Photography as testimony of existence.

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by antoniobassiphotography, Nov 21, 2010.

  1. In a different forum, I was exchanging some thoughts with John Kelly and, as we were talking about destroying old photos, I wrote:
    I have always trouble destroying photographs, it makes me feel weird, almost like I am destroying a part of existence. Photography testifies the existence of its subjects.​
    Just today, I was reorganizing my prints archive and I had to pick quite a few photographs for the trash. That weird feeling came back: I was destroying the only evidence of the existence of the subjects or pieces of time that were captured in those prints. If I see things this way, every photograph in the world is important and valuable.
    This could also be one of the reasons why I like to use film, because I need to have something tangible in my hands after I take the shot; I need to have the negative film as material evidence of a piece of time that is gone so quickly that never even existed. Only by holding the celluloid between my fingers I know that that piece of time actually existed.
    How do you relate to these ideas?
     
  2. Antonio, I'd been reading your exchange in that other thread and the genuine expressions you and John were making. It was moving to read and I could relate to a lot of it. I think testament is one aspect and likely pertains to a particular type of photo, at least for me.
    I also see a lot of photos as future-oriented, signaling possibilities. Photos vary in how tied they are to their subjects. (Sometimes the photo itself is the subject.) Because so many photos -- even ones that are very much about their subject -- transcend that subject as well, they often point me toward something else.
    My memories of people and places now passed, stories that family and friends share of them, fleeting images in my own mind, are testaments as well. I don't always need or even want something tangible to remember and connect in that way.
     
  3. Fred
    I think that the evidence of existence is the only thing we can confidently describe photography with. It is the only evident and clear description of why photography is so unique. Art? Can be done with photography and with many other media... Communication? Sure, but that also can be done with infinite other media.
    I don't always need or even want something tangible to remember and connect in that way.​
    The photo uploaded here was taken by me when I was 6 or 7. I found it today in a bunch of old prints and it brought back so many memories, that were stored in such remote places of my mind that I didn't even have the sense of their existence anymore. Memories are not enough.
     
  4. Fred
    I think that the evidence of existence is the only thing we can confidently describe photography with. It is the only evident and clear description of why photography is so unique. Art? Can be done with photography and with many other media... Communication? Sure, but that also can be done with infinite other media.
    I don't always need or even want something tangible to remember and connect in that way.​
    The photo uploaded here was taken by me when I was 6 or 7. I found it today in a bunch of old prints and it brought back so many memories, that were stored in such remote places of my mind that I didn't even have the sense of their existence anymore. Memories are not enough.
    00XitS-304465584.jpg
     
  5. Antonio, I'd hate to think that there is only one phrase we can confidently describe photography with.
    When my own mom was passing I elected not to take photos and I'm glad I didn't. I prefer to have the images in my mind, which have now mingled with other images and the lapse of time, both diluting the original image and enriching it. The memories are enough for me and sometimes more than enough.
    Like you, I come across photos from long ago that move me deeply.
     
  6. jtk

    jtk

    I'll only note that I'm not sure why we want evidence of our existence. It seems to me that subsequent generations might want it, but I'm not sure why I would. I think I'm aware that I exist, and I don't think the photos I made twenty years ago do more than elaborate on that.
    What I'm saying here is that I'm interested in what you have to say about evidence and the only way I understand that currently has to do with the remote possibility that somebody in 2050 will care.
    I do enjoy the evidence of my mother's photography as a 19year old (Kodak Bantam Special, Elwood enlarger, Agfa/Anscochrome developed at home etc) and I enjoy my collection of somebody else's family's photos, so I have to buy into the idea that their existence matters to me...but I'm not sure my own matters at any given moment.
     
  7. Antonio, I ponder this a lot lately. As I am older and have the financial means to travel and see more, I come across scenery that I simply can't bring myself to capture on film (or digital). It isn't that I don't want to set up my camera--my system of quick release everything, makes it a non issue. It is just that I have such a spiritual connection to the subject that I a) don't want to share it, because I don't think anyone else will get it, b) there is no camera equipment that can capture the nuances of smell, breeze, sounds, etc.
    For me, I am not traveling through time, but rather still, while time and the universe sails by me, and I'm okay not sharing it or capturing a moment.
     
