Photography: Seeing and what else?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Norma Desmond, Apr 27, 2016.

  1. In a recent Casual Conversations thread, I brought up the importance for me of sometimes NOT taking a photo and in a subsequent post mentioned that many pianists will practice on a piano board, a slab of wood with no keys, before a performance in order to help them internalize the music, without sound (except for the fingers tapping on the wood). This can also be done in the air. So they are getting in touch (!) with other senses besides hearing.
    Got me to wondering about senses and faculties we use other than seeing in relationship to photography. Do you ever hear a photo? I actually have. And I often consider rhythm an integral part of photo-making and photo-viewing. I've also talked about the texture of photos, much as I would talk about the texture of a symphony orchestra, the blending of different instruments and the various sounds, timbres, and articulations. Then, of course, there would be using various faculties such as emotions and thinking. There's the relationship of one's own movements and gestures while photographing to the making of the photos themselves and there is movement and gesture within the photos as well.
    Well, that's just a start. Curious to hear wherever this might take you, your own experiences of things in addition to sight that you utilize in making and looking at photos.
    [By the way, this is not to assume that photography will be more or other than seeing for everyone. I'd want to hear about that as well, if it's seeing, seeing, seeing for you!]
  2. For me, it depends on the type of photography I'm engaged in.
    If it's an "assignment" like concerts, wedding, walk-around or travel, then I will mostly rely on "seeing" for composition, framing and lighting.
    If it's something I've planned in advance or made to my mind's eye, then I will often associate it with music even before I shoot.
  3. The effect of this all depends on the direction of the current:
    from ambient feelings >>>> to photograph = 99% of the weak or failed art photography (technical failings accounting for most of the rest): you think you're getting the symphony that you were feeling; you deliver a piccolo solo, if that. Most of what you were feeling is not in the picture.
    But reverse that current to be:
    from what you see through the viewfinder (the prospective photograph) exclusive off all other bodily awareness >>> > to tonguing the bodily feelings provoked via the eye = dilation from condensation: you may be about to make a masterpiece ...
  4. Not sure if I could state I heard a photo, but some scenes do evoke pretty immediate relations to a piece of music (in the sense it pops up the second you see a certain potential photo), and vice-versa, listening to certain music can sharpen my mood for certain images. It's a combination of mood, rhythm, musical style. Rhythm is an obvious link, but also density/texture plays its role; vast symphonic music doesn't sound like a minimalist image, for example.
    Some time ago, as a little study for myself, I grouped a number of photos I felt turned out coherent, and added pieces of song lyrics to them (and used the song titles as photo titles). It didn't work 100%, but thinking in terms of interaction between text, music and images was a rewarding exercise.
  5. Interesting OP, Fred. As to seeing - I've often felt that a photographer's seeing a subject prior to clicking the shutter (let's call it seeing[p]) is more than just seeing in its literal and most basic sense. In my opinion, although I have no real support for this, seeing[p] is holistic. It's not simply a matter of light entering the eyes, interacting wit the optic nerve, and being processed by the brain. It can invoke the other senses - hearing, touch, taste; it also can be interpretive or emotional. It also can be rhythmic.
  6. Michael, I bet if you tried, you could find some support for it in your own experience. That's actually what I'm looking for here.
    Wouter, I don't know if you were involved way back, but early in my membership on PN, I was part of a group of about 10-12 photographers here who chose a line from a song each week to inspire a photo we would take for that week. It was actually quite a bit of fun. Music often seems an inspiration and an accompaniment to a lot of photo work. I like your idea of interactions.
    Julie, appropriate that in a thread about the interrelationships among senses, you'd get your thoughts to look like a mathematical equation on paper. Love it! And you've actually come up with the formula for creating a masterpiece. ;-)
  7. You're so right, Fred. Here it comes.
    When I consider rhythm, I find it usually in subjects involving patterns - lines, shapes, colors, people walking in formation, people looking in the same direction, etc. Emotions are part and parcel of every photo I shoot. For example, when I shot photographs of my father-in-law, I was feeling a connection with him based on our mutual love and respect, and based on how he taught me so many things I never would be able to learn from any other source. Sometimes, while ferreting out a subject to shoot, there is something about him, her, or it that hits so hard that I may feel a tear or two trickling down my cheek. There have been many scenes in nature that fit this description. Finally, my abstracts tend to satisfy my ongoing quest to make sense out of myself and my world, hence the interpretive component.
