Pictures as occasions.

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by alan_zinn, Nov 29, 2015.

  1. Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges said that every book is a specific and particular dialogue. The dialog of the reader and the book is in every way an authentic version of the book. How readers know the book need not agree with the author.

    The same could be said for pictures. Are there psychological or symbolic attractors that allow the viewer to leave or question your intentions and see your pictures in a more personal way? Do you actively make pictures that draw the viewer out?

    Illustrations are pictures without, or at least fewer, unresolved issues. What they are about is explicitly stated. I make that distinction in my work between pictures that decorate or illustrate in a satisfying way and the rest I make to arouse.

    The picture is from a series of "first frames". The viewer is invited to write the script.

    “ Every photo is the first frame of a movie. — Wim Wenders.”
  2. We tend to see more in our photos than viewers see.
  3. I think one thing that can draw the viewer out and stimulate a viewer's imagination to wander is negative space. You've used it in your picture above and it plays a role in mine below as well. It literally and figuratively provides perceptual and emotional breadth and range. It often provides a sense of abandon, which can be a real key, I think, to what you're talking about.
    Dialogue, yes. Two or more monologues, no. By that I mean that, though the book may not need to agree with the author, there will be some kind of connection, be it empathy, understanding, or communication of some sort. Those involved in a dialogue can certainly disagree but they pretty much have to use a common language and will most likely agree on at least some of the parameters and terms of the discussion.
    I'm not fond of thinking of art viewing as something purely subjective, something up to the viewer or reader to do with what he wishes anymore than I'm fond of people in conversations who I sense aren't listening or caring about what the other person is saying. That's why a dialogue isn't really like two monologues. The photographer "owes" it to his viewers to let the work go once he shares it, and viewers "owe" it to the photographer to allow the photographer's work (and through that work, the photographer) to play a role and have a say.
    Some sort of delicate balance is achieved (a very different type and degree of balance in all different kinds of photos and viewings of photos) among photo, photographer, and viewer. (And history and culture play an important role in this dialogue as well). Some photos beg the viewer to fill in their own blanks. That begging comes from the photograph and the photographer. Some ask the viewer for more connection and empathy and less subjectivity. It all depends.
    I like that you said "draw the viewer out." Because when we personalize another's photo or artwork, which is a great thing to do, we often think of bringing it inside and doing whatever we want with it. But I think viewing photos in particular (especially because they result from a camera which has been pointed at the world) has the power to get us (as viewers and as photographers) outside of ourselves. That's where the sharing that is art, I believe, comes in.
  4. I meant to include that subjects also have a say in this dialogue!
  5. One further thought . . . while I do think your photo above invites the viewer to supply a narrative, many photos that stimulate my imagination don't necessarily cause my own script or narrative. In many cases, I react more viscerally.
  6. Well, maybe two . . . I've actually seen viewers led quite far astray (IMO) by supplying even some of the most fanciful and creative scripts to photos that simply didn't need or warrant them. It can be an exercise of the intellect that can, at times, distract.
  7. Reading this post I feel that I need to tell a story and show a picture.

    The big fun for me with photograph is to suggest a meaning that was not there on the street or event scene. Is the same for me with digital photos as it was with film 40 years ago. I rarely modify elements of the image (may say never) with Photoshop or something, but I change a lot the light with plugins to achieve what my imagination sees on a image.

    May be because my first language is Portuguese and the term used to "develop a photograph" is "revelar uma fotografia". The word revelar in Portuguese has many more meanings and one of then is to reveal, used also when you tell a secret, you reveal a secret. I stick with this idea, unless I'm photographing a product.

    I give a example, the real situation was a small art show where a guy got there with a dog, met a old friend and they where very happy to see each other again, she was laughing about something and the dog looking at me. The light was really poor, I saw the scene and got only one shot because people was walking around, I had one second to shoot.

    I have a lot of fun with what people say about this picture.