  8. jtk

    jtk

    ...just a note: it's not important to me that someone else will, as Michael Axel says interestingly, "get it." What's important to me is that something happens between what I've offered and what someone else gets. I don't imagine anyone can read my mind, what I hope is that I stimulate their own experience. This gets back to my poorly formed idea of "generosity," which has something to do with giving without expectation of response (but with a little hope for that :)
     
  9. John
    I'll only note that I'm not sure why we want evidence of our existence.​
    Well, here we go into a mined field... Let's say first of all that our worst fear is that there is nothing after death, that's why we need God and that's why we need evidence (the Apostles needed it...) We are aware that we exist but we don't keep in touch with our past; as far as I am concerned, my recent past feels like a dream. The present feels like water coming out of the earth and going back down, where the only moment you can see it, feel it and drink it is when it springs out before it disappears deep in the ground. I have memories of my past but they are not even close to the emotional power a photograph can trigger. Fred is right when he says I elected not to take photos and I'm glad I didn't; it's a choice.
    Fred
    We spend so much time here on this forum trying to figure out what photography really is. I think I came to the point that I believe the only reason for photography to exist is to prove that its subjects existed, that something existed. I know I'm getting too much out of photography and more into philosophy but this is the POP forum, right? Of course there is art, communication and all but if we get to the bottom of it, the only certain fact for me is the testimony of existence. This is so unique and powerful, nothing else can do that. Only the most distant stars do that: when you look up and you see something that doesn't exist anymore you look at the time. Photography captures History.
    Michael
    I agree with you, I also prefer to enjoy certain sensations on my skin rather than wasting my time behind a camera and missing the whole point. But you talk about present, I talk about past.
     
  10. Michael captures extremely well what I believe, that not everything should be put into the "box called evidence". The visual scene or event that moves us spiritually, intellectually or emotionally should remain as such. Often, nothing else is needed. In fact, anything else may seriously modify the impression by providing but a slice of it (the fraction of a second of the photograph, for instance). The Royal Ballet's "La Noce" (A peasant wedding) of Stravinsky did that for me about 40 years ago, as a youth in London. It was partly the scene, the colours, the music, the expression - everything came together beautifully (the fact even that it was a peasant wedding in Russia had not so much to do with it, much like the plot of many operas) and left an indelible mark that memory can only complement. I need no images of what passed then.
    Antonio, I think the second aspect is that the photograph, while not lying, is but a micro or minute element of the evidence, or testimony of existence, that is portrayed. It is thus played out in just that manner. The evidence is NOT full evidence. It is simply a vignette or an impression of what happened (photography as art is different in its communication, but that is another subject), forensic still life photography excluded
    I cannot destroy old negatives or old photos of others, even unrecognised ones. Like writing, they represent something of some time, and perhaps of more importance to others than to me. Can you destroy a musical composition that you don't appreciate or don't understand? It took years until Bruno Walter discovered the unrecognised works of Mahler. There is a responsibility of the person who is looking at something that has been left by another.
    For my own work, on the other hand, I can unhesitatingly delete electronic images or even negatives or slides. They are mine and subject to my own desire.
    Finally, I find old photos of unrecognised persons to be like old gravestones where the family has long left the region or has not kept up the monument. They are precious because they were put there as a memory of the person. While at the Savannah cemetery in 2009, I witnessed an old gravestone, virtually ineligible, being carefully remove by specialists sent by the now remote family, carefully buried some distance over the top of the grave, and replaced above by a fine new gravestone that would perpetuate (the evidence) the original one.
    When I first received my first Photoshop Elements I took a faded old picture of the mother and father of my cousin's wife and made it more recognisable than it had been. Nothing but an hour or two of tonal and light modification (light curves adjustment) of a copy. Simple, but it was appreciated. That evidence was kept alive for those that needed it.
     
  11. Antonio, isn't is possible that photographs can create their subjects?
     
  12. jtk

    jtk

    "Let's say first of all that our worst fear is that there is nothing after death, that's why we need God and that's why we need evidence (the Apostles needed it...)"
    Antonio I don't think there's universal agreement on "our worst fear" or on the God concept. However it may be that the God concept accounts for that fear among those who experience it.
    My worst fear is (I think) that I'm not making adequate use of the time I have. That whips me along. There's no reward or punishment at the end, all that counts is whatever's in between.
    When people were dying all around during the front edge of the "AIDS crisis" (80s San Francisco) I heard repeatedly that fear was about pain and the shortness of lives, the unlikely ability to achieve potential....not with whatever was around the corner. I happen to be straight, but we all discussed these issues...that is to say, we (San Franciscans) learned a lot together.
     
  13. Arthur
    The link below is a scan of some proofs done by a relative of mine, where you can see my dad teaching me how to shoot with an air rifle. As Arthur says, this is not the full evidence but just a vignette of what happened. True, but I believe what's most important is that it shows that I was there doing that. I totally forgot about that moment of existence and that is equal to it not having existed at all; this sheet of negatives proves to me and to the world that I was there with my dad shooting with an air rifle and he was there with me.
    00Xiwv-304515584.jpg
     
  14. I'm with John on the God and "nothing after death" stuff. Not much of a concern to me either.
     
  15. John, Fred
    I said to John we were going into a mine field and I am not going there, since it is not even subject of discussion. Now that I read that post I don't really know why I put in that phrase... What interests me is what followed the God paragraph.
     