  8. I love your last sentence, Michael, and think there's so much to abstracts. My first art love and a guy I still have a soft spot for today is Mondrian. While I completely understand your doing them to make sense of things, I usually find a component of non-sense in abstracts that fascinates me. Maybe a true making sense requires some non-sense!
  9. Indeed, Fred, sense and nonsense exist in a cooperative relationship.
  10. It just struck me that the word "sense" is used in two such different ways. I was talking about the use of our senses and now we're talking about things that make sense. Abstracts, by often stripping away context and content, reducing things to forms, shapes, lines, etc., have an appeal to my senses that doesn't necessarily get clouded by intellect or the knowledge of "what it is" coming into play. Mondrian's work, for example, has an orderliness to me in its geometry but a disorderliness in ways that it affects me because of the lack of more pictorial aspects. It's like working with mathematical proofs. There's an ordered way one will proceed but the abstraction of it all (the number of apples is well beyond the apples themselves) opens up so many possibilities in terms of its reach.
  11. When I am looking at (more specifically, seeing) the world around me in a concentrated fashion, to the exclusion of other overlapping activity, I often equate what I am receiving as a visual sense to the senses of other and sometimes past experiences, to particular music, to substances I have touched, once to the feel of soft snow (lazy large flakes) falling on my face, to poems or writings of others that the scene calls up, and sometimes I relate the sight to something I had been thinking about, and sometimes to sounds. I love walking outside on a fresh and very cold winter morning in full sun. Before my feet touch the hard snow I "hear" and welcome the eventual cracking sound I know from experience it will make (Do you remember the winter movement in Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" and the staccato sounds of a violin?).
    A visual composition I have found or contrived may be so much in harmony or equilibrium (masses, lines, tonalities) that the moment I see it I thinking about ABBA sonata form and a familiar music that equates to that. Sometimes an atmospheric scene or one with a vanishing point will recall in me the enveloping and haunting music of Billy Budd when he is hung and his body falls to the deep of the ocean and mixes with the sound of the water, or "The Lark Ascending" of Vaughan Williams on violin as I picture birds flying in formation at migration times. There is a 7 or 8 minute song that Canadian poet Felix Leclerc wrote about touring the island where I live and invariably I am humming parts of that when I search out photos in that place and recall the poetic metaphors he used as I see some of what he wrote about.
    A few weeks ago I bought several sugar pies to take to work colleagues on a trans province consult. I asked permission of the owner to photograph workers in the bakery and the smell of the different baking processes became a companion to my photography.
    These experiences are not everyday occurrence, but I welcome the interaction of my senses, memory and experiences with my process of photography when it occurs and I am stimulated in that manner. Other photographic experiences (capturing images) have something that brings my mind back to former experiences and I sense the smell or sounds that accompanied them.
    It may seem trite, but whenever I revisit Well's Beach Maine and venture onto the warm sands at a neighboring small island I smell and taste the "homemade" warm donuts of Condon's donut shop of former times; Condon's is still there but they have "lost" the former donut recipe. It puts me in a receptive mood for exploring that contemporary place and people.
    Addendum: ("the number of apples is well beyond the apples themselves") (Fred). I love that.
  12. "I love walking outside on a fresh and very cold winter morning in full sun. Before my feet touch the hard snow I hear andwelcome the eventual cracking sound I know from experience it will make (Do you remember the winter movement in Vivaldi's "Four Seasons?")." Arthur.
    Arthur, you are lost in poetic academia....and constantly trying to grab on to those who have walked before.
    Your subconscious is rebelling ...hence your excellent photograph, which you really like, but perhaps not worthy in your mind.
    The photographs tell the stories not academia Arthur.
  13. Just my thoughts inspired by your photo.
    Otherwise I would have said nothing.
  14. Allen, I expect that extra photographic thoughts or sensations might be as important as our intended photographic approach, experience, momentary emotional situation, sheer chance, and also our subconscious in perceiving and making photographs. I'm not sure which photo you are refering to (maybe the market scene in another PofP post) but you may be right that a part of the spontaneous reaction to the image was subcoscious. I find more appealing at present the present post and the discussion of extra photographic motivations or accompaniements to photography, only a very small part of which relate to direct influences from others rather than my own sensations, memory and thoughts.
  15. "I'm not sure which photo you are refering to (maybe the market scene in another PofP post) but you may be right that a part of the spontaneous reaction to the image was subconscious."
    My mix up, apology.
  16. "maybe the market scene"
    Boring...just another market scene among many others of the same ilk.
