legs when they first meet in Strangers On A Train? That Romeo drinks his poison from a cup and Juliet stabs herself with a dagger kind of ties together the sexual and fateful aspects of the star-crossed tale. These symbols add texture. Shakespeare, Hitchcock, Serrano, Robert Frank, and so many others don't end up where Kevin's assessment may have.
    Kevin's examples are important and insightful not because they're symbols, IMO, but because they're clichés.
    It's also important to take into consideration how well done they are. A lot of overt attempts at conveying spirituality are simply ham-fisted and just not very good photos. But that's, of course, true of all kinds of photos regardless of their spiritual nature. IMO, the problem is often simply one of the effectiveness of the photo itself, not a generic matter of whether it uses symbols or signs or is motivated by spirituality or any other human emotion, aspect, or quality.
    I think authenticity and genuineness play a more important role in expressing something spiritual or expressing love or fear or sexual energy or hatred or anger or desire or what have you. One can usually see the difference between an authentic use of a symbol and an exploitive use of one and one usually intuitively knows if either of those uses works within the given photo.
     
  113. Also . . . photos don't often and certainly don't have to literally mediate the experience one has when taking the photo, yet they can still express a lot about those experiences. Photos are not so much a translation of experience as they can be a transformation of experience. We don't always gain knowledge through photos. When a photo is good, however, we often experience ourselves a wave of energy that travels through time and space, or at least seems to.
     

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