  16. Antonio, what if you're pinning your existence on a lie? You said if you didn't remember something it didn't exist but if you then see a picture of it it does. What if your dad had played around with those photos, say like Man Ray did, and they were only a fabrication? What if the photos only represent a single perspective? What of your existence then?
    [Tongue in cheek.] If Descartes had had a camera, things would have been so much more simple for him. I see myself in a photo, therefore I am.
    If snapshots weren't taken of you until you were a week old, did you exist for the first week of your life?
     
  17. And, Antonio, I'm not just making light of this because what you're saying actually has spurred me to consider just how "existential" a photo can be. I'm thinking that the stories I heard from my parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents about my brother and me and all my close cousins are so much more alive and richer than photos I've seen of us as newborns, infants, toddlers, and kids. Those stories give me much more "life" than the snaps in the albums (though I love looking at those albums -- especially with those left who can add the stories and set the scenes).
     
  18. Fred
    That's the power of photography, good or bad. Like a scene of a soldier with a gun looking at an unarmed kid. The meaning of the scene depends on what's written underneath. I thought about Descartes ;-)
    Of course we have memories that are so much more powerful than just a photograph but there are parts of our life that are lost in obscurity for some reason. For example, I remember moments from when I was 4 but don't remember huge part of my life when I was 16. The memory of it is still in our brain but it doesn't come out unless it's triggered by an image or a sound or a smell. In the case of photography, this power of awakening is stronger than anything else and it is, in my opinion, the real "essence" of photography. I'm not completely positive that I have found the essence of photography but this is the road I am walking right now and I have to see where it will take me.
    Antonio, isn't is possible that photographs can create their subjects?​
    What do you mean?
     
  19. I mean that a photograph doesn't have to be a photograph of its subject or about its subject. The photograph itself may create a new subject, a photographic one, one that is not the same as the real-world object, person, or scene which the photo may use to create something new. The act of photographing is a powerful one. It can transform what it points at and doesn't always copy it. The photograph itself, rather than its contents, can become the subject.
    I don't find "essence" a useful idea, but I applaud your search! ;)))
     
  20. I want to suggest that all you guys share some photos that show events or people you have no memory of. This is another scan of more film proofs where I appear and that I have no memory of. They don't trigger any memory but they do testimony that I was there and that time existed even if it doesn't exist in my memory.
    00XizA-304547584.jpg
     
  21. jtk

    jtk

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2010/11/18/3069470.htm
    That's Christopher Hitchens, the ultimate voice of the English language (IMO). He's currently dying quickly of a particular cancer. He's widely loved as well as reviled by his former allies. He's an athiest (he says) but he seems to me more of an agnostic. Obviously, those sorts of questions are relevant to existentialists (I guess that's me) and to people who (also like me) are getting tired of expending energy on battles that'll never be won. In other words, I wouldn't say anyone, least of all Antonio, was living life as a lie. I know also that Fred didn't "mean" that as aggressively as it sounds.
    It seems to me that the "meaning" of anything exists only in questions. If my life has a meaning that has to do with questions I've stimulated in others. I hope my photos do some of that and I find that the photos of certain (many) others do as well.. The common non-question photos of which I'm aware are architectural/graphic studies, sunsets, and uninvolved "street." Even fashion poses questions, raises doubts. Raising doubts....
     
  22. John, I just re-read what I wrote and it didn't sound aggressive to me. I wasn't suggesting that Antonio was "living a lie." I asked him what if the photo was lying? What if he was pinning his existence on a photo that did not tell the truth or had been manipulated in some way? How would that effect his belief that the photo is a testament to something, especially his existence.
    Antonio, by your response, I assume you weren't offended. But if you think what I said was aggressive, let me know.
     
  23. John, I really do hope you'll stop characterizing my posts. Thanks in advance.
     
  24. That photos can lie (perhaps distort is a much safer assertion) is very well documented. If we have an alternative testament of existence, or an excellent memory of an event photographed, we can be reasonably sure (within the limits of the importance or not of the event) that the photo is not lying.
    Because they are just "instant sized vignettes" they do not tell the whole story. Important to ignore, then? Not necessarily. The photos of Antonio as a child with his obviously very caring father are a great source of evidence of his youth and in particular of his relationship with his father. Even a vignette can capture a feeling or reality. I would treasure them.
    God? Life after death or not? How did those considerations come into play here. Did my mention of the old gravestone type evidence and analogy with the old unknown photograph raise that? Curious.
     
  25. jtk

    jtk

    Antonio, that's an interesting idea. I'll have to worry at it a bit. I'm so used to images of myself from the past that I'm not sure I can say I don't "remember" the circumstances. Maybe they've all acquired the impression of "memory" without my own recollection of the original circumstances. My parents were both "into" photography, so I actually do think of my childhood in terms of the surviving photos...I think.
    I do have photos from my grandparent's generation and even there I think I've sorted out what was going on at a beyond-circumstances level.
     