  17. The perception of tunes associated with images is probably very vivid in some people, and in others subtle. For me, it happens more often when I see a mountain landscape picture or visit a mountainous area. The sensation for me is a melancholy tune of flute. Another sense is that of smell. The immediate one that comes to mind is that of nicotine, upon seeing a photo with lots of swirling smoke.
    It is a very interesting point that Fred has brought up. It motivated me to go and read about synesthesia and how it has affected artists. I am still reading. This one is from wikipedia, it refers to a photographer's experience:
    Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.

    "I taught myself to take pictures by shooting whenever I experience a synesthetic reaction to what I see: if I experience a sensation of texture, motion or taste, I take the picture. If the reflection elicits the sound of cello, I shoot the picture. I photograph reflections on moving water. It works like this: I watch the surface of the sea until I experience one of my synesthetic responses. When I do, I trust it to be a reliable signal that tells me it is the right time to take the picture, so I click the shutter. Within the creative process, I think of my synesthetic responses as vital messengers that arrive faster than thought to deliver one urgent message which I always heed: beauty is lurking."
    — Reflectionist Marcia Smilack on her photography technique​
  18. When I do slide shows, I add background music often selected to match the sights in the pictures. Slide shows can be boring especially of vacations shown to friends and family. But music holds their attention longer. My video editing program can also change the time of each image frame so they transition with the downbeat of the music. The syncing adds to the magic.
    Hollywood adds music selected or written specifically to match the drama, cadence and aesthetic effect of the movie. Watch a horror scene about to happen with and without the volume turned up and you will be less scared if at all with no background sound music effect.
  19. Coming late, as always,
    I try to remember what I almost heard.
    The light avoids my eye. — W.S. Merwin
  20. While music is inevitably the prime candidate, taking a bit of a leap to a more and simultaneous less literal take on the OP.
    How much do textures, and the sensation a certain texture would cause when touched, influence the interpretation of a photo, and likewise the creation? I'm not just talking about smoothened-out portraits of models, versus wrinkley, high contrast portraits of weather faces at a certain age. But the nerves in wood, the gravely appearance of a wall, or perfect smooth marble. How much does the tactile feel dominate the interpretation and meaning we give to a surface?
    I was aware of Synesthesia, and thanks Supriyo for reminding me of its name! I think like with many neurological/psychological phenomena, it's not so much a defined phenomonon, but a scale, shades of grey. We all have it, some more, some less. The example quoted tends to the far range of the scale, and Arthur's description to a more regular, normal occurance (or at least, I took it that way). While the link between music and visual is the most noted, I don't see why it wouldn't be with all senses. Though I'm happy I cannot smell some photos ;-)
  21. Wouter and Supriyo, thanks for the reference to Synesthesia and your relevant comments. There are those who like synesthetic abstract artist Carol Sheen who experience multiple sense perceptions. Another, I read, is a photographer, waits until she experiences that dual or mutiple sense condition before making her images.
    I guess for most of us the analogies or cross references between visual and other senses are mainly conjured up in our minds rather than being part of a neuro-physical response. One of the few short art workshops I have taken was at the national museum of beaux arts of Quebec (MNBAQ) in the city of that name, where a Université Laval professor had us touch a variety of unseen objects in a small bag (beads, feathers, etc.) and draw abstract images based on what we perceived by touching.
    Are we drawn to specular highlights, strong visual textures or silver like tones in B&W photography because of some experience of touched surfaces? I often am drawn to touching scuptures to fully appreciate what my eye sees. Before shooting details of otherwise banal nailheads and rough used planks on the side of a building I want to touch the surfaces before making a photo, something I can sometimes replicate visually by waiting for an angular lighting that reproduces something of those sensations. I am sure that, when the person is agreeable to it, to touch the face of a subject being photographed, just as my dermatologist does when she wants to detect whether my asperities are pre-cancerous or just marks of age, may add to the photographer's perception in making a visual record or creative work. However, that is something that you might not want to try in most situations. But you might ask the person to do that and to tell you how he or she perceives his or her own only skin deep character.
  22. Arthur, what struck me about your first post here is the role of memory, such an important faculty to consider. While we tend to think (sometimes overthink) of photographs as memorializing people, places, situations, and events, and we think of photographs invoking memories in us, your post reminded me of how the act of photographing can stir memories.
    I've always liked the idea of memories having linkage through time to the present. It sounds to me like some of your photographic experiences are a kind of fullness. That's very different from the emptiness many describe as they shoot, the being-in-the-moment where everything seems to disappear. In some ways, however, I'll bet they're very much the same thing.