  8. Adriano, knowing the story from you I can see why you would have fun with what people say about that picture. I see pictured a serious moment when in reality it was joyful. And if you titled the photo "Mirth" you would be thought of as ironical when you were actually honestly describing a scene of mirth. Then again, when we meet an old friend there is a flood overwhelming feeling both warm and sometimes sad. So my script goes...
    Also as to develop, revelar: I like the associated meanings you gave.
    I also like the word represent, but written thusly: re-present as in a photograph is a re-presentation. Our minds eye perceives and forms a presentation. Then the photographer with a camera forms a re-presentation of what a photographer perceived.
  9. Dialogue is pretty much the best word I can think of. I wouldn't say viewers see less than we tend to see - maybe different things, maybe more, maybe less. A dialogue can be straightforward, simple: an exchange of information. It can have twists and turns, it can be that half a word tells enough, it can be that you have to expand a lot. It can be that you just want to tease the other and give them so fragments of a clue. Or you spell it out. Whatever you try, what follows is a sort of dialogue. Not a monologue, it's action-reaction.
    Most photos are an invite, an opening statement which may be open-ended, or really a statement. I like to think ahead on how people may react, what they might think of. I genuinely try, though ever so often I just get lost shooting whatever comes to my mind.
    And then I put up a photo here, and you get a completely unexpected reaction, exactly not what I thought up front. Dialogue develops, and I grow a bit wiser. Well, most of the time. And hopefully the other too.
  10. Phil, I think making and looking at photos is a conversation with myself but, for me, it's not mostly that. It kind of varies depending on the photo and the project I'm making and depending on the photographer I'm looking at when I'm the viewer. Often, it is a dialogue for me with my subject(s) and I do (at various times) consider it a dialogue with my viewer. You mentioned that abstract viewer, who is important to me. As I've said, I'm in this to share, often to get out of myself. While my own self-expression is a crucial aspect of all this, it doesn't eclipse my desire to communicate with or share that expression with others, even in as loose a context as pictures compared to words.
    For me, meaning is not the most significant aspect though, again, it's certainly part of the picture. If I were going to boil it down, I'd focus on impression/expression in terms of what I get from the world and then what I'm hoping to give. The aspects of expression I'm most taken with are as an indication of feeling, spirit, and character. So, perhaps as important as meaning is the intonation, the voice used to convey the contours of those impressions.
  11. I meant to include that I love your last sentence: "A good photograph has a silence to it." I would say, so does a good dialogue. At the theater or in a musical piece, pregnant pauses are filled with meaning and expression. But I suspect you mean even more than that, a kind of overall silence where the voices stop. Not just the pause before the Mozart cadenza but the silence of John Cage. Not just an actor's long hesitation before completing a spoken thought but all that's not being said that plays such a crucial role. A great description.
  12. Phil, good point - it is also that. The act of making a photo (from thinking up front, the actual shooting, processing afterwards) is all quite introspective. But after that, I might release it out there for others to see. From there on, it is a dialogue. Even if the photograph has silence to it (nicely put indeed). But dialogues can happen in total silence too - it's about the exchange, rather than the method used to exchange those thoughts.
  13. I would be surprised if the act of making a photo wasn't something different for each of us.
  14. I photograph the things that stimulate me for some reason such as: aesthetics, intrigue, geometry, etc. Once I “put it out there” I have realized that every other person who looks at an image of mine will have a unique experience and interpretation. There are universals, of course, such as sunsets, and other pictorially pretty scenes, as well as craggy, worn and textured faces, babies, certain nudes, etc. I believe these hit on built in archetypes that are just common to the human experience. So, the dialog between photo and observer is there, and unique, but also plays on the archetypal themes built into our collective memories.
  15. Alan, I can agree with "draw the viewer out" but I strongly disagree with "The viewer is invited to write the script." For me, a strong image, a powerful photograph, is one that denies my own proposed narratives, my own formulas, that refuses my chatter and personal noise, that makes me shut-up and listen to it.
    That displacement, that full-stop, that oh! that happens when/because it won't fit, won't play, won't cooperate with my efforts to use it (and also, thereby, to leave it) are what, for me, make a really good picture.
    However, however ... (LOL) my effort to do so, my struggle to narrative-ize, my natural urge to digest the picture into my own story is not only my normal visual reflex, it's a necessary discovery of what a good photograph 'wants' to happen to me. As Blanchot says of poetry, it's "necessary in order to be refuted." In other words, the face-bump refusal of the picture to 'take' my narrative/explanation is just where it shows its teeth. For me, good pictures are strange.
  16. Coming from a common Latin language base as does Portugese, The French call the developing agent, a "revelateur". To reveal what is hidden in the latent silver image not yet "developed" to final visible silver image.
    So the occasion a picture can present before a viewer is sometimes to reveal a secret, and sometimes what is not shown in light or dark areas can help in that sense, but also the contrary, in maintaining the secret.
  17. Phil S., your frame is very Ralph Gibson-ish.
  18. Phil S. [​IMG], Dec 01, 2015; 07:10 p.m.
    I like it.
    Can you explain why you put it in a frame and why you took this photo? ...what do you feel the photo is the photographer. Who were your influences? Is this photo purely from your own imagination or are you projecting, in your own style, another photography's vision and adding it to your own?
    Regardless, I like it as it works on a imaginative level and with a mystery of imagination. Do you think it stands alone? or does it need a context of art history and your narrative to give insight? Will this additional information help me to appreciates your photograph and artistically move me to a superior deeper understanding?
    Good photos on this thread which has sparked my interest in this discussion. Nice to see some photos which illustrate folks thoughts.
  19. "Do you actively make pictures that draw the viewer out? "

    I think you take pictures because you have a inbuilt desire to express your Art.....the Art projects humanity forward on a journey of discovery. All advances of humanity under any guise or name is about the journey of discovery.