  26. jtk

    jtk

    Fred, "Fred Goldsmith [​IMG][​IMG], Nov 21, 2010; 05:44 p.m. Antonio, what if you're pinning your existence on a lie? You said if you didn't remember something it didn't exist but if you then see a picture of it it does."
    It's unfair at best to propose someone else's understanding of his existence might be a "lie". They may be foolish or in a fog of some kind, stuck with habits, but a lie is always and only badly intended. I don't think it's desirable to stoop to Fox TV terminology.
     
  27. jtk

    jtk

    "In other words, I wouldn't say anyone, least of all Antonio, was living life as a lie. I know also that Fred didn't "mean" that as aggressively as it sounds." - me, John Kelly
    Fred, notice the above, posted earlier. I didn't "characterise" you, I objected to introduction of that term.
    I don't think we need to be at odds. Perhaps you can re-characterise your thoughts. I think religion involves error, but I don't think this otherwise promising thread should wander into that realm. Antonio was right to be worried about where this might lead.
    I'd like to understand Antonio's ideas better especially if they're very different from mine.
     
  28. John, when you extract a couple of lines like that to suit your agenda of dissing me it does sound bad. Luckily there were sentences before that and a context which any normal person will read differently, a person who is not hell-bent on making others out to be lesser than. STOP IT! STOP IT NOW! I didn't intend it badly. Did I say STOP IT? In case you're reading this fast, John, STOP IT!
    You characterized me as aggressive. Stop lying about what you've done.
    And if you wanted to understand Antonio's ideas better you wouldn't have gone off on one of your usual tangents with this crap. You would have stayed on the subject and not stooped to your usual badgering of participants in this forum.
    I'VE HAD IT WITH YOUR CRAP.
     
  29. Antonio, so sorry to derail your very sincere and interesting thread. I know it's not easy talking about our past and bittersweet memories. Certainly it wasn't easy for me to bring up the time I spent with my mom before she died. Little did I know some jerk would take advantage of that to try to drive a wedge between you and me. In any case, I'm going on hiatus from this forum. John is simply too toxic for me.
    ____________________________________
    John, when I was in elementary school, there were bullies on the schoolyard who you remind me of. They were nasty, bad people. So are you. I ran away from them and I'm running away from you. Goodbye and good luck.
     
  30. Fred
    I wasn't offended at all, don't worry, and I responded you: that's the power of photography, good or bad. But I think we are going into Sci-Fi here :)
     
  31. Life and photography are not necessarily congruent.
    Life flows on - begins and ends - photography can happen, and can not happen. I think we have our own personal recording area, our memory, where our life is stored. Consciously or unconsciously. Recently I sang a French song I did not for maybe 25 years, but almost all the verses - in a language I master much less than other languages - came into my mind.
    Photography can happen. I never regret not to have taken photographs. But I also never throw away photographs.
    Living is different from photographing. Photography - the photography that documents life - usually has a very, very different pace than life itself. The photographer documenting life has to stand aside, watching the scene and deciding what to capture. And normally life goes by at a very different speed.
    Once a friend remarked that me photographing during a vacation detached me from the dynamics of the small group we were. But then, when he looked at my photos, he said that I had captured things he had never seen.
    I have also experienced that we are not able to capture all we see and what we capture is a partial representation of what we experience.
    The only real record of the life we live is our memory. Photographs are just slices of life.
     
  32. jtk

    jtk

    Luca, what's that song?
    Your use of "congruent" is appealing. To me the juice is in the differences between people, between ideas, between experiences. The places that aren't quite touching or overlapping.
    When I "know" something or feel "comfortable," it lacks the charm or magnetism of the things that puzzle me or make me anxious. I'm drawn to those things, suspicious of the known and comfortable.
    I commented on a photo in your portfolio. Apparently something old? Does that illustrate your thought about "real records?" To me it's a reminder of things I'm sure I must have seen with others, as well as my own reading.
     
  33. John,
    the song was "La Solitude" by Georges Moustaki. "Et si je préfère l'amour d'une autre courtisane
    Elle sera à mon dernier jour ma dernière compagne
    ".
    I agree on your hint at "diversity". We grow and develop only out of diversity. And there is also the urge for the new. But I try not to have a consumerist attitude towards sensations.
    The photo you saw is old, nearly 30 years. I don't know if it illustrates my thought of real records. I remember the situation. It was just a time when I had "fits" inducing me to photograph what was around me. There are some other photos of that period scattered in my portfolio.
    But my memory contains many more images than the few I have recorded.
    Thanks,
    L.
     
  34. jtk

    jtk

    "Consumerist"...interesting.
    What do you mean by "fits?" It brings Bach's fugues to mind.. http://www.slate.com/id/2191108/
    I'm poorly educated in classical music, but forty years ago I was stunned by Glenn Gould's 1955 recording. Only last week I saw "Genius Within," a film about the pianist that dwelt on his difference (mentioning Gould some time ago brought condemnation of his work right here :) Gould was of course famous for his performances of Bach's fugues ("Goldberg Variations," called "Gouldberg Variations in this film, as a joke). And perhaps Gould's own life could be usefully understood as a fugue. Or at least brief, intensely focussed performance. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/459798/Genius-Within-The-Inner-Life-of-Glenn-Gould/overview
     
  35. jtk

    jtk

    ...so the ideas that your "fit" brought to mind were "fugue," "difference," and long passage of time.
     