    I've never touched a face dermatologically while photographing but various kinds of touches do occur. Even when I photograph someone I've never met, I will often feel pretty comfortable touching most of them in certain ways, perhaps to move their head a bit to get a certain light in their eyes. Doing that comes naturally when I'm photographing someone and I think the naturalness of it helps make it OK for the shoot and also helps establish a kind of intimacy (not meaning sexual intimacy here, necessarily). I'm pretty good at reading when it will and won't be acceptable and have never been rebuked for doing so, though there could always be a first time. Just a light touch on the shoulder or the head can be very significant in establishing a connection.
    Probably even more important is the notion that my pointing my camera at someone, even without physical contact, is a kind of touching. One, I believe, can caress with the camera, and I'd suggest that a lot of great portraits (and photos of all kinds) do just that. Which is not to say there can't also be an element of aggression (a la Sontag) in pointing a camera at someone as well. It's sometimes the tension and balance between caressive and aggressive sides of photographing someone that can be such a challenge and joy to experience.
  23. I think, the association of senses not only plays a role during shooting, but also while appreciating others' works. I would say that viewing photos in a printed book has a very different (positive) effect on me than viewing them on the computer or an iPad. To take it further, I prefer viewing photos in a library than at home. I love the smell of the books around me while browsing through photos. Also the fine surface of the print, and the specular reflection (as Arthur first highlighted), sometimes the imperfections in the printing such as color shifts, all contribute to a very tangible experience. I don't know if this is relevant in this discussion, but this is how I feel.
  24. Fred, regarding your 04/28, 4:09 PM, post - It seems to me that you're suggesting a phenomenological approach, but definitely not Husserlian. That's how I tend to look at my abstract work as a whole. These images don't allow me to go " . . . back to the things themselves," i.e., to glean their essence. Instead, in creating them, I try to disregard preconceived notions of what they're supposed to do, how they're supposed to look, etc. I suspect I'm able to do this by taking the sort of holistic approach I mentioned in a previous post.
  25. Michael, I'll just leave it at what I said without putting it in terms of Husserl or phenomenology. I can relate this desire on
    my part to photography. Let's say you and I decide to each photograph those five apples sitting on the table. We
    photograph the same apples but very differently. The sameness of the apples may pale in comparison to the difference in
    the way we each photograph them. What I said, for me, is very much tied to how I said it. And it seems oddly changed by
    such a re-characterization of it, even if substantively we're saying something very similar.
  26. Supriyo, your observation are very relevant to me. Yes, I very much wanted to include the viewing as well as the making of photos. And I agree that the medium used for viewing can have a profound effect on what we experience with a photo. I'm glad you mentioned tangibility, because that often comes up in terms of printed photos vs. photos we view on a monitor. I think things are evolving to where newer generations probably think of screen images as more tangible than older generations and that, in itself, is interesting.
    Wouter, I do think the tactile sense of a photo you're talking about can make me feel a very intimate connection to a photo, as a photo. I may, of course, be made to feel an intimacy with the subject of a photo, but feeling intimate with the photo itself, as a photo, is a pretty special experience, and that sense of touch can really help ignite it.
  27. Perhaps we will come to having an intimate relationship with a monitor image but one of the things thst works against that is its placelessness, it exist only for the moments you choose to summon it up. A print placed on a wall has a different relationship to the viewer. While the viewer may not look at it frequently it has a definite place, both geographically and also in the mind of the regular viewer.
    I have one print, a 16 x 20 B&W, of mild combined panchromatic and IR effect, of a reconstitited forge building at Williamsburg, Va., with its fence and other artefacts and trees and chimneys of other buildings partly apparent within its frame. It is a compositionally well balanced and full tone image that has had very few comments of others. In fact, during five or more years placed on a living room wall with other artwork it has received no mention from frequent visitors. On the other hand, like a monk in a scriptorium with his handiwork, I have developed a close relationship with it. It looks nothing like the original full color perception I would have had on the day it was made, but it conveys to me many more time-related things, from simple textural pleasure of the scene and print and an affinity to the place and to the unknown memories and projections of a forgotten place or time, which has me looking at it from time to time and having a palpable connection with it.
  28. (double upload)
  29. Arthur's description of his print is lovely. And I agree that a print often has a definite place, though that place can change. I know many people who do not leave their artwork on the wall for too long at a time, constantly framing new pieces to replace old and then recycling through old favorites for periods of time. There are all sorts of relationships I build up with my own photos and the artwork I place on my walls, much of that artwork done by friends and relatives.
