Photography and the depiction of time

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by phenomenology, Apr 13, 2020.

  1. Photography renders the moment for most photographers. We grab a slice of time and place, cropped just so, to include elements we feel are significant. Four dimensional consciousness is rendered to a two dimensional plane. I would have said three dimensional space, but in reality we are capturing a moment, a moment in time.

    The camera is a great tool for achieving this. One can depict more time within a picture, and its OK to do so. Forget the highly focused images of Ansel Adams and Elliot Porter for a moment. We really don't see still images, the camera does, but we don't.

    The camera can be used, I'd argue it should be used, to smear those parts of experience that move quickly and fix those that don't. Imagine the story a photo of a couple embracing in Grand Central Station would have if all those walking by are smeared with a two second exposure. It would tell how a hug trancends the moment.
    Moving On and mikemorrell like this.
  2. I understand and find a lot of meaning in notions like the decisive moment and in understanding how well photography can capture and freeze a moment in time. Those are important aspects. The beauty of photography is that it can also be narrative, telling a story, suggesting movement in time ... and it's not always longer exposures and blurred figures or subjects that can express that.

    invisibleflash and Sanford like this.
  3. I agree. I like photos in which 'elapsed time' is used creatively without just cliches forms of a technique.There many good examples if you can find them. I recently bought David Gibson's 'The Street Photographer's Manual' at my local second-hand (and cheap new) bookstore. At the 'special price' of $11, the book it seemed - flicking through it - to be full of inspiring, unusual photos by many photographers who also share their practical tips on how to 'break out of your creative box'. I've only browsed through it so far but I still think that it's $11 well-spent! Not only for street photography but for other genres too.The book (thankfully) does not all cover 'the technical stuff' or 'gear' . It's all about finding ways to be creative in finding interesting locations, perspectives and compositional 'frames' that interesting photos that leas to more interesting photos. Maybe I'll w4ite a review when I've finished reading.

    One of the first photos in the book that I immediately liked in was this one of local commuters at Church Gate railway station, Mumbai in 1995. It was taken by Magnum photographer Raghu Rai.


    Last edited: Apr 13, 2020
  4. The other way for photographs to depict time is with a series of still pictures
  5. If I remember correctly, at least some phenomenologist philosophers draw a distinction between time-in-itself and time-as-experienced. My gut feeling is that capturing the former lies within the abstract realm. Sam's two images, in my opinion, demonstrate the latter.
    samstevens likes this.
  6. I just stood in line at Trader Joe's and ten minutes seemed like a lifetime.
    michaellinder likes this.
  7. Time-in-itself is probably best understood via Kant. It would be beyond description since it's beyond experience. It is just 'known' a priori, according to Kant. That our lives are lived in time is an innate and irrefutable concept, according to him, much different than the experiences of it we can describe more easily. So translating time 'in-itself' to a visual medium would be almost counterproductive. Kant has Plato's forms to thank for his own concepts of 'in-itself' and 'knowledge'. Plato was very skeptical of the visual arts as he felt visual renderings and representations were mere imitations of a much more true reality that we could only know with our minds and not see with our eyes.

    Your suggesting abstract as a realm, I think, presents interesting possibilities. Kudos. Because abstract photos can express without representing and that's what time 'in-itself' would need, not a depiction of how it plays out or what it looks like but rather what time is and means to us.

    You got me to think, as well, that the fact that time is often suggested in photos by blurring movement is, itself, an abstraction. The blur is an abstract element that helps suggest time. As a matter of fact, I think it's often the case that it's various abstractions—light and shadow, focus, texture—that often suggest the deeper and more universal ideals in a photo, even one that's representational or narrative.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2020
  8. Well put, Sam. You clearly remember your philosophy! My take on an image that includes blur would be that it is time-as-experienced. To me, the photographer may have experienced the subject matter as time moving, which led to a decision to shoot that scene. From this theoretical context, I can't conjecture how the viewer would see it.
  9. I can go either way on that. In the photo above, I didn't experience the person walking by as blurry even though the camera portrays a blur. It's more metaphorical than explicitly experienced that way. When cars whiz by me on the street, I do experience them in somewhat blurry terms. That's why, to me, blur in a photo can be as much an abstraction as it can be more like reality. I think, while blur can to some extent represent what we experience, it can also be a function of how the camera and exposure work and the blur sometimes represents our thinking about time (and its relationship to movement) and not just what we've experienced. The latter, our thinking about the relationship of time and movement, is closer to Kant's 'in-itself' and universal notion of time.
  10. I'll have to read and think about your response a lot more carefully before I can reply, Sam. It'll be later today, though.
  11. OK, Sam. The distinction between experiencing time and thinking about it is a cogent one. I agree that photos can capture either of these.
    samstevens likes this.

  12. man ray.jpg
    Object to be Destroyed 1923-33-...88

    Here is yet another way to play with time on several levels. A sculpture originally made and photographed in 1923 by Man Ray. A metronome he used in his studio to pace and rhythm and ultimately time limit his paintings. Then he destroyed it and 10 years later recreated it with an eye photo of his lost love. ... only to recreate several times over the years. This image is my tribute to Man Ray's creative flow. the ongoing story... 1988 the year I lost someone.

    Indestructible Object. background story
  13. For Michael (this approximates the distinction I was getting at) ...

    For inoneeye ...
  14. Impressive Sam. appropriate and memorable.
    michaellinder likes this.
  15. I'm considering time as a grid (scale) that allow me to see the change that undergo the any material or abstract entity between two unequal points of this grid (scale), so the time is just the tool, the abstract tool to which we assign material property (fluctuation of the cesium atom). The motion blur is the recording of the object's "change" - material presentation.

    I know, in everyday life we are often the victims of the plain semantic or common use of word time.

    Perhaps, of that dualism of time we can interchangeably rely on its material or abstract properties. The sharp images may evoke the thought, which is an abstract product, that (the thought) completes/concludes the "frozen event."

    "Eternity is said not to be an extension of time but an absence of time, and sometimes it seemed to me that her abandonment touched that strange mathematical point of endlessness, a point with no width, occupying no space.

    ―Graham Greene"

    I do not think that it is possible to comprehend eternity without concept of time.


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