Re-awakening of the Philosophy forum?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by mikemorrell, Nov 20, 2018.

  1. I've never really understood much about the relationship between Philosophy and Photography (or Art in general). In the same way that I've never understood the relationship between Philosophy and Cricket, Modern Architecture, Playing Piano or Brick-Laying :)

    I really am sure that there are relationships (in terms of time, values, ethics, consequences, etc.). Personally, I believe that a "re-awakened" Philosophy forum could - under certain conditions - still have "added value" to members w.r.t. to other photography forums/sites.

    Just out of curiosity I browsed through older Philosophy forum posts. No, I didn't read all 1200+ discussion topics and certainly not the almost 60, 000 posts. But I did read the original 10-20 topics/posts and I browsed through the history to get an idea of what was discussed in the forum's "heyday".

    To be blunt, my impression is that - with few exceptions - the 'heyday' discussions had very little to do with what I understand to be Philosophy. Questions, opinions and doubts on individual photos and photographers are undoubtedly interesting but are not generally recognized as being philosophical topics.

    Look at it this way: in art history there have always been differences (in interests, subjects, intention, style, talent, influences, etc.) between artists in any one country/continent in any one time period. These artistic differences have had little to do with philosophy. There have also been various 'movements' (in perspective, impressionism, modernism, etc) and I have no doubt that each 'movement' had a common 'artistic philosophy' (= values) of what was worth expressing and how. But IMHO art historians rightly distinguish between - and sometimes relate - these artistic movements to wider philosophical shifts in society as a whole.

    Back to photography. In this "Philosophy Forum", I don't really care whether one member has personal doubts about the value of his/her photography or questions whether one photo is (in his/her opinion) "art". There are (or should be) other forums for these kind of questions.

    The kind of topics I'd like to see discussed on a "re-awakened" Philosophy forum are:
    - What does the current/future deluge of images (incl. soc. media) mean for our societies, privacy and visual sensitivities?
    - Given this deluge of images, what is it that gives some kinds/styles of photography added value?
    - Street photography: how ethical is it to publish photos of people without their permission?
    - etc.
    janedragon likes this.
  2. One of the most important ways Philosophy and Photography overlap is in the understanding of appearance vs. reality. That's a very basic question of Philosophy. Is there a reality outside of what appears to us and, assuming there is, how do we access it and how do we know it's there. Questions often come up with respect to Photography about how "real" a photo is, does it represent what was there or is it something very different that can't be relied on as a verbatim representation of the "real world."

    Philosophical questions related to art include and are definitely not limited to: 1) The role of illusion, 2) The role of beauty and what that is, 3) Do your photos try to recreate what you saw and experienced or do they try to create a new visual world or paradigm, 4) What role do symbols play in art and photography, 5) In what ways have artistic styles over the years mirrored the philosophy of the times, 6) What role does intuition play, what about thinking, 7) Do we over-elevate art, 8) What are the different roles of form and content in photography, 9) How important is style, 10) What role do empathy and intimacy play in your photography, if any, 11) What role does abstraction play even in the most non-abstract of photos, ...
    Hmmm. Not so sure. Wasn't it Bresson who put down Adams and Weston for photographing rocks while the world was going to pieces. Their photographic interests and styles represent very different philosophies both on the world and on what art was about. For one thing, the contemplation of beauty, a lot of artists think, is as important as using art to make social or political statements or documenting current events. For another thing, who's to say that what Ansel Adams was doing wasn't a social good in raising awareness of the National Parks and the environmental beauty around us as important to preserve?

    Your suggested topics are good ones. No reason not to start a thread with any of those topics.
  3. Great points, @The Shadow and I agree with all of them. Thanks for sharing these. I'm certainly interested in these questions. My main suggestion was/is to focus on general questions related to visual media and photography (past/present/future) rather than on individual photos or photographers. There are of course exceptions. For example: photos, photographers, styles that have had a considerable impact on art, photography, awareness, societies, etc. Or that illustrate questions.

    Just as an aside, one interesting 'photography philosopher' in NL is Hans Aarsman. He gave up his career as an established documentary photography and came to believe that trying to create a 'good photo' often led to the exact opposite . He started to investigate how (half-hidden) factual details in a photo can sometimes tell us more about the 'reality' of a photo (or its context) than the main content. Almost all of his work is in Dutch but his 2009 TEDx talk in English is interesting and often entertaining.


  4. There’s a lot to unpack in this statement (I know it’s his thought and not necessarily yours) and in his talk. I don’t share his anti-art bent. He suggests in the talk that intention in making photos is somehow inauthentic, and I believe that’s a grave mistake. In this statement, he conflates intentionality in making photos with a desire to make a “good” photo. I think most artists are after something other than “good” photos. Arbus was naturally drawn to people who were considered more than out of the mainstream. She seemed led by her own fascination with marginalized people, not by a desire to make “good” photos. Obviously, most artists are also driven by a desire to utilize their craft well and effectively. We certainly see that in Edward Weston. But I’d hardly see what Weston produced merely in terms of “good” photos. They were good photos in service of personal vision and expression.