    I think one of the things that contributes to my own intimate relationship with screen images is their evanescence. For me, it's the virtual counterpart to texture which helps create the intimacy for me with regard to prints.
    The transient and ephemeral nature of screen images, in some sense, seems well-suited to photos, which have their own connection to momentariness.
    Though I have a more long-standing relationship with prints, the fact that so much of the sharing of photos takes place through monitor viewing entices me to build up the intimacies possible with screen images. Then again, there's also a more alienating aspect to screen viewing—the strong buzz, the distance, the electrical intervention, etc.— that intrigues me as well.
  30. In terms of senses and faculties other than seeing, the different viewing mediums bring in the notion of time. Obviously playing an important role in snapping the shutter, the timing of the shot, time also more and more seems to be playing a role in viewing a photo. Of course, we could always determine how long we would stand in front of a print or how long before we turn the page in a photo book. But I'm experiencing a lot in terms of time span when viewing photos on a monitor and when considering how I present my own photos. When I make a slideshow, I have control over the number of seconds each photo will remain until the next replaces it. I also have the option not to control that by allowing the viewer to determine the time spent on each photo.
    I'm currently working on a book of some of my photos, and I think a lot about the rhythm I'm establishing by the order of the photos, what's placed next to each other on facing pages, what the transition is like when we turn a page, where I might pause and linger while looking at the book and where the momentum might be more continuous. But time seems much more evident in viewing photos on the screen. When I'm looking through photos on my desktop and even more so on my phone, there's a palpable sense of the photos moving by, even when not put together as a slideshow but rather just by happenstance seen in a series. It's almost like the old flip book I'd look at as a kid, where it seemed to turn stills into a moving picture.
    Especially when I'm "flipping" through pictures of people on a screen, there can seem a dancelike quality to the viewing experience.
    And I can relate dance back to prints as well, or photos in general, the importance of gesture, which we've discussed in several different contexts, in my viewing of photos. Gestures I may see in the photos, and gestures I may feel from the photographer.
  31. Photography: Seeing and what else?​
    Feeling, sensing, hearing.
  32. Seeing is at first for me merely a process of looking, followed by seeing, followed (before capture) by our whole being becoming available (knowledge, experience, emotions, values, culture) in whatever incites us to do whatever we wish (when, where, how), before we push the button to capture a particular moment. Those are not exclusive of other sensory perceptions being involved, like what has been said in forgoing comments.
  33. Cutting. Cutting. Cutting. Exact and final incisions; amputations. All newborns must be rectangles.
    Top. Bottom. SIDE, SIDE.
    Slicing. Coldly, surgically with a razor, slice, slice, slice, slice; or brutal, visceral, with an axe, messy, greedy; or gently, tenderly, feeling for natural boundaries with my fingers, like transplanting an orchid.
    The frame does not bend; it IS the photograph ... except for that stuff going on between photographs where all you guys are singing and touching, and sniffing the blood ...
  34. Arthur touches a good point there; most (amateur) photographers I know look, and then shoot a photo. The good photographers I know see, and then decide whether or not to take a shot at the photo. Seeing isn't quite the same thing as looking, the level of perception and cerebral activity goes a bit further there. Which leads to what Luca said: Feeling, sensing, hearing.
    When one is immersed or very knowledgeable in a certain environment or situation, the better photos do come out. Fred's Plowshare series do come to mind: they cannot be work from an observer, their qualities (and intimacy is a huge value in them) are in that emotional being-there. Which, in my idea anyway, inevitably leads to all senses playing a part. The seeing is essential as we're dealing with graphical art, but the image is formed through the smorgasbord of impressions, emotions and sensory reading that sit in the photographer's brain. So, in a way, in such moments, is a disconnect between senses even thinkable?
    Not saying that the immersion in itself is enough, I think aside of culture, values etc. what Arthur mentioned, the less-rational activities of the brain also play a big role: imagination doesn't share a word stem with image for nothing.
  35. Wouter wrote: "the image is formed through the smorgasbord of impressions, emotions and sensory reading that sit in the photographer's brain".
    No it's not. Thinking that is the mistake that most photographers make.
  36. No it's not. Thinking that is the mistake that most photographers make.​
    Thankfully, Julie, who is not most photographers, doesn't make that mistake. And look where it gets her. Looking down from on high, Julie sees all. But, but, BUT (three buts, right?), all see Julie as well!