    Call it the Art of Humanity because that is what it is.
  20. Atget was a failed actor. A failed, rejected-by-the-stage actor. How do you think that might have affected his vision, his feelings (longings?) when he was under the dark cloth, looking at the stage of the ground glass?
  21. Ohhhhh ... I really don't care for either Crewdson or Sugimoto. They both seem to me to be incredibly obvious -- like really bad poetry. They aggressively drain all the air, all the wiggle room, out of their pictures. To me, any of the pictures posted in this thread have more subtlety than those two.
    [Apologies to anybody who loves Crewdson and/or Sugimoto.]
  22. Well, everything looks obvious and like bad poetry when compared to Atget's seemingly innocent piercing visions.​
    Hmmm ... I'll have to see if I can challenge that.
    Off the top of my head, Sudek sometimes does Atget better than Atget. [It seems to me Fred wanted to talk about Sudek. I can't remember where he said that ... ]
  23. Alan asked: "Are there psychological or symbolic attractors that allow the viewer to leave or question your intentions and see your pictures in a more personal way? Do you actively make pictures that draw the viewer out?"​
    What's amazed me in rediscovering Sudek's work having recently found a new book in a gallery I was attending is how his cityscapes and his still lifes relate to his solitariness and introspection. I don't know that Sudek would ever say he actively did anything to draw the viewer out but it's fascinating how a photographer's expression of loneliness or at least aloneness can draw a viewer out or at least reach a viewer. Whether this is self conscious I'm not so sure. It may be more self fulfilling or self actualizing or what I would call self-expression.