  36. fit = attack (a fit of anger/fury).
    Don't know whether that's appropriate for photography, but I hope to make a point. :)
     
  37. jtk

    jtk

    "fit" ...photograph as attack? Is that what you meant? Maybe you mean "in the style of attack? http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/459798/Genius-Within-The-Inner-Life-of-Glenn-Gould/overview
    http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/459798/Genius-Within-The-Inner-Life-of-Glenn-Gould/overview
    Gould's unique playing style, especially the action of his hands (explored in that film, taught to him formally) was very much involved with "attack." Percussive, sharp. His famous (and ridiculed) sawed-off chair was used (I've read somewhere) specifically to aid that attack.
    Again, I have minimal familiarity with these musical issues, but Gould has been significant for me. I think there are parallels in his work to the work of photographers and, perhaps, everybody else who "puts out" rather than just sitting back as a scholar or watcher.
     
  38. jtk

    jtk

    Sorry to have posted those Gould links multiple times. Careless. Nonetheless, I do hope you view the trailer to the movie, or find Gould in Youtube.
     
  39. Antonio-
    I didn't have the time to read the whole forum, but I'm sure it has been interesting. As for photographs as evidence- a very common idea. It is definitely a difficult moment throwing away prints and therefore placing upon them another "moment", a finality.
    Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes both delve in to this existential realm a bit, but in another manner. They posit that a photograph (of a person) acts as evidence of their lives, and therefore their deaths too. So, ultimately, any photograph of a person is a recording (evidence?) of a dead person, even if not currently- they will die. Period. End of story.
    Of course this put a real jam in my thinking. I can't help but think of that fact when I am taking photographs now. It doesn't overwhelm me- nor does the change way I typically shoot. But it is always there- the fact that this will, some day, be evidence of a person no longer here. I guess much of photography is like that- documents of Christmas dinners and birthdays- vacations and travel- these moments will not happen again, so we take the picture as a document- an informal memory- a tactile representation (even sort of with computers)- something we can access without the flaws of the human brain.
    For a while now, some of my work has attempted to address this- at least secondarily. Some of my photographs will be here long after I am gone- or will they? In creating a large body of work that is exposed to the elements, let alone direct absolute abuse, I am trying to bring to the table: death- and life. My work is not only non-archival, but downright alive. The works WILL change over time. Photography can have a life, and many forms within that life. Do photographs have to be perfect (physically) in order to preserve that memory? No. Faded and tattered, we still look at old family photos. For that matter, what does this imply for black and white photography? They are imperfect representations of the actual moment- they are not color.
    But this is not the point. The point is: LIFE IS FLEETING. We can never capture it. It will always keep moving along with the proverbial clock. Enjoy it while you've got it. Celluloid and prints included.
     
  40. Let me add something- you don't have to throw away the old stuff- use it in collage, installations, wrapping stuff.....old stuff can be recycled and still be relevant. Case in point- I am moving out of a studio and don't want to keep the dozens of glossy prints I made while here- I put them into a collage and installation- now they take on new meaning and have a new place- despite formerly being unwanted and otherwise useless. I am also not adding to the garbage heap.
     
  41. In a world of billions of pictures taken every day, collectively they are a combined memory of that moment. Everything changes the next hour or day, though we may not percieve it. I have hoped that some of the images I have taken will be of use or interest to someone and they be preserved for the future--a gift from the past. So much of the past is erased so fast we fail to see its loss.
    Old photos, especially of dead people but also including scenes and objects, are like ghosts. A real thing in its time but now just an ethereal glance at something that has left our existance. Which is why I have found it to be better to mark the prints with information. The information might be useful someday to someone looking at the photos. Maybe no one will care about knowing anything about me, but they might care about an image or two I brought into existance.
    Currently, when time permits, I have been photographing the two Elwha river dams near Port Angeles. They are almost one hundred years old and still have about 20 years of productive life in them. They are being shut down next year and then being removed to restore the river. The photos I have will be ghosts once the dams are gone. An ethereal glance at something that will never exist again but was once important to the region. A few generations from now, very few will know about them or even care, but the images might capture the feel of this transition period. Once I am gone the images will be a ghost of when I was in existance. I will leave these to the future as a gift from the present. They are something I thought important enough to invest some of my lifespan into creating them.
    CHEERS...Mathew
     