  37. The frame does not bend; it IS the photograph ... except for that stuff going on between photographs where all you guys are singing and touching, and sniffing the blood ...​
    The frame IS the photograph ... and walls are constructed to shelter and sometimes to divide. Hi Julie!

    [I'm picturing a toddler hiding his eyes and thinking the rest of the world is no longer there.]
  38. [I'm picturing a toddler hiding his eyes and thinking the rest of the world is no longer there.]​
    No, it's not. Thinking that is the mistake that most toddlers make.
    (a.k.a. let's make that two of us picturing that image ;-).
  39. The seeing is essential as we're dealing with graphical art, but the image is formed through the smorgasbord of impressions, emotions and sensory reading that sit in the photographer's brain. So, in a way, in such moments, is a disconnect between senses even thinkable?​

    I would like to distinguish between the overall time when I am in a field location, and the exact moment when I am taking the photo. I think my extra-visual senses contribute in different ways in these two scenarios. When I am in a photographic location/situation, imbibing the whole context through my collection of senses does motivate me in shooting a picture, and helps me realize the bigger philosophy of photographing that moment/location. However, when deciding what exact frame to compose, I rely more on my visual information and how I perceive/process that in my brain.

    I can give an example of shooting a waterfall. While standing in front of a huge wall of water, coming down in mist, with the roaring sound, the smell of algae around me, the cool breeze blowing in my face ... all these inspire me to engage in that scene. However while composing the exact picture, if I consider the information from all my senses, I will produce a picture that may be only relevant when all the other sensory stimuli are present. Can a viewer enjoy such an image in a quiet room in front of a monitor?
    Julie's comment:
    Wouter wrote: "the image is formed through the smorgasbord of impressions, emotions and sensory reading that sit in the photographer's brain".
    No it's not. Thinking that is the mistake that most photographers make.​
    I would not say, my experience applies to most photographers (and that it would be a mistake if they do not think this way), even if I can logically establish that. It is not out of political correctness, I simply believe everyone has his/her unique way of implementing an artistic vision.
  40. Supriyo, a thought is not an image. The camera forms the image. If it's not in the picture, it's not in the picture.
  41. "If it's not in the picture, it's not in the picture." - I will muddle the water by saying it seems to contradict your earlier Heraclitus phrase "what we neither see nor catch we carry away." - 'what we don't catch' should include among other things our subconscious thoughts.

    Arguments aside, here is what I think: the implicit impressions of our thought are embedded in our photos through the visual elements we include in the composition. However, a picture reflects the real world, it does not always have to conform to our thoughts. So I see it as a unruly beast with a mind of its own, which I as a photographer is taming to some extent. However a photo can surprise me, enthrall me, by exposing what I neither thought of nor consciously included in it.
  42. The camera forms the image.​
    Only when I tell it too, using settings I entered, from a position I put it in, rendering a perspective I chose. Sure, it's all just the camera, the photographer is just there to carry the camera around.
    If it's not in the picture, it's not in the picture.​
    Then, what is in the picture? Illuminated pixels, or halides that reacted with a developer and fixer? Inkdrops on a piece of treated woodfibers or cottonrag? Or, a subject, or a representation of that subject? We all know a picture of a bird isn't a bird, so the picture may contain a representation of that bird. Makes you wonder how the decision on how to represent that bird was ever made. Sure, the camera decided on that when it formed the image.
  43. Here's a video of photographer Narayan Nayar talking about his photographing the H.O. Studley tool chest.

    Wouter "The seeing is essential as we're dealing with graphical art, but the image is formed through the smorgasbord of impressions, emotions and sensory reading that sit in the photographer's brain."
    I would add 'narative' to Wouter's enumeration, believing that it is from a visual, sensory, emotional, and narrative field that a photographer extracts a photograph. About 2:12 into the video Nayar says that the subject (a tool) is "a really beautiful item". Nayar selected those spoken words from his own ongoing and mostly unspoken internal narrative. Nayar, at some point in the progress of his continuous internal working narrative, forms intent, intent which we see at the moment when Nayar trips the camera's shutter.
    Julie: "Slicing. Coldly, surgically with a razor, slice, slice, slice, slice; or brutal, visceral, with an axe, messy, greedy; or gently, tenderly, feeling for natural boundaries with my fingers, like transplanting an orchid."
    Nayar's process seems surgical. Yet his process isn't cold really. It isn't cold because he loves his subject and its beauty. His process isn't brutal. I think that the video shows Nayar feeling for natural boundaries and that is like transplanting an orchid into an image. All subject to final approval from Don Williams. And Don too has a publisher to please.