    Sudek's studio sill lifes can be compared and contrasted to those of Kertesz. Where Kertesz's still lifes in front of his studio window allowed the outside world to play with the inside world and seemed to hunger after that relationship, Sudek's windows are often rain-soaked or misted over, obscuring the outside and using it as more of an abstraction and conveyer of light and atmosphere rather than adding specific elements to the scene. This is a signal to his isolation and draws me near.
  24. I'm not sure about 'aloneness' as quite the right word. For some reason, 'child-like' keeps coming to mind. Not quite innocent, but with an uninhibited or liberated willingness to believe in some kind of shadowy-ness.
    Atget was both primitive and modernist.​
    That's a great summation. I hadn't thought of him that way. As you well know, though, what you see was "curated" (selected/printed) by Abbott and Evans, so you're getting a 'polished apple.'
    While I don't think it's possible anybody to get back to the 'primitive' innocence that Atget enjoyed (photography is way too omnipresent), I think modern equivalents of un-phoniness are present in such diverse forms as, for example, Friedlander and Anders Petersen. (Note that this doesn't mean I don't like a deliberate or conceptual or whatever other more self-conscious or enjoyably deliberate kind of work.)
  25. I don't find loneliness to be harsh and loud, though I can empathize with it feeling that way to you, Phil.
    I think there is enough similarity among loneliness (or as I also said aloneness), solitude, and shadowy-ness. To expect agreement on a particular adjective would be futile. My emotional responses to photos run within a range and are often not specific, so I can relate to all the adjectives ascribed.
    This relates to Alan's OP in that drawing the viewer out, even when it is more directed rather than less, is often to a range of a type of emotional response rather than the desire to elicit this or that very specific emotional reaction.
  26. I think that Adriano's picture in his post above shows a women whose body language is clearly expressive of an emotion. The emotion is clear enough to me to suggest a story, for example the man gave her some bad news, etc. Some of the other photographs we're considering here are less about strong emotion and more about mood. The adjectives offered to describe the evoked mood are similar despite nuances. So with Adriano's example, the woman and her body language are psychological/symbolic attractors. Emotion seems to work as an attractor by way of dramatization, not without some ambiguity; but less ambiguous overall than mood shots where mood shots normally set the scene.
    Alan's photo in the OP for me is metaphorical. The first frame suggests a choice placed before the viewer. That choice will create the second frame in the movie where the choice is between travel by track or by car. Metaphorically, as a viewer we've come to a fork in the road. The car looks off track and ill placed. So I would choose to get on the train at this point in my travels, not trusting the stylized car that is oddly placed in the scene.
  27. Regarding Adriano's photo, I can't easily get past how the skin looks on their arms and on her face. When I do go beyond that, I see a woman crouching, possibly scratching her forehead. No particular emotion comes to mind. I see her against the backdrop of the drawing of people. For me, the pull of the photo is the dog's connection to me from almost a hidden vantage point yet central, and the way her hand seems gently to caress the dog's face (which it may or may not be doing). The peace signs make me feel nostalgic, for a time when I actually thought it could be attained. Seems a long way off.
  28. I think photographs are more often felt as 'last frames' rather than 'first.' When looking, I have to (consciously or subconsciously) maneuver myself into position (how do I get 'there' so I'm seeing 'that'?) either through time (see Atget) or position/location (see Phil S's description above, with his other photos), or mood, or angle of view (see the low angle of Imogen's magnolia), or realizing/feeling your own ethnic/cultural point of view vs what's shown, etc. etc.
    Is this into-place process a face-bump, as I've described it above, or more like parallel parking, where you back and fill and back and fill (and then, in embarrassment, just go home ... )? Or do you sit primly and refuse to dance? (Can I mix any more metaphors here ... ?)
  29. I agree with a lot of what you say, Julie, about the viewer looking at pictures. The backing and filling to get into a parking space analogy makes a lot of sense. However, there are times when one has to recognize that the space is too small and no amount of work is going to make one's car fit into it. Being originally from NYC and now living in the tight quarters of San Francisco one comes to realize that some spaces you'll run across are just too darn small. Some photos, too, are just not a good fit.
  30. If a photo were a still from a movie, I wouldn't split hairs over whether it was the first, last, or middle frame. I may feel that way because I think photos are, generally speaking, so different from frames of movies and that's why they're taken as a separate art form and/or medium in itself. We could probably have a universe of movie stills shown in museums . . . but we, for the most part, don't. I'm sure there have been some exhibitions of those which would be interesting in and of themselves. I think a photo is something quite different from an isolated frame of a movie and am glad that's so.
  31. Phil just a side remark. I will not get involve in this discussion, but your photo resembling that of Atget that you uploaded a couple of days ago is not the same building. The street corner Atget shot is from Rue de Seine and Rue de lEchaudé in the 6’ème arrondissement and looks the same today despite the parked cars. Here it is.
  32. I have huge admiration for what Graham has been trying to do in his recent work. I don't think he has succeeded, yet, but I love looking at his attempts. If you've never looked at his stuff, be prepared to at first think the pictures completely baffling, then probably boring. That's not an accident. He wants to stop you from looking 'for' ... 'a photograph of'. I'm not going to try to explain further, beyond a little hint: I think he's trying to show, in photographs, something like the Whitehead-ian 'lure to feeling' (or shimmer of possibility) that is the source/cause of novelty/creativity that is in the air; and in all things and at all times, however mundane. He's looking for something that he feels is there, not something that he's adding to a scene.
    Graham has never claimed any such thing (beyond his choice of book titles) -- it would be a little ridiculous if he did -- but that's what I sniff out of what he does say/show in his work. An amazing challenge to take on, whether or not he achieves it.
    [Please note that the illustrations to the linked articles are much, much 'fancier' than what you'll find in Graham's books. He goes out of his way to have strictly mundane color and tone in his pictures. Dull by comparison to what most other kinds of photography projects enjoy. As already noted, it's intentional.]
  33. Wow. That is a fantastic video. I had never seen Graham -- he's just wonderful in it. Thank you!!
  34. From the Graham video, Graham titled his exhibition of three bodies of work as The Whiteness of the Whale. He says he was drawing from Melville, bringing Melville's Moby Dick into the conversation. "My interest in that book [Moby Dick] and that title [The Whiteness of the Whale] obviously came initially from American Night, these white, blinding white pictures, driving across American, through this obsessive, monomaniacal pursuit of something." Graham also states in the video that the title for his three part exhibition "...refers to being in the belly of the beast, the whiteness of the whale, and that's the kind of perfect metaphor for traveling and being in America now."
    The three bodies of work are American Night, A Shimmer of Possibility, and The Present where American Night seems the series most thematically related to the exhibition's title. Also Graham says the three parts are explorations of light, time, and focus, respectively. Aperture, time, and focus where focus mimics awareness or consciousness.
    With aperture he explores " photography can mimic a state of mind, a state of consciousness of the world." Almost whited out in American Night, images of the poor and dispossessed represent our psychological blindness to them, their invisibility. So in American Night he explores what we do see along with that which we don't see very well.
    With shutter, with time Graham in A Shimmer of Possibility records vignettes in an attempt to move away from classic spotlight vision to embrace floodlight awareness where an event arrives, folds around the viewer, and departs. Which comes back to the OP's quote: “Every photo is the first frame of a movie. — Wim Wenders.” In his presentation of separate aspects of an event he again is examining 'noticing', attempting with his camera to mimic how our attention is captured by an unfolding event, an event with a beginning and an end, Graham recording a sequence having a first frame and a last frame.
    As to those events, as to his subject matter in Shimmer, Graham observes "Our lives are made up of the humdrum and the quotidian. And if one is seeking to touch upon that, the quality that makes people's lives, you have to deal with this great ocean of life, of everyday life around you and respecting it and giving it value and not dismissing it. And Shimmer in some ways struggles to articulate that, that unspoken ocean of commonplace existence."
    The Present is life as it comes at you, Graham says in the interview. And there he in part revisits the theme of seeing, of blindness, of what one is prepared to see and notice in life in the same sense as in American Night.
    So on the one hand he photographs our nation in various states of denial about its social conditions. Shimmer is a title he hopes is positive, as in life shimmers with possibility, the glow of being alive, having a meal at a bus stop, where life glows with opportunity and wonder. I'm sympathetic to his saying something positive. However it is structurally skewed opportunity and unconsciousness that make up much of the ocean of commonplace existence that is life here.
  35. Fred G.
    “That's why a dialogue isn't really like two monologues. The photographer "owes" it to his viewers to let the work go once he shares it, and viewers "owe" it to the photographer to allow the photographer's work (and through that work, the photographer) to play a role and have a say.”​
    Yes, yes, yes!
    First thing in a critique, negative space gets cropped off! Dreamy, atmospheric things give us hints there may be alternative “takes” of an image.
    I am reading about the 20th C. philosopher Heidegger (Being and Time) now to understand Borges. Slogging through it thus far has entwined these two contemporaries with some of my musings on photography.
    Heidegger makes a distinction between observing and caring. Just observing doesn’t reflect who you are in an existential sense. You may care, as in “ have an interest”, but do not attach importance to it.. I think art reflects our interests in and our depth of care.
    I have tried to make a case for the “waiting images” concept: Images comprised of things I care about await me.
    An endless “atlas” of waiting images gets us back to Borges and the dialog with the book. A bad outcome for this idea is that too many words await . Too many images wait for the viewers (who get it) in the photographer’s renderings of cared about things. Collaborative images await in that sense. Also, found photographs await artists.
    Borges throughout his work played with the endless permutation of any reality. He expanded small bits of writing and contracted entire volumes to short stories and poetry thereby establishing a dialog.