    Accidents happen in photography and they can be wonderful, genuine, and revealing. But so can very specific and determined intentionality. There’s absolutely nothin wrong with intending to make good art. I liken his stance to those of some photographers who say candid and spontaneous photography is the only genuine form of photography and that considered or posed/staged photography can’t be as authentic. This thinking shows a blind spot, not a revelation. All the world’s a stage! Through artifice, much that’s real and deep can be revealed. Fiction is different, but no less genuine, than fact.

    Look, he’s got a lot of good points, especially when it comes to unburdening oneself from paradigms of “what’s good.” But artists, very intentional ones, have been doing that since the beginning of time, inheriting past paradigms and creating new ones of their own. Consciousness is not our enemy, and a project is not a hindrance to seeing unless you box yourself into restrictions and methods you don’t need or want to.

    He’s not the first, and won’t be the last, photographer to want to see what there is to see. Larry Clarke did it and didn’t follow traditional norms of beauty and “good” photography. Robert Frank did it. Arbus. Mapplethorpe. Nan Goldin.

    His philosophy seems unnecessarily cynical when it comes to art and art history.

    As an aside, I have dear friend who live about 30 minutes from Maastricht and have been to The Netherlands several times and love it, though I know the south better than the north. I went to grade school with Pam who married a Dutch guy and has lived there and raised a family there. Her two sons are a crazy mix of Dutch and very American culture, having visited BY every summer of their lives. Great kids.
    mikemorrell likes this.
  5. Hi @The Shadow ,

    You're right, I think he makes some interesting points but I don't think they apply to all photography. I doubt whether he does either. Watching the video again, I think he was invited to talk to a general TEDx public in Amsterdam about his 'investigative photography' and why he took it up. It's clear he tried to make the talk - including his examples - entertaining.

    Yes, all photographers/artists - and their audiences - inherit paradigms of “what’s good" and the most well-know ones unburden themselves from these. Some develop new ones (a Personal Vision) . This is a continual process in art, literature, science, medicine, etc. I don't think Aarsman is anti-art, he just points out that 'artistic ambitions' in documentary/journalism photography can in themselves influence and restrict how photographers perceive and report the reality in/of situations. And how the (artistic) form/style in a photo can distract from the factual content rather than help to reveal it. In the sense that the 'form/style' attracts more attention than the content. Photographers like Weston and others you mention are well-known because their photography revealed new/different content or in new/different ways. I think Aarsman was pointing out that the expression 'form follows function' is true for many types of photography too.

    I don't think he would see anything amiss in taking photos with the express intention of showing something new, different or in a different way. I take his points in the sense of 'art creep' into documentary/journalism. He might also have mentioned that documentary/journalism photographers have to sell their photos (which sell newspapers & magazines) and that this is also an incentive to create photos that are well-composed, have high visual impact, etc.

    I'm delighted that you know like NL! I live in the southern part too (Breda) and before that a couple other towns in the south. I've visited Maastricht quite a few times and I like it. I moved to NL from the UK in my early 20's with the intention of 'working abroad for year' and ended up staying. I like it too.

  6. Shadow, you're right in knowing the south of the Netherlands better than the north....That is because the south is a whole lot nicer than the North :) But maybe, just maybe, I am biassed....
    (I was born near Breda)

    With the pre-amble that I have not yet been able to watch the video,
    It is again probably my bias, but when I read things like this, I get the idea that whoever expressed it, seems to adhere the idea there is one single objective reality to be perceived, and in my view, that is highly debatable. Is it artistic ambitions that influece the documentary photographers, which would mean an intentional search for the differing point of view, or is it the fact they're normal humans, burdened with normal preconceptions, opinions, ideas and cultural background? Is any of us capable of seeing a reality as it is, which is identical to others that do not share our cultural background, ideas, religion, ...., etc.?

    I know my opinion is as debatable, so I'm not saying whatever is said in the video (which I'll watch later) is wrong in any way. To go back on the OP, for me the key point about philosophy is asking yourself and each other these kinds of questions. The train of thought that follows is the reward, not any conclusion you may or may not reach. In its better days, this forum did a good job of that.
    mikemorrell likes this.
  7. Mike, here’s a link which discusses New Journalism, pros and cons, which might interest you relative to the restrictions artistic consciousness might impose on journalistic integrity, which I don’t think are a necessity at all.

    New Journalism - Wikipedia

    I’d say a degree of subjectivity is going to have to be inherent in all human endeavors, journalistic or otherwise. Having said that, there are certainly more and less objective approaches among different practitioners of documentary and journalism. [I don’t generally expect the same degree of objectivity from documentarians that I would like to see from journalists.]