    Another image from Nayar of the tool chest. The image is included in his blog post, part of which is:
    This particular image does not appear in the book; the one we used on an opening spread features an empty tool cabinet and moodier lighting. I arranged the lighting for this particular photo with a yearbook or school photo in mind and refer to the image as the “yearbook photo.” I wanted an image that presented the ensemble elegantly but honestly, without drama — a portrait. When people see this print they usually describe it as “amazing” or “incredible” and though I agree wholeheartedly with those comments, the image evokes different feelings for me. This particular image usually makes me smile in the same way that school photos of my children make me smile. Perhaps because this was one of the last photographs we took in the four-year project of documenting these objects, and as such the image captures a period of time in the same way that the annual school photos do. But also because after working with the photo as much as I have in the last year, I revel in the tiniest of tiny details that I discovered when processing the image, like the grain of the workbench or the legible numbers on the wire gauge or the fact that if you look closely, you can see the felt we used underneath the cabinet to protect the workbench top.​
    I like that he points out how others see his picture contrasted to how he sees his picture. I appreciate that he sees that shot in his blog as part of his narrative self, his autobiographical self and as representing a summation of the four year photographic project itself.
  44. Seeing is sometimes seeing ahead. When I'm shooting, I'm often anticipating, just having that gut feeling of when the person is going to cock his head expressively or glance in such a way as to give me that little bit extra. To reuse the music analogy, it's being in tune with the person I'm photographing, to the extent I can be. And when I'm not so in tune, it's navigating the choppy seas to pull something off.
    When I know the person I'm shooting, sometimes my advance work includes seeing first before I ever get to look. I see what I want (or at least some of the types of things I want) in my mind's eye ahead of time, then do the looking with that as backdrop, then see what's viable in the moment out of all that advance seeing and current looking.
    On another front, what's not in the picture very often is in the picture. You have to look carefully. What's in my periphery often doesn't make it inside the frame but it's in the picture. Since what I frame into the picture is also a matter of leaving stuff out (therefore often creating a new photographic context) what is NOT in the picture has significant impact on what is. It's there. What's in the frame references it a lot of the time. And that reference makes it be there.
  45. Since we are discussing extra-visionary senses, I just wanted to mention food photography. Photos of food preparations (or ingredients) can evoke both sensuality and placidity, dynamics and harmony, nostalgia and anticipation. Watch a a picture of rolling fumes from a prepared dish, or a juicy steak with green herbs or a scoop of ice cream, and you will have a range of emotions. Often the sensation of taste and smell feed into those emotions. However artistic food photography can be a lot more than appetite or gastronomy. The colors, forms and textures of skillfully arranged food items provide a distinct feeling compared to similar visual forms made of non-food materials. In my opinion, the marriage of vision with gustatory senses plays a major role in creating the distinct emotions associated with such photos.
  46. Supriyo, I agree completely with your last post. See my first post to this thread where I wrote:
    from what you see through the viewfinder (the prospective photograph) exclusive off all other bodily awareness >>> > to tonguing the bodily feelings provoked via the eye = dilation from condensation: you may be about to make a masterpiece ...
    How does what is pictures provoke the responses Supriyo has described -- and other kinds of bodily response? Reading a book about Mapplethorpe's flower pictures this morning, I ran across this sentence:
    It takes a practiced exhibitionist to make a great voyeur.*​
    That seems so obviously untrue to me, that I've been thinking about it since. Add to the above the text that follows, and, while the above still seems to me to be untrue, I think it at least makes some kind of sense:
    If he were not framing the subject matter, he would be practicing poses of his own. Instead of moving lights around, he would be adjusting the angles of his face and torso to take advantage of the available source.​
    Mimesis, mirroring, echoing, locating the sensations ... taking the hit. Or in Supriyo's description, tasting/smelling.
    [*quoted text is by Herbert Muschamp]
  47. It takes a practiced exhibitionist to make a great voyeur.
    If he were not framing the subject matter, he would be practicing poses of his own. Instead of moving lights around, he would be adjusting the angles of his face and torso to take advantage of the available source.​
    There's plenty of truth in the first statement, but taken as a whole this strikes me as something said by neither an exhibitionist nor a voyeur. It sounds very much like the statement of an outsider.

    What's the difference between empathy and projection? Something an art viewer and critic might consider.
