"Places of Fire"

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by ellis_vener_photography, Dec 6, 2003.

  1. read the following article-- http://nytimes.com/2003/12/06/arts/design/06PIX.html
    --
    give the ideas written about some thought, and then discuss.
     
  2. The title of the article is "Photographs That Cry Out for Meaning"
     
  3. Site requires registration, so they don't want me to read it.
     
  4. Any article that quotes Susan Sontag is BS.
     
  5. Just uniformly any article that quotes Sontag is BS? automatically everything else in
    the article is discredited? If John Berger were quoted twice would one of those
    quotations nullify the Sontag quote?
     
  6. That's a great article, Ellis. I'm sure that anyone who is able to overcome their fear of registering at nytimes.com, and get past their childish reaction to reading a Susan Sontag quotation, will be interested.

    That's an important book in terms of the historical record, and it'll be a controversial one. I wonder if the same folks who think it should be trash-canned are the leaders in puhing for Slaughterhouse Five to be banned?

    One of the things that popular history conveniently glosses over is that more people were killed immediately in the firebombing of Hamburg than in the bombing of Hiroshima. The firebombing of Dresden, on a similar destructive scale, was militarily unnecessary.

    Of course, the Nazi's bombed civilian populations also, perhaps most disgracefully in Spain where the air war was entirely one-sided. But to excuse the firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg on that basis is to argue that two wrongs make a right. Besides, Allied bombing by 1945 was far more effective.

    This is likely to ignite a debate over whether Allied bombing of Germany's civilian population was a war crime, etc., and the book is also likely to be popular among neo-Nazis, who like to think that the historical record has been covered up by an international conspiracy. But I think a simple conclusion should be drawn: bombing civilians is wrong.
     
  7. This was a good article. I'd like to hear people's thoughts ont eh above quote from said article.
     
  8. Very good start for discussion. I also liked this quote.

    My slant is that most of us are suckers and can fall into evil as quickly as into grace. Our leaders seem to fall upon us. We may not all be Nazis per se, but none of us is clean either. I am relieved to see an exploration of German suffering.

    I always am amazed by the degree to which the Iran/Iraq war remained invisible. From all I have read, it was about as close to hell as any earthly circumstance has come. How would we regard images of that ocean of suffering?
     
  9. The article has a couple of interesting quotations, but it didn't lead me to new
    insights.

    "A picture may tell a thousand words, but words have ultimate power over
    photographs because each photograph is just a fragment: it needs words to assign it
    a context, and this context may change along with the message of the image." I don't
    agree that every photograph needs words to place it in context. Many do, but many
    don't. Journalism needs context, but many natural wonders, human events, etc. do
    not.

    The other quote "It is one of the basic truths of photographs that they inevitably
    beautify horror (in the process, cleansing the events they capture of unattractive
    sounds and smells)." Here I disagree completely. Photographs freeze time and allow
    us to study that fraction of a second over a period of years. This is key. Only after
    allowing images to season in our mind can we discern the great ones. Some of the
    photos from the Vietnam war period come to mind. Phan Luc (sp?), the VC officer
    executing a prisoner, Papa Yankee 13 chopper ride, Buddhist monk immolation, Nazi
    concentration camps, US lynchings of black men, etc.
     
  10. It Is always interesting to hear the outspoken views of Americans ,particularly those who in most cases wer`nt even over there in 1939. The bombings of Germany were in part retaliation for the german bombings of London and Coventry ,in part the gaining of air superiority in Europe by Britain and its allies as a prelude to D day and the reduction of the German capacity to wage war in Europe. Not pleasant it`s true but necessary. Just as necessary as retaliation for the world trade center bombings in the current era.
    The images of these bombings I can assure you were even more horrific than the photograph could convey. As were the Images of Lancasters and spitfires going down in flames.
     
  11. Well, Bud, while the air war was strategically necessary, specific tactics and in particular the bombing of Dresden (a target of no military value) were questionable. Bombing is bombing, but at Hamburg and Dresden the Allies raised it to new heights -- 130,000 died in the firebombing of Hamburg. But this is neither here nor there from the standpoint of this forum.

    No one here can say whether the book is worthwhile, but it raises a bunch of interesting questions.

    Re the quote that Ward picked, one of the prize possessions of my library is a copy of Nachtwey's Deeds of War which I was fortunate to pick up from a used book store for about $8. Nachtwey does precisely what the quote describes. He juxtaposes images from different wars with similar subjects, often showing soldiers from ideologically opposed movements, developing an essay that transcends us-and-them and shows humanity as both victim and aggressor.

    One of the books most disturbing images (one of the most disturbing I've seen, actually) is of a Salvadoran soldier, mutilated by rebels. Does it matter that he was fighting for a government that murdered its critics and unleashed death squads on its own people? Not in this context.

    But it is easier to apply this cool and distant view to other people's wars than to our own, which we are still mythologizing -- and it gets harder when we are dealing with the Nazis. So what this does on the one hand is to make us question our own history, and on another level to make us question how we look at books such as Deeds of War.

