Photography as reality or representation?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by billy_mabrey, Nov 25, 2006.

  1. Quite often during a critique one of my fellow students make the vauge comment
    about their work, (painting, photography, or whatever): "It was REALLY that way"
    Though it's been a few years since I was in school, there are lingering
    questions about comments like that I have trouble with. Does Photography
    represent reality? Is photography a form of reality? How much intent of the
    observer is within a photograph?


    I shall start with one critique in particular that I recall. 5 of us made a
    plaster cast replica of a man's head, made meticulously using clay and calipers
    to increase the proportions of a poor model's head scaled to 150%. For 3 weeks
    or so, the five of us engaged in seeing this man's head, using our calipers to
    measure the width of his nose, or his left eyebrow, and as exacting as possible
    increased the measurement to scale and recreated his form in clay. After a
    month we had each made a large head.

    As presise as we tried to be, a funny thing occured. None of our five heads
    looked the same! We could tell they were from the same model, easy, but there
    were variations that were not easy to find, causing them to look like different
    people. During the critique, some fresh eyes fell upon our heads, and they saw
    immedeatly what the 5 of us had not. Each of our plaster heads resembled the
    model, and also ourselves. Somehow, my plaster head had a longer face then the
    others, resembling my own face. One girl's had more pronounced cheekbones then
    the others, just like her own face. We had unknowingly each incorporated
    ourselves into some methodical process of copying a man's head. One girl said
    something like, "But, I don't see how it's possible, I measured EVERYTHING, and
    it was all REALLY that way"


    When a person observes something, he or she extracts a "reality" from what they
    observe. Our funny brains and eyes tend to miss many things. We see what we
    want to see as the old saying goes. We extract pieces of information from the
    universe, be it by physical limitations (as in the ability to only see certian
    wavelengths of light) or intentional limitations (by looking the other way). We
    reconstruct information in our minds and build a "reality" that we believe in.
    Magicians play upon this by redirecting our attention, and making us believe
    something imposible has happened.

    Its seems then, that the universe is only information. Modern Comological
    sciences are leaning to the though of a holographic model of existance where
    existance is merely information. We can extract only so much of this
    information for our purposes, to find dinner, or paint a masterpiece. In both
    cases we construct a "reality" in our minds or on the canvas.

    THE PHOTOGRAPHER, uses his camera to extract information from the universe. The
    thing is, Photography does this much better then our eyes can. The camera
    captures information all at once. Be it film or glass or a digital sensor, it
    is all still information recorded of light intesities and the angle at which it
    entered the lens. A telescope enhances ones information collecting capabilities
    just as a photograph from a camera. In fact the surfaces of the moon and the
    rings of saturn were once discreted as not "real" as they were not DIRECTLY
    perceptable by man's eyes. And then humans actually set foot on one of the
    places and sends probes to the others.


    The reconstruction of information is in the print, or digital file. If it is
    manipulated by brush or by some photoshop filter does it loose information, or
    gain information? Does that make an image more real, or less real? IS it ever
    Real until it actually enters the mind?

    It is my opinion that photography only represents reality, as it only retains
    some of the information of a scene. Our simple minds still see in the
    photograph almost all the information we would be able to gather if we were
    actually there at the place the photograph was made. All we ever see in a
    photograph is a closer approximation to the scene then we can achive by any
    other means, and we are fooled by information in the print into seeing reality
    where there is only representation. Anything else percieved, a feeling, a
    thought, that is something we bring to it ourselves, just like my class did
    with the big plaster heads.
     
  2. I think a photograph is an arrangement of silver grains or dye clouds or what have you on a piece of paper. There is a more or less inverse relationship between the density of said material on the paper and the intensity of light that was focused on some photo-sensitive material, or computer chip, by a lens at some point. Usually the light bounced off some object which is said to be the subject of the photograph first, and therefore the density pattern on the photograph resembles a 2-dimensional projection of that (usually) 3-dimensional object.

    Other than that, it all sounds to me a lot like the whah-whah trumpet sound that filled in for adult voices on the Peanuts holiday specials.
     
  3. Photographs are artifacts of a technology situated between an event and a camera. After the moment a photograph is presented, its veracity, if it is important, is dependent upon many things, including the photographer's history - IF there is a history, for a machine can make a photograph without a thought.

    If a photograph sufficed as reality, then so few people would ever have to leave the house.
     
  4. Well of course. I completley agree with that desription of a photograph, afterall that's what it IS, stuff on paper, casued by photons, reflections, refractions, and whatever you did to it to make it. All the causes were from information in the world.

    But when I look at a photograph, try as I might, I still see beyond that substance of what it actually IS, and always into what it represents. Is the distinction from substance to representation less obvious in photography then in say..drawing?

    Even with trickery, or ingeneous creativity, why does photography lean our minds into thinking its depictions are real? Maybe some cultural bias?

    Wahhhh wahka wahhmm....i always was one to wonder what was being said
     
  5. Even with trickery, or ingeneous creativity, why does photography lean our minds into thinking its depictions are real? Maybe some cultural bias?
    Yes, that is exactly what makes photography What It Is, regardless of what one thinks it is. Persons who have never seen a photograph before don't know what to make of one. They have to learn that it is something related to something else.
     