  42. Antonio and others, I feel like I am interrupting a private conversation amongst friends (well, mostly...) - this is not my intention but your mail has struck a chord with me since years ago, the task of clearing out my father's photo collection fell on me. He was a true shutterbug armed with a Leica M3 and there were literally thousands of slides and negatives showing long-lost relatives or unidentifiable persons. At first I culled carefully but then wholesale and the feelings you described in your post were amplified - I destroyed not my but my father's memories. I had no choice, I live in various countries and had - other than my own backpack and a F90x - literally no space for physical objects in my life.
    I do not feel good about this for the reasons you describe but I had to do it. Would I do it again, now that I have a house and a basement (and, more importantly, a scanner)? Definitely not. But as much as we think about past and future we live in the present where our actions lie. I had no choice then and hence no regrets now.
    But I digress. Destroying photos is not the same as destroying memories. It can be non-consequential or have great emotional impact depending on whose memories are attached to the photo. I would liken photos to a cup and memories as water. The cup itself is meaningless and the water can be poured into another vessel. Photos are crutches but they are not memories themselves. So, the question before destruction of photos is - who can or has filled them with memories? Who will suffer when they are gone? If the answer is no-one or myself - like with my father's photos - I can take the risk. If "society" (not sure I like the term in this context, but oh well) would suffer a loss like with the photos of the dam, then yes, there is an obligation to archive.
    Alright, this was my first post and if you flame me, my last. But I shall follow this conversation, thank you for initiating and progressing it.
     
  43. jtk

    jtk

    Martin, Matthew, and Dietrich have all brought interesting perspectives...not mere philosophical fluff IMO.
    How do we deal with photographs we inherit or find? Should we treat them as someone else's moments and ignore them or treat them with respect as we discard them? Should we organize them in some way and claim them as our own? I've done a lot of each.
     
  44. Hi John,
    My uncle died last year and I inherited the estate. The one thing I concentrated on was gathering all of the old family related photos, news clippings, and family documents. The earliest stuff went back about 100 years and some are family photos. I do plan on scanning them for archiving. the reason is to pass them onto the rest of the family so they are not lost for everyone to enjoy. It is not for the family members who do not care about it. It is for the few who will care a generation or two away when I am probably dead. If I do not do it, no one will. I will not claim I made the photos but I will claim ownership for the family name.
    Sadly, most of it is not marked but some is, and that will help. Close older relatives know who the people are so that helps.
    So, fellow photographers, what steps have you taken to preserve your photo collection for the future generations?
    CHEERS...Mathew
     
  45. I don't like to throw away photos. Unless they really, really stink.
     
  46. I think Antonio is talking about his own photos exclusively. He's looking for footprints. Where has he been in his life? What mattered, and when reminded, what seems important about it now? His collection of personal photographs serve him as a way for him to remember his life story.
    This would be the significance of the reference to God. What would you tell God about yourself given the opportunity? I think Antonio is using this reference as a way to let us know how important he feels his own story is to him, and how much he fears the loss of it through the forgetfulness of old age.
     
  47. jtk

    jtk

    Albert, yes, fwiw I think you've read Antonio correctly, though I didn't notice him expressing fear of old age forgetfulness.
    Dan, "really, really stink" is eye-of-beholder...your stinkers might be someone else's treasures :)
    Matthew, I've dealt with a project like yours using a flatbed scanner (no good for 35mm but great for antique formats and prints) and an inkjet printer (allegedly archival paper and pigment). I produced 7 albums for distribution to family members...that should guarantee survival to a few subsequent generations. As well, the files are on DVDs. Hundred year old prints are still beautiful and will probably be that way for quite a while (I've put them in archival polyester sleeves, like the film) but the film wouldn't have been useful for much longer, and a subsequent generation might not have the interest or ability to scan and print it (includes my grandfather's photos of San Francisco earthquake and fire, 1906). The technical task was a rewarding learning experience but the biggest challenge was the editing, which brought an even more rewarding learning experience...about relations in turn-of-century family, farm, immigrants etc. I included scans of a few crucial letters, such as a letter of recommendation from around 1915 for my grandfather (sober and reliable!) . I also made a point of scanning notes that were made on the backs of photos. The editing was the hard part. The albums will carry plenty of information forward. I decided to tell the story I'd learned by throwing out or otherwise isolating the stuff that didn't seem to me, as editor, to contribute.
     
  48. Will be with you guys soon, I have a lot of stuff to take care of but I'm here reading...
     
  49. John, you're right. I added 'old age' as a bit of fancy, although I can certainly testify that you don't have to be elderly to forget things! Everyday things such as stress and too many demands on one's attention can cause enough distraction to make a person forget what he had for breakfast!
    You know, the 'fwiw' you offered doesn't quite discover a legitimate and valid concern that lies underneath Antonio's post which is, "Why take pictures in the first place, and what do you get out of it?" This strikes me as a good topic for discussion in its own right.
    As always, thank you for your thoughtful observations and comments.
     
  50. For me, old photographs, whether those I have taken or just those I have inherited from family members, have an almost talismanic quality. I cannot bring myself to destroy a photograph for just the reasons you give. Wittgenstein said that, "the world consists not of objects but of facts", and a photograph is a fact. So, to destroy it is to diminish the world.
     