    Adriano F
    “I rarely modify elements of the image (may say never) with Photoshop or something, but I change a lot the light with plugins to achieve what my imagination sees on a image.”​
    You have just described me! Digital is like a second, whole photographic life granted to analog photographers.
    Julie H.
    “That displacement, that full-stop, that oh! that happens when/because it won't fit, won't play, won't cooperate with my efforts to use it (and also, thereby, to leave it) are what, for me, make a really good picture.”​

    We both must be thinking of something like a found object - a perfect sea shell. Yours hold everything it needs to be complete. End-of-story.”
    All the world IS a stage. Street and urban photographs are inescapable dialogs with the viewer. I actively look for character-driven images. Although, in the same way puns are said to be ” the lowest kind of humor”goofy looking expression, gestures and juxtaposed figures can amount to ” cheap shots” .
    Post-exposure “creative aids” further the misrepresentation. “Film Noir III with a dash of TX grain please.”
    Phil S. “Kerouacian”
    Ha! Say that out-loud - and
    Robert Frankian -and- Ginsburgian .
    Zen-like pictures are not possible but offer a Cageian challenge. No doubt there have been numerous blank wall attempts to un-photograph.

    Phil S., Julie H.
    I’m sure everyone is thinking about Duane Michaels now! He couldn’t wait around for an image.
    From Wiki: First in Michael’s “… series of photos as in his 1970 book Sequences. Second, he handwrote text near his photographs, thereby giving information that the image itself could not convey.
  36. Julie H.
    Whitehead-ian 'lure to feeling' (or shimmer of possibility) that is the source/cause of novelty/creativity that is in the air; and in all things and at all times, however mundane. He's looking for something that he feels is there, not something that he's adding to a scene.​