  48. Supriyo, it's interesting to consider photos of food, which generally don't lead me to a gustatory response. But more interesting is to consider how much the what-it-isness of the content of the photo invokes other senses vs. how much other things such as texture, light, mood, etc. stimulate an emotional response. In other words, how subject-oriented is the stimulus for our sensory inputs and reactions in making and viewing photos?
    In thinking about food photography and how little it stimulates me, I pretty quickly arrived at still lifes, which "use" food in an other-than-eatatory way, at least in part. I don't usually think about eating the fruit in the bowl or drinking the wine in the decanter. I'm put in touch with a different side of the "subject matter." Weston's pepper? It's not so much about peppers as it is about looking at peppers. And light. And photography. And sensuality.
    There are, of course, plenty of cases where the subject matter itself will invoke a more direct and coherent response. But these cases of subject matter occupying different roles are interesting.
    Mapplethorpe's flowers make me look at his body parts differently.
  49. Julie,
    In relation to your quote, I feel there is a commonality between food and flower photos, both can evoke strong sensuality that cannot be ascribed to a human subject, so may be it reflects back on the viewer (or the creator), just a thought. May be, Mapplethorpe's self viewing and admiration is an expression of that self-reflected sensuality. While smell and taste may be associated with food, with flower photos the first thing that probably comes to my mind is the tenderness, the ticklish soft, cool touch. BTW, the thought about food photography came to my mind while viewing this portfolio: I like a few of the works.
  50. Fred,
    Most of the food photos that I was referring to don't trigger direct appetite in me (although some do, specially when I am in need for food, but that's different). What I feel is a range of emotions from sensuality (a fire roasted pizza) to tranquility (vanilla icecream) not directly connected to taste, although I think the knowledge that these are food (as you correctly pointed out) and the associated gustatory memories plays a role in my feelings.
    You brought an interesting example (it had not come to my mind) of Weston's pepper which is an abstract representation of a food item, completely erasing the sense of food in it. I agree, most of the food photos very much represent their 'foodness'.
    Although I don't think about taste when I look at the pepper photo (I don't feel I am looking at anything edible), I still think about the smooth cool touch of a pepper and that probably compliments my visual perception about the image. So it looks like, how I see the subject matter will decide what extra-visionary senses are triggered.
  51. Think Julia Child (don't worry; I'll kill her off in a minute). Pots, pans, stoves, spoons, knives, spices, herbs, flour, sugar, raw meat, vegetables, do this, do that, blah, blah, blah. Then she stops.
    Takes a spoon, dips it in the simmering pot and puts just the tip of the spoon in her mouth. Closes her eyes. There is total silence for one, two, three, four seconds.
    "Needs more salt."
    Two things: what was in the mouth was all that mattered, but she knew that it needed more salt (nodding to Wouter).
    But we're not interested in following recipes to get a known dish. For that, go to any reputable stock photography site: they do every simple emotion to a T. (tossing Julia out the window)
    What many of us are after is not simple, not found by formula or recipe. Which is why I don't think that either 'projection' or 'empathy' are right -- they go the familiar, the known, the recognizable, not the unformulated deliveries of the senses. When you look through your shoot proofs, the multiple shots, putting the spoon in your mouth with each shot, how do you know that it 'needs more salt'?
    Don't ask me. Best I can say is that something, some place, somehow, has rung you like a bell, and you're looking for a picture that does it again. And I think everybody who has posted to this thread knows what I'm talking about.
  52. On Mapplethorpe, going off topic for a minute because I get a kick out of him; he wanted his flowers to be a suggestive and not-nice. But he also, and even especially wanted them to be Beautiful with a big B. At the time he was making the pictures, all the hot, with-it contemporary photographers took beauty to be a joke, a lie, something to be parodied or sneered at. So naturally, Robert went directly to Beauty with a big B, and not only Beauty, but FLOWERS, for god's sake!! What could be more of a Beauty cliché? I love this guy.
  53. I didn't say either empathy or projection is right. I said the author of your quote ought to consider the difference between them.
    Got it! There's no formula, except for mimicking Julia Child.
  54. A photo may, indeed, be after the known and recognizable as opposed to the unformulated delivery of the senses. It depends on the photo and what its doing. Getting rung like a bell is a way, not the way. You forgot to kill Julia off.
  55. I don't see that kind of beauty in Mapplethorpe. I see a cold physicality, a masculine and calculated shapeliness. His flowers have no "scent" at all. Mapplethorpe is a good counterexample to that unformulated delivery of the senses you were talking about. His flowers seem so deliberate, intentional. They look to me like he knew just what he was after and went for it.

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