    Tony, re your quote, the problem seems less to be whether the individual images are truthful or authentic than their lack of context. To me, this is the real issue. Photography is inherently superficial. The image is just an image of whatever light passed through the lens, carrying no information about cause, background, etc. OF course, the article makes this point.

    But I'm not sure I buy the notion that photographs are amoral; they are not entirely objective documents. If the photographer (and the person collecting the photographs and organizing their presentation) takes any point of view at all, then they take a moral stance and invite a moral response. And collected, even the most straightforward of documentary images may develop a powerful emotional impact, not accidentally, but by design. This is where the book develops a potentially troubling aspect -- as I said, regardless of the author's intent, it is bound to be a favourite among neo-Nazis.
     
  12. Oh, and just to keep Bud happy I'll point out that bombing civilians from the air was actually a German invention: the first bomb ever dropped from an aircraft on a civilian target was dropped from a Zeppelin on a London pub during World War I. Which adds an interesting perspective to the notion of the subjects as victims of a human condition, both victims and aggressors, doesn't it?
     
  13. Kimmelman rambles as he struggles to make sense of the book.

    For me he misses the point. Talk of 'contexts' when faced with images of individual human suffering (mostly innocents, some not) suggests the horrors might be excusable. Re-running the arguments that lead to the attrocities doesn't excuse them. There is no comfort in blame.

    The power of the images is in connecting us to other human beings and so reaffirming our humanity by depicting how far from it we can stray.
     
  14. interesting read. photography (even documentary photography) was
    never about telling "the truth" context or no context. for me, it's
    about capturing vantage points, moments and connection with the
    subjects mostly. novelists and videographers probably would get you
    more contexts but poems and stills often are intrepetational and open
    ended moreover they stay with me. as for (a)moral concerns, it's a
    difficult issue. i think ultimately it rests on both the author and
    the viewer. do we really know say how Nachtway really feels about
    his subjects? or how Nietszche's reaction to nazism if he lived or
    Blake on love for that matter. we can only speculate at best.
    morality is tough and to mix it with art (or even photography) is too
    much imho.
     
  15. i didn't mean to say morality is unimportant just that one should take
    personal responsibility for his/her action yet quite simple for such
    complex question. this reminds me of nick nolte's role in the film
    underfire...even as a journalist, one is never on the sideline.
    acourse we manipulate with lenses, perspectives, crops and not with
    verbs, adjectives and hyperboles.
     
  16. The nukes dropped on Japan was an experiment. The allies spared these cities conventional bombing so the full effect of the nukes could be determined. In addition, they "tested" two types (uranium and plutonium) of bombs. It was for the same reason there were camps for the Japanese Americans and not for the German or Italian Americans: They look different than real "Americans". The first immigration laws were for the Chinese not the Irish. Fact not fiction.
     
  17. Andrew: To my mind time changes ones perceptions of right and wrong. To those of us who served in WW2 Every bomb dropped on Germany reduced the riskd of our dying when we landed in Normandy.In the same way it must have been felt by american sevicemen that Bombs on Hiroshema Meant less chance of dying in an attack on Japan. Obviously such values are somwhat selfish but I defy you to think selfish when you are sitting in a slit trench dug 6 inches too shallow. In contrast the current generation which includes most of you thinks bombs for survival is gross Maybe thats because your chances of survival are greater. Just compare the deaths of troops in Iraq with Troops in Germany
     
  18. Lawrence inadvertently raises an interesting question. Should we view photographs of wounded and killed civilians from the same perspective as wounded and killed soldiers? I think not. While all human life is precious, soldiers agreed to kill and be killed. Civilians made no such pact.
     
  19. Christopher: Indeed it was inadvertant and unintensional. In a photograph is there a difference between a dead soldier and a dead civilian. Both show pain and distress Both are ultimate. Do you honor one and despise the other.Churchill said it best when he told us ,soldiers and civilians;where we would fight.War has changed it is allinclusive.
     
  20. "Do you honor one and despise the other?" No. I honor soldiers' commitment to their beliefs.
     
  21. "soldiers agreed to kill and be killed" - Christopher, you know that this was/is not true. You must have heard about recruitment(sp?).
     
  22. csab': You speak the truth!
     
  23. Just for the sake of opposing Bill Mitchell's idiotic dismissal, I hereby include Sontag's contribution, thereby reducing this entire discussion to BS.

    "Contrary to what is suggested by the humanist claims made for photography, the camera's ability to transform reality into something beautiful derives from its relative weakness as a means of conveying truth."
     
  24. "While all human life is precious, soldiers agreed to kill and be killed. Civilians made no such pact." (Christopher)

    My reading of history contradicts the assumption that soldiers generally agree to anything. The modern American "volunteer army" seduces kids with video games and bribes the lower classes with promises of education. As soon as the "Be All You Can Be" advertisements shift their focus from climbing rocks and playing with computers to killing and dying, I will praise the DoD for their candor. Most armies are built on false promises (loot, college, fun, adventure), manipulation, and force. As you climb to the higher ranks in the armed forces you find career people who are very dedicated, but you don't see many of them sprawled out in the dirt with holes in them. Generally, once the intoxicating patriotic haze has worn off and you are into the reality of war, the people who want the war are ordering the people who don't want the war to go kill each other.