    Yes! and expressed so well - off I go to read Whitehead.
  37. Alan Klein, Nov 29, 2015; 11:38 p.m.
    We tend to see more in our photos than viewers see.​
    That is fer darn sure!
  38. [Narrative to OP. Alan Zinn, upon sitting in Orozco's Citroen, finds himself similarly excavated/slimmed. Absconds with the car, repaints it to avoid detection. Ends up lost in the desert (having your middle removed with do that). In his Orozco-ized, slimmed down conformation, Alan finds all kinds of middle-free meaning in postings to this thread. Sort of like Oreo cookies with the middles all gone.]
  39. Alan, to me the important thing about caring is not that it shows or tells me who I am but that it allows me to adopt the perspective of the photographer who made the photo I care for or about.
    Nel Noddings, though she's talking about caring more from the standpoint of morality than art, makes a couple of suggestive points:
    "I care for someone if I feel a stir of desire or inclination toward him. I care for someone if I have regard for his views or interests."
    "This position or attitude of caring activates a complex structure of memories, feelings, and capacities. Further, the process of moral decision making that is founded on caring requires a process of concretization rather than one of abstraction."​
    To that end, the concrete discussion of how negative space affects a viewer is significant in terms of how and why a photo communicates a certain way or allows for a caring response.
    Caring involves healthy respect for and confidence in oneself but also, importantly, involves getting past oneself.
  40. I don't think Graham is encouraging his viewer to have some kind of spacey, fantasy relationship to his subjects. The artistic conversation he is trying to have with his viewers is in part his own dialog with Melville's Moby Dick. He doesn't make characters of his subjects. Instead he with his trilogy authentically confronts the weight of the quotidian and of social inequality, not from fantasy or the privilege of some fruitless, neurotic special vision.
  41. " I think art reflects our interests in and our depth of care."
    Alan I tried to bring this discussion back to reality because I do care. That you would ignore my substantive remarks says to me that you don't much care about anything other than your odd take on things.
    So much for hanging with a group that allows itself to self-censor. My swan song.
  42. Alan and Fred, 'care' just seems to me to be a much too domesticated word for art.
    It's sine qua non, but just as a description of the bare ground floor. Art begins in the wilderness where care leaves off.
    And I have to, again, complain about the word 'dialog.' I don't think it's ever a dialog. Think of a special food, lovingly prepared and offered/proffered via spoon to someone's mouth. The care is in the gift, the giving, with all its connotations; but what touches the tongue of the other, is out of bounds of the giver. You each can never know what that experience is. You can and do, electrically, if it's a powerful experience, live in the possibility of a shared state, but I don't think that's a dialogue. More of a side-by-side than a face-to-face.
  43. Another way to "draw the viewer out" is by supplying a transformed or at least ambiguous context. Photography, in putting a frame around a scene, will often isolate it from its more complete context in the world, providing a very different photographic context. Now, some photos will try to capture that original context as much as possible in an attempt to communicate "what it was really like." Here, the photographer may be trying to convey specific information even while, perhaps, drawing the viewer out emotionally by putting them in touch with something they witnessed. Some photos, on the other hand, by creating a more puzzling context—through framing especially, or by leaving things out that would give more clues as to the "reality" of the witnessed situation—will result in the viewer guessing at or fantasizing about bits of information that might help them "understand" what was "actually" going on. Because photography has this interesting relationship to the real world, a viewer's mind can become as if challenged to a ping pong match with that world. "What's really going on here?" We can think of some of the different ways a photojournalist might shoot a scene from ways a surrealist might shoot that same scene. Of course, some scenes will be so surreal in themselves that it might be tough to tell the difference. For me, the act of framing (which is simultaneously a leaving out as well) is a key to what the photo will elicit in terms of viewer participation.
  44. Random response to the bit in Fred's above "putting them in touch." Godfrey Reggio's quote pops to mind:
    ... It's not about text; it's about texture.​
    And (I think this is too tangential, but I'll put it here because I'm chewing on it at the moment ... ) Baltz said of Eggleston's photos, paraphrasing -- 'they are inviting on their surface, but ice cold at their heart.' How such an affect is 'done' to Baltz by a photo. It's almost like a sickness in the sense of something alien working from/on the inside.
  45. Julie, !!!!
    Texture is one of my babies.
    Below is a slightly-altered reproduction of a post of mine from a thread long ago and it relates to the two kinds of touch, one being what we feel with our finger (when it's against fabric or steel) and one being the more metaphorical "to be in touch with."
    Texture with a capital T relates to the relationship of various elements (not just their textures per se) and qualities or aspects of a photo. Here's the way one of my music books describes musical texture:
    . . . a "structure of interwoven fibers." In music, texture refers to the way multiple voices (or instruments) interact in a composition. One may also think of texture as a description of musical hierarchy: which voice is most prominent? Are all the voices equal?​
    And from Wikipedia:
    In music, texture is the way the melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic materials are combined in a composition, thus determining the overall quality of sound of a piece. Texture is often described in regards to the density, or thickness, and range, or width between lowest and highest pitches, in relative terms as well as more specifically distinguished according to the number of voices, or parts, and the relationship between these voices. A piece's texture may be affected by the number and character of parts playing at once, the timbre of the instruments or voices playing these parts and the harmony, tempo, and rhythms used.​
    If, in music, the different timbres of instruments and voices helps create texture, in a photo, the different textures of objects helps create this kind of capital-T Texture (but it's about more than just the relationships of textures). Photographs have these interweaving fibers as well, foreground merging into background, hierarchies of objects and tonality, shadow and light that rises and falls, the visual equivalent of melody and supporting rhythms. Wikipedia talks about the overall quality and character. It's the character developed by the relationships of various photographic elements and qualities. The overall texture of a photo fascinates me in every photo I make and view. It's what can keep me busy for hours. It's not terribly narrative in itself, though it can lead to some.
  46. Charles W.
    I am sorry I have offended you. Your contributions deserve attention and I have been remiss. I am always surprised and delighted with the number of erudite responses to my topics. I have to race to catch up. With two finger typing and a two-fingered mind, I don’t post them to see myself rattle on. I think good topics provoke volleys of discussion that can’t all be returned by the author. They often send me off to Wiki-land. I have definitely read your comments and their replies and gone on to their reference material. In my defense, I feel I couldn’t have added much.
  47. Alan, I apologize for venting my general frustration in your direction.
  48. Before I get into response to Fred's texture/timbre post, I keep forgetting to mention a project called Visual Correspondences, where photographers Marcelo Brodsky, Manel Esclusa, Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Martin Parr, and the artist Cassio Vasconcellos (and, other photographers later) -- had a purely visual 'dialogue' via email. Unfortunately I can't seem to find a trove of the pictures they sent online but I'll tell you that the communication is ... fanciful ... at best. Fun, if you like herding cats. Which is why they had so much fun with it. A link to a description is here.
    Now, texture/timbre. I think that in photography, the content serves the texture and not the other way around in the same way that the instrument serves the music and not the other way around. That being said, it's ... complicated. As Fred's post repeatedly emphasizes, it's a relationship/hierarchy/interweaving kind of thing.
    For example, I love (okay, I'm obsessed by ... ) a piece of music by Simeon Ten Holt called Canto Ostinato ("Obstinate Song"; LOL). It is composed to allow musicians the freedom to 'build' their own combination. It also can be -- and is -- done in many, many different configurations of instruments; from one to four grand pianos, marimbas with pianos, marimbas alone, synthesizers, organ with piano, organ alone, harps, and so on. Obviously the timbre/texture of such different instruments is different, as well as the way each recording is played as well as the particular choice of 'parts' that each chooses to use. All are the same, yet all are different. For example, the organ-only rendition by Aart Bergwerff is a whale -- majestic, huge but yet buoyant. While the organ-only performance by Toon Hagen is a rhinoceros, powerful, heavy, dangerous. This disparity comes out of the texture, not the content.
    This kind of thing is interesting, too, reference earlier discussion of Atget because Abbott printed his stuff. His prints are very different from hers.
  49. As to content serving texture vs.* texture serving content, I see it as reciprocal rather than either/or. . . . dialogue of texture and content rather than competition or servitude.
    *Sometimes the concept behind these two little letters would be better if banned. ;-)
  50. Content, I think anyway, is part of the texture of a photo.
  51. *Sometimes the concept behind these two little letters would be better if banned. ;-)​
    Going totally OT, when William James was experimenting with nitrous oxide (laughing gas) he wrote notes while he was in the intoxicated state, where he describes having the overwhelming feeling "that every opposition ... vanishes":
    Incoherent, coherent — same.
    And it fades! And it's infinite! AND it's infinite!
    If it wasn't going, why should you hold on to it?
    Don't you see the difference, don't you see the identity?
    Constantly opposites united!​
    ... all of which he later dryly describes as "meaningless drivel" to the "sober reader" but it made him wonder what/where he was when he wrote those things. But he was still thinking about it (it bugged him because he was a pluralist [radical empiricist] and this kind of unified-everything smells of monism).
  52. Now a link between texture and music is a sure way of luring me out. Texture and playing with the density of texture(s) is what sets good performances apart from the technically valid ones (*).
    The music mentioned by Julie is a very suitable example (not only because it is written by a fellow Dutchman). The differences between the various performances is how the artist interprets the work - there is still the listener, who might be present on the life event (I think there has been a marathon Canto Ostinato in Utrecht at a time, where they played it for 24 hours straight), or via a recording. Just this week, I exchanged some parts of my stereo, and found all of my music has taken on a new life. There are new subtleties, new parts that grew denser, or more lean, new tiny elements that change the texture that I could never hear before. It's like the difference between seeing a photo on the web, or a good print. Or going from a decent print to a print done by an expert.
    The dialogue between artist and subject (in case of Ten Holt, choice of instruments, pace etc.) sets a scene for the listener, brings certain elements to the forefront and clouds some others. The listener depends on being perceptive to hear/see, and the presentation being done via a medium that can render the artist's interpretation to its fullest.
    To make a very obvious loop back to the OP. Yes, it's all dialogue to me, even if disconnected in time and space, there is plenty interaction going on. I've got too many music recorded before my birth to think otherwise.
    Now back to re-listening all that music!
    (*) Not entirely unrelated, I can't find it online but I saw a pretty interesting interview with the violonist Gidon Kremer once where he expanded a lot on the importance on the silence between notes, and how that formed the actual sound (texture/timbre) often more than the technique used - with plenty examples to make his point.
  53. Julie, I think an insistence on content serving texture is patriarchal/hierarchical thinking that buys into a box most artists strive to break free from. James is formulating the either/or of one's having to adopt either a presumably significant and meaningful pluralism or the so-called meaningless drivel of monism. They're pretty much two sides of the same coin anyway, so for me it's a pretty fruitless opposition, one that kept philosophy busy gazing at its own navel for centuries.
    Though William James may have been motivated by what he thought was taking a pluralist stand (when in fact I think the debate between monism and pluralism is ultimately fairly vapid) he didn't then and more surely doesn't now speak universal artistic truths. I take these strong statements by artists as important and I love them. But I also take them with many grains of salt, especially as they apply to me.
    I think one can take a stand one way or the other in their work without needing all art to take that same stand.