  6. What you are describing in art is referred to as "impressionism". Such derives from a visual psychological advantage in interpreting the visual world evolved in many higher animals. The degree to which we humans add visual information and meaning to what we see varies considerably depending on subject, setting, and individuals. ...David
     
  7. "They have to learn that it is something related to something else ... there's that indexical thing again... t
     
  8. < One girl's had more pronounced cheekbones then the others, just like her own face. We
    had unknowingly each incorporated ourselves into some methodical process of copying a
    man's head. One girl said something like, "But, I don't see how it's possible, I measured
    EVERYTHING, and it was all REALLY that way">

    It was real. If all five pieces had turned out the same you would no longer have been artists,
    but replicators.
     
  9. The calculation of how many perspectives we can have individually is too great for my brain. The combined perspectives of others included is beyond comprehension. A photograph, or a statue, or a painting, can merely give us an opportunity to view and possibly perceive what the maker intended.

    Five people, five different sets of hands, eyes, minds. Could the result have been different. Far more likely they be different, than the same?

    Five people making photographs would probably have a better chance. Unfortunately.

    Viva La Difference.
     
  10. I think the approach one takes to photography makes the difference. If you're a photojournalist, you're trying to capture reality (although cropping the scene) as truthfully as possible (we hope). But if you're into fashion, you're probably doing work that represents some sort of ideal beauty and aesthetic, reality greatly altered by different clothes, make-up and possibly a an unrealistic set. Many Art photographers such as Philip-Lorca dicorcia create narratives, representing an idea in their mind that they want to share with others. Just the fact that someone often gives a name to a piece alone is them imposing their reality on it. Our cultural biases keep up from seeing in .Raw information and everything is interpreted. So even "reality" isn't reality. Ask five people to TELL you about the same scene-even when its nothing we've changed, we've changed it in our minds and used selective memory to tell a story.

    So in conclusion I would have to say mostly representation, even if it is one of reality.
     
  11. Even with trickery, or ingeneous creativity, why does photography lean our minds into thinking its depictions are real? Maybe some cultural bias?

    Yes, that is exactly what makes photography What It Is, regardless of what one thinks it is. Persons who have never seen a photograph before don't know what to make of one. They have to learn that it is something related to something else.


    Continuing on with biases in understanding a photograph, I recently uncovered a bias of my own when discovering the work of Gorskii.
    See it: Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii
    His work is from 1905 - 1910 or so, in Russia. He photographed using color filters to make color separation negatives. I assume these color images to be digitaly reconstructed from his original separation negatives, similar to my own work in gum bichromate.
    The remarkable thing in my eyes is that some of the photographs look as tho they were made only last week! My cultural bias was to assume grainy and monochromatic colors represent the past. In otherwords, a clear representation of history is long lost to the dusts of 100 years time, and all that remain are hazy ghostly photographs of black and white? Apparently not so. It is phenomenal to me to see the old world in true clarity like in these photos. These color photographs seem more "real" to me simply becasue of the additional color information that better represents our perception of "reality". I have never seen that before in "OLD" photography.
     
  12. A very good interesting story Billy. The funny thing is that even the posts reflect each comentators perception.
     
  13. That's a marvellous link, Billy. Cultural bias affects everything we do and it's great when something like this comes along to upset it.
    00IwH5-33707084.jpg
     
  14. 'For every observer of a moment there is a seperate, unique and equaly valid reality.' -Frederick Nitsche

    Well, actually thats what a drunken friend, who had read it in a book, written by a biagropher, who had prpbably never met Frederick Nitsche in person, told me.

    All we can really do is to understand existance from the stimulus we can gather and act upon that understanding.

    A photograph IS a frozen moment chosen by a photographer. However, only the moment is frozen not the perception.
     
  15. Does a photograph represent reality?

    To me, no.

    It represents that something was present in a certain place, at a certain point in time, in a
    certain form. long enough to be captured by a camera.

    What the photographer adds or detracts from the print or viewed image, at the point of
    capture or developing, always changes the reality.
     
  16. Most if not all photography is all about lying. It can be a very deceptive media, but that is not necessarily wrong or bad. A photography is one person's interpretation of a scene.

    Who says an artful photograph has to be true to the actual scene? This is not a law, nor in stone, nor a "rule" for making pictures. I think too often, people expect extreme fedility...IMHO this is wrong thinking unless you shoot forensic pictures for litigation or journalism.

    The pictures made by all the masters are results of greatly improved scenes, often looking drastically "better" then what they actually saw. This has been the case since the beginning, and not a bad trend.

    Then there's portraiture, especially glamour, which usually portrays the subject looking much better then in real life. This is not a problem but a great thing which can be obtained in photography.

    This is okay!
     
  17. Images in magazines of celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, and many others...these images make them look much better then if you saw these people in person. In person these people often look average, not much better looking then most people you see at the mall, on the street.

    Ansel Adams wrote and others too, that their resulting pictures resulted in much beauty then did the actual scene. All of us that shoot RAW digital see this all the time. Our RAWs are exposed intentionally to the right of the histogram, and they look washed out, flat, lacking contrast, lacking color saturation, having soft sharpness, and basically looking just blah. But of course post processing shows a much different image...making the comparision between the raw and post processed image night and day.
     
  18. It's all good.
     
  19. A photograph is its own reality, it only bears a sometimes massive, sometimes only slight
    resemblance to what you might have seen if you had been in that place, at that time, and
    looking in the same direction.
     

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