  51. Chris
    I like your comment a lot, never put it this way but it kind of feels that way for me too.
    Albert
    "Why take pictures in the first place, and what do you get out of it?"​
    It is not the concept I was aiming to but yes, that question could be part of it and it is an interesting question indeed; I opened a forum on that direction, check it out. However, although photographs do help memories to come to surface, I am not referring to my personal experience or I am worried about forgetfulness of old age; I am trying to figure out the essence of photography, what it is exactly, in order to better understand it and use it.
    Dietrich
    I like your words and I think you did no wrong by clearing up your archive. I am not concerned about the ethical issue here, I am trying to focus on the fact that the real and unique function of photography, its essence, could be its power to be testimony of time and space (existence). There is no question that photography has emotional power that is subjective but this is just a consequence of its real essence that is behind every other succeeding process photography it is used for. Maybe a bit twisted...
    I'm saying that I would like to find the "big bang", the true power of photography that lays at the bottom (or top) of every consequent process. Painting starts from the artist's senses (he sees, he smells, he feels) and then he elaborates the data straight out of his hands onto a canvas; the photographer also sees and captures according to his subjective and personal feelings but there is more to it (or less). In painting, between the observation (birth of the idea and the inspiration) and the realization, there is a long process during which the original idea mutates and is externally influenced many times and the final result is necessarily something very different from the initial stage. Painting is a continuous emotional experience, from beginning to end. In photography, it's not quite the same thing and there is something that I don't get yet. Once the shutter is released that's it... photo is done. Then there is developing, printing, editing but the starting point is that frame of time and space that has been frozen forever, that has been "killed". Everything starts from there, not anymore from the original intuition before releasing the shutter; that's gone, now there is only a piece of reality that doesn't exist anymore if not on that piece of celluloid or memory card.
     
  52. Photos, to me, can be enablers of memories. Proof? No. As Arthur already pointed out, photos are not necessarily that true. I can put messages in there that are not necessarily mine, or tongue-in-cheek, or easily misunderstood. Miscommunication is a whole lot easier than communication if the 2 parties do not know each other.
    Now I am relatively young, but in my mind, the proof that I have lived is in the memories of others. The photos I make are, in a way, between me and me. They may communicate things to others, they may touch or disgust others, but there is a level in that communication I cannot fully control. They also may not do any of that.
    In how I live, work, talk, walk and celebrate with friends, family, other relatives - there is the proof of my existence. Photos just may help recalling that a bit more vividly.
     
  53. Wouter
    We are talking about testimony of existence, not proof of reality. I am trying to find out what is the strongest essence of photography and personal memories don't have anything to do with it. Sometimes I look at old pictures and I don't even remember anything about the scene but I am sure that what I am looking at is a slice of time and space that existed and it is no more. This is the power of photography that I am trying to analyze: the ability to capture the past, even death (or something that is dead).
     
  54. Antonio, I must have read your topic start wrong then.
    Still, the way you phrase your question now, my initial answer stands: photos are memory enablers. They do not capture time nor space, they only imply references to such things. But it's your interpretation that makes you feel like you look at a slice of time and space, and frankly, personal memories and experiences have got everything to do with that. As a viewer, you are you, and the way you see and experience things is all about who you are.
     
  55. Wouter
    As a viewer, you are you, and the way you see and experience things is all about who you are.​
    I agree but the idea of photography being something more than just a memory enabler isn't new. Some philosophers talk about photography being related to death, because the moment froze is immediately gone from existence (as I also pointed out in my 06:54 a.m. post). There are cultures where photography is believed to have the power of capturing the soul of the person/animal portrayed. This of course is more a religious-superstitious belief but it makes you wonder about the power and mystery of this craft. So you are saying that the concept of photography capturing and being testimony of past existence is only a subjective interpretation? Are you sure? Could it be that viewers often don't go deep enough and they don't ask themselves certain questions, remaining at a more superficial stage?
     
  56. Most people stay at a superficial stage, because most people do not see photograhy beyond the holiday-snapshots, so to speak. Sure there can be more, and yes, as a creator you can (try to) insert references, ideas and concepts, and try to guide your viewers to a certain extent.
    But, the viewer does not leave himself at the door, so his/her experiences and memories are always there to shape the reaction, to shape their ideas and thoughts. Indeed I do believe that in any kind of communication at the core, there is subjective interpretation. Most of it culturally and generically shaped and accepted (which makes mass-media work), but understanding a message is a personal activity.
    So, photography as testimony of past existence... Yes, it runs into the same limits. Sure it is arguable that photos prove something existed, but then again, there are enough people denying historical events that are widely accepted too....
    Am I sure about this? Never.
     
  57. jtk

    jtk

    Antonio, IMO everything is "subjective." There is no "objective." And like Wouter, I'm absolutely sure I'm not sure.
    One of the elements of photographic imagery that's most appealing to me is the taste of doubt, possibility, question... which is the reason I don't find photographic graphic exercises more than superficially amusing. How can anything be rewarding without tension?
     