    Wouter, interesting point about silences in music, which are very much part of the music. Comparable, in some ways, to what's not in the frame that can very much still be part of the photo.
  54. Now, I can sit here arguing about monism vs. pluralism or whether it's texture serving content or content serving texture or whether dialogue is the right word or not. Or, I can give another concrete example of what the OP was asking for, psychological or symbolic attractors that draw the viewer out. (I guess I can do both!) Though I didn't think about this in advance, and this photo came together with equal parts of intention and confluence, I think two strong symbols in a photo create a kind of dialogue (or any word of your choosing) that I've witnessed viewers turned on by. Interestingly, this shot has a very pedestrian and literal story behind it, which many viewers in my company have enjoyed hearing, and which hasn't seemed to dampen the flights of fancy they still experience because it's also a photo, separated from the story of its making. Wouter, maybe in a certain sense, the mundane and literal aspects of what "really" occurred when we make a photo are part of the important silence.
  55. Julie "Now, texture/timbre. I think that in photography, the content serves the texture and not the other way around in the same way that the instrument serves the music and not the other way around."
    Qualia* experienced by the photographer serves up the content of the photograph. A composer's instrument renders the subjective state of the composer whether it's a camera or a pen. That subjective state may be caring or it may be not particularly caring. For a viewer, listener, or reader the situation is reversed: content serves up qualia. A composer's experience creates the thing (photograph, score, or poem) and the thing is then experienced by the viewer, listener, or reader. Anything we sense is both the sense of a thing and of the thing's associated qualia.
    So with Fred's photograph above, the composition is the print, apparently cropped from a broader more mundane scene. Fred's approach follows Alan's method in that a character has been created in the crop. Contrast that approach with Graham's where he says of his The Whiteness of the Whale exhibit that he intentionally didn't intend to create characters. Instead Graham presented everyday experiences that folded around him as he captured images of tedium. However 'the quotidian' can also be viewed as a character, a characterization of lived experience as mundane, banal. Which it is a lot of the time, of course.
    Qualia as properties of sense data. Consider a painting of a dalmatian. Viewers of the painting can apprehend not only its content (i.e., its representing a dalmatian) but also the colors, shapes, and spatial relations obtaining among the blobs of paint on the canvas.​
  56. Charles, it wasn't the original frame compared to the crop I was talking about. I was talking about how the photo came about, which was a little more mundane than where people's imaginations were taking them. Viewers were surprised and seemed pleased/amused by the fact that the tear was a result of its being such a windy day in San Francisco, whereas their imaginations had been taking them (and still seemed to take them) to different places than thinking about the wind. It is true that this is cropped but the original frame doesn't clue us into the wind factor.
  57. I should add that none of that means we (not I alone) didn't create a character. We did most of that when we were shooting. I added to that effect by cropping tight (as well as converting to b/w and processing somewhat extremely).
    Speaking of music, the following, which you posted, seems a little cacophonous to me:
    Instead he with his trilogy authentically confronts the weight of the quotidian and of social inequality, not from fantasy or the privilege of some fruitless, neurotic special vision.​
    Why are you comparing Graham to some unknown inauthentic use of fantasy and privilege and fruitless, neurotic special vision? I didn't quite get where that came in and why it came up.
  58. OK, right, I understand the surprised reactions you get upon viewers hearing it was a windy day compared to where imagination seems to want to settle the viewer. Still, your crop does leave a photo that isn't all that open ended?
  59. Still, your crop does leave a photo that isn't all that open ended?​
    Not sure, to be honest. I could see where it would feel directed, and tight crops will often make us feel as if we're homing in on something, but I think there's room in what the two symbols together will lead to for the viewer.