    So, to return to photography, I imagine you and I would have very different readings of war photographs. We would probably find it very frustrating to go to the exhibit together. This seems to support Sontag's assertion that photographs are poor records of Truth.
     
  25. "Contrary to what is suggested by the humanist claims made for photography, the camera's ability to transform reality into something beautiful derives from its relative weakness as a means of conveying truth."<br>
    Holy *X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#*. Let's rewrite first by converting to a "canonical" form, reducing it to regular logical operators:<br>
    A: (Camera is bad about conveying truth) engenders, creates, from this follows that (camera can show reality as beautiful). B: Humanists claim something to the contrary.<br>
    Prolbem 1: the logical connection is nonexistent. The statement is non sequitur. It does not follow from (being bad about showing truth) that the medium (can transform X into sth beautiful). The only thing that follows is that the medium can transform it into ANYTHING non-true, be it ugly, beautiful, heroic, neurotic or whatever else.
    <br>
    Problem 2: the statement is arbitrary. The camera is not shown, demonstrated, proven to be "bad" about conveying truth. I can maintain that is pretty damn good about conveying truth, as its use in sciences and law, as a couple of examples, can testify. Certain uses of camera (e.g. manipulatively "artistic") can be about other things except truth, but Sontag's statement as it is is plainly false.<br>
    Problem 3: I do not know how humanists claim to the contrary. Because there can be many things negating a statement (non-X may be a set of very many members), I have no idea what exactly they claim, according to Sontag. <p>
    To sum up, this statement alone demonstrates the emptiness of Sontag manipulation. I cannot promote such distortion to the category of reasoning in any way.
    Throwing crap like that into a discussion will very soon turn it into utter BS, right.
     
  26. Subject: Response to "Places of Fire"

    "Contrary to what is suggested by the humanist claims made for photography, the camera's ability to transform reality into something beautiful derives from its relative weakness as a means of conveying truth." (Sontag)
    ______________________

    BENDER: Holy *X&$#**X&$#**X&$#**X&$#*. Let's rewrite first by converting to a "canonical" form, reducing it to regular logical operators:

    A: (Camera is bad about conveying truth) engenders, creates, from this follows that (camera can show reality as beautiful).

    Problem 1: the logical connection is nonexistent. The statement is non sequitur. It does not follow from (being bad about showing truth) that the medium (can transform X into sth beautiful).

    RESPONSE: Ok, first: you got the logic backwards. The claim Sontag is making is more like this: The fact that the camera can transform reality into something beautiful means that it is "bad about showing truth." She is stating that there is no concrete relationship between the "reality" and the final photograph, that the photograph can communicate something completely foreign to the original reality. Therefore, she concludes, the camera's usefulness as a means of conveying reality is questionable. The fact that cameras and photographs can (whether intenrionally or unintentionally) distort or lie MEANS that they are unreliable conveyors of TRUTH.

    ____________________________

    BENDER: The only thing that follows is that the medium can transform it into ANYTHING non-true, be it ugly, beautiful, heroic, neurotic or whatever else.

    RESPONSE: Sounds like you agree with her. You just like your paraphrase better.

    __________________________

    BENDER: Problem 2: the statement is arbitrary. The camera is not shown, demonstrated, proven to be "bad" about conveying truth. I can maintain that is pretty damn good about conveying truth, as its use in sciences and law, as a couple of examples, can testify.

    RESPONSE: In those cases, it is the camera COMBINED WITH all of the standards of practice that go along with professional disclipline that makes the final image reliable. A photograph by itself without any testimony to the methods of its production is not reliable. I work in a hospital emergency room and am involved in data collection every day. We use photographs, but each photograph has exhaustive notes regarding position, distances, time, and equipment used. The photograph is one small element of a much larger document that is as a whole considered a reliable record of a moment of reality.

    ____________________

    BENDER: Certain uses of camera (e.g. manipulatively "artistic") can be about other things except truth, but Sontag's statement as it is is plainly false.

    RESPONSE: You need to read it a few more times, preferably without the predjudice.

    ______________________

    BENDER: Problem 3: I do not know how humanists claim to the contrary. Because there can be many things negating a statement (non-X may be a set of very many members), I have no idea what exactly they claim, according to Sontag.

    RESPONSE: I'm not sure either. I assume she is referring to something, but I haven't read the book in many years. My assumption would not be: I don't know, so she must have made it up.

    _______________

    BENDER: To sum up, this statement alone demonstrates the emptiness of Sontag manipulation. I cannot promote such distortion to the category of reasoning in any way. Throwing crap like that into a discussion will very soon turn it into utter BS, right.

    RESPONSE: And your attempt to deconstruct her statement demonstrates your blind commitment to rejecting anything she says without understanding it. Your response expresses more anger than thought.
     
  27. James,

    Almost any news site that requires registration can be accessed via the following username and password:

    cyberpunk

    cyberpunk
     
  28. Good thing you said "Almost." It doesn't to work for the NY Times site.
     

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