  58. John
    I'm not sure there is no objective, since objective does exist (science). In music there is very much objective. It can be frustrating to admit so. There is objective as there is not, it's not that simple; saying that everything is subjective takes to relativism, where the boundary between interpretation and ignorance is very unclear (I'm not referring to anyone here). So, objective is present just as much as subjective, we just have to figure out when they come into play.
    Doubt is the base ingredient for every creative experience. Photography is governed by doubt, since we don't really know what purpose it serves.
     
  59. jtk

    jtk

    Antonio, here we differ. I don't think "science" is ever objective, but I think that because I'm trained in scientific method. Scientific method attempts to "prove" things, but inherent in it is the principal (maybe a principal is objective?) that nothing "known" is certain and only those things that are exposed to doubt have any potential for certainty. For example, deities. Only if there's a way to test our beliefs or doubts can they be said to be real if one claims to be using a scientific perspective. And there's no way to test those beliefs...or do you know a way?
     
  60. jtk

    jtk

    Pardon me Antonio. Please. I posed a routine and unnecessary idea.
    From another perspective: do you doubt your existence? For whom do you testify to it, if not yourself, and why would you bother?
    I actually do like your "testimony" idea, but for purely amusing and speculative reasons. Wouldn't it be fun if, in 500 years, someone found a trace of someone's photograph of their girlfriend in bed? Ha! I'll bet she'd be irritated!
     
  61. I think this Proust quote is relevant to this thread. It begins, "... in a drawing room." I think what he says applies doubly to a possible "in a photograph of a drawing room (or whatever)." Here is the quote:
    " ... in a drawing room as in everything else, the actual, external aspect, verifiable by everyone, is but the prolongation, the aspect which has detached itself from the outer world to take refuge in our soul, to which it gives as it were a surplus-value, in which it is absorbed into its habitual substance, transforming itself -- houses that have been pulled down, people long dead, bowls of fruit at suppers which we recall -- into that translucent alabaster of our memories of which we are incapable of conveying the colour which we alone can see, so that we can truthfully say to other people, when speaking of these things of the past, that they can have no conception of them, that they are unlike anything they have seen, and that we ourselves cannot inwardly contemplate without certain emotion, reflecting that it is on the existence of our thoughts that their survival for a little longer depends, the gleam of lamps that have been extinguished and the fragrance of arbours that will never bloom again."​
    [from In Search of Lost Time, of course ... ]
     
  62. Thanks Julie. That says it well, at least for the camera that resides in our mind.
     
  63. jtk

    jtk

    Proust's key phrases in this context are non-photographic:
    "refuge in our soul" (ie he postulates a soul apart from memory)
    "we alone can see" "we are incapable of conveying" "they can have no conception"
    In fact, Proust is commonly mentioned in context of "narcissism." Photography can be a narcissistic activity or it can be a communicative activity. Can it be both? Not if photos aren't shared and responses aren't sought.
     
  64. jtk

    jtk

    ...a photograph "of" is a step beyond "a photograph." Those are two very different concepts.
     
  65. " The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us. Yet no other god has been so cynical, for the camera records in order to forget " - John Berger
    I see photography not as a testimony of existence but as a testimony of what ( once ) existed.
     
  66. jtk

    jtk

    Phylo, that's an interesting angle. When you say "photography" you seem to mean "photographs" instead of the activity. Is that your intent? I can't see how an activity could be a testimony to the past unless it announced itself that way (eg a historic play).
     
  67. Yes, I meant more a photograph being a testimony of what once existed, rather than the act of photography itself, although that also includes the creating of photographs / images, one moment ( form ) after the next.
    I don't think photographs capture moments, or 'slices of time'. There is only one moment, one continuous Now, which is continually expressed through different forms. A photograph captures forms, is more a testimony of that, than it is of the past.
     
  68. Pylo
    Yes, I meant more a photograph being a testimony of what once existed, rather than the act of photography itself,​
    That's what I have already said:
    I am sure that what I am looking at is a slice of time and space that existed and it is no more. This is the power of photography that I am trying to analyze: the ability to capture the past, even death (or something that is dead).
    Only the most distant stars do that: when you look up and you see something that doesn't exist anymore you look at the time. Photography captures History.​
     
  69. So, after so much thinking, did we get to a realization here or not? Does photography capture death? Is it evidence of what existed and is no more?
     
  70. Sometimes I think that I wont be in any of the photographs at my funeral.
     
  71. Antonio,
    I feel the same way when it comes to "destroying" a photo. I feel that the photo captured a moment in time to last "forever". There are photos that I've trashed and later regretted it because they help to relive the memory. Even when it comes to taking photos for clients; I feel that they still hold a piece of me and my memory. Each photo is unique and precious in its own way, regardless of subject.
     

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