    You didn't answer the question I asked you in my last post.
  60. Our posts crossed in the mail.
    I think it is insensitive to Graham's work to characterize it as other than social criticism at root. His art obviously isn't intended lure the viewer away from life as it is. And I agree with Graham when he said in the interview: "And if one is seeking to touch upon that, the quality that makes people's lives, you have to deal with this great ocean of life, of everyday life around you and respecting it and giving it value and not dismissing it." (My transcription).
  61. Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a colour as the visible absence of colour; and at the same time the concrete of all colours; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows -- a colourless, all-colour of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues -- every stately or lovely emblazoning -- the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colourless in itself; and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge -- pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like willful travelers in Lapland, who refuse to wear coloured and colouring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt? [from Moby Dick, by Herman Melville; this text is quoted by Paul Graham in his book The Whiteness of the Whale]​
    On texture:
    The picture -- the physical thing at which the viewer looks -- consists of a recording of visual texture.
    From that visual texture, the viewer, in his mind, conceives content derived from that visual texture-- which conceived content can and does change endlessly.
    The visual texture -- the picture -- does not change.
  62. Yeah that Melville excerpt for me is hard to follow.
    As to texture: I read you thus: the picture, the physical thing, consists of a recording of a physical thing. Substituting texture for thing doesn't add to my understanding of the recording or interpretation of a recording.
    So I think it fairer to say that our human nature paints the thing with qualia, where qualia is what I thought you meant by 'texture'; and even Melville above seems confused about whether the quality of a thing is part of the thing or not.
    I'm left wondering if Graham got it right when he used Melville to suggest we are in the belly of the beast. I think the better analogy is to suggest that we are on the Pequod.
  63. IMO, photographic or musical texture is not "the physical thing." It's the relationships of various elements within and aspects of the thing. And, yes, it's woven by the photographer or musician(s) and by the perceptions, understanding, and emotions of those experiencing it.
  64. Well said.
    Sebastian Copeland, interviewed here: copeland.mp3
    Here's a photograph by Sebastian Copeland:
    So I think Copeland in that shot gives us something familiar to consider against a backdrop of what for me is an unfamiliar landscape. This shot could be from 10 centuries ago or from last week. Or, that dog is the one who answered Copeland's ad "Dog Wanted. Must be willing to travel." Together with that dog, Copeland becomes a six footed wonder. So the dog is a character in the photograph. Anyway, my words of the week are qualia and quotidian and my even my dog is getting sick of them.
  65. "From that visual texture, the viewer, in his mind, conceives content derived from that visual texture-- which conceived content can and does change endlessly.
    The visual texture -- the picture -- does not change". Julie.
    Not sure what you mean by texture...methinks it is a word in the wrong place.
    "the visual and especially tactile quality of a surface"...the meaning.

    Have to agree with Fred who has taken the words from my mouth in a more articulate use of language.... try not to agree with Fred it sort of takes away the challenge of my thoughts.
  66. "We tend to see more in our photos than viewers see".
    Let us enjoy the journey of imagination, listen to the language, and let it take us to somewhere special.
  67. A photograph has little value of truth....
    They are all a journey of imagination....
  68. Thankfully, they can also be more than hollow platitudes.
  69. I think I need a good cry....
  70. "Thankfully, they can also be more than hollow platitudes "Fred.
    The picture is from a series of "first frames". The viewer is invited to write the script"“ Every photo is the first frame of a movie. — Wim Wenders.”
    Succinctly put. Thanks for the introduction to a keen mind.
    "I think I need a good cry...."
    Go for it.
  71. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Simplistically, beyond ambiguity, one could invoke the Rashomon Effect as a powerful component of photos which include humans.

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