    I think what’s often necessary is not so much a claim of or stake in objectivity as much as the self awareness of one’s own inherited cultural perspective and how that filters what one sees and says, including one’s biases which often can’t be fully escaped but whose influence, if admitted to even just in one’s own mind, can help open one up to a wider point of view and perspective.

    I think using artistic devices in documentary and journalism can make reporting much richer and can do so without falsifying anything and sometimes, in fact, adding to the honesty of the reporting. Art, after all, can be simply a different path to truth. There is a human truth to many news stories and artistic means can be used to convey such truth without undermining the actual facts of the case, facts being different from truths, IMO.

    Interesting that you and Wouter also live in the south. My friends are in a small town near the German border, Schin op geul, which looks to be about a two-hour ride from Breda. One son went to University in Utrecht, a town I really like, the other in Loeven, Belgium.
  8. @Wouter Willemse , @Phil S, I'm glad you both chipped in on this. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in any way defending Aarsman's arguments or setting him up on some kind of pedestal. He is who he is. As an aside I mentioned that he's a Dutch (ex-)photographer who some interesting (and outspoken) views. Everyone (including me) is free to reject them out of hand or take from them what you will.

    To give Aarsman's work in 'investigative photography' the credit it deserves, I suggest you don't judge him solely on the basis of this one 'entertaining' talk he gave to one audience 10 years ago. I once attended a very different talk by him on 'investigative photography' and he made no mention of any of topics he introduced during the first 15 mins. of this video. He simply presented a series of (global) news photo's and demonstrated how his fact-based approach with attention to the fine half-hidden details had uncovered a context to - or intention of - "news photos" that was obvious from the photo as a whole. I think that this is the basis of his view that intentional form and style in journalism can distract both the photographer and viewers from important factual details which are present at the scene but are ignored simply because they don't fit in with (or detract from) any preconceived form/style that the photographer has in mind.

    @Wouter Willemse, I assume you speak Dutch so you should be able to find out more about Aarsman than EN-speakers. I'm not saying that Aarsman is one of the 'greats' in photography but that he was innovative (in NL) in his own way in his own time.
  9. Hi @Phil S, just want to say thanks for introducing me to the 'new photographic movement'. New for me, but I've looked up some of Stephen Shore's photos.
    Very valid comment on Aarsman!


    Phil S likes this.
  10. One of the problems, going way back to before the present incarnation of, has been a tendency to both prolixity and umbilicospection in the Philosophy Forum. One of my professors back in the day, Cora DuBois, suggested that if you can't say it concisely, you probably need to think more about it. (That was a dig at her colleague, Talcott Parsons, as it happens)
  11. Why not say something on the topic we're discussing then, instead of doing your own form of "umbilicospection" by discussing meta-philosophical issues like long-winded philosophers?

    In terms of what Cora DuBois said, she's mainly wrong when it comes to Philosophy. Read most of the important philosophers throughout history and they weren't interested in being concise. They were more interested in being as complete as possible, dealing with a lot of sides of the philosophical questions they were addressing, and not afraid to go into the weeds and thorns and subtleties. They weren't writing for an Internet audience with microcosmic attention spans. James Joyce wasn't afraid to use a lot of words, nor was Dickens. Sometimes, long descriptions are artful, sometimes they're philosophically and intellectually necessary.
    Landrum Kelly likes this.
  12. I don't agree. Long-windedness is not the least of the problems with this forum. Look at the page-long posts, if you doubt me.

    I can't see how my post has any connection to contemplating one's navel except that it mentions it.

    And I was directly addressing the problem of why people so often get tired of this forum
    Moving On likes this.
  13. I’ve not only looked at them. I’ve actually read them, and with interest. Many of the long posts here throughout the years have come from people sorting through and carefully deliberating complex ideas.

    There are plenty of diverse forums and needs and wants on PN. Casual Conversations can sometimes get long posts but more often are kept to briefer and more casual discussions. Makes sense that a Philosophy of Photography forum would garner longer, more complex, and often more thoughtful posts.

    Philosophy (and the Philosophy of any particular subject) is not for everyone, nor should it be. But Philosophy is not a chit chat and no one should mistake it for that. I’m kind of glad that Philosophy has generally been an exclusive club, both here and elsewhere. It’s enabled the frequent posters to this forum to get to know each other and take on some interesting subjects over the years in depth. Not everything is better served by being of interest to the Internet masses. As a matter of fact, I’d say that in general and of course with important exceptions, things that don’t appeal to the masses have often been much more worth my time and effort than things that do, though it can be a balancing act since I am drawn to aspects of pop culture. Philosophy is generally not pop culture, though it can have a lot to say about it.
  14. I have to confess that I have also read the posts, although I give up on this forum on occasion (like so many others).

    I'm sincerely happy that you find the forum rewarding. The question of why there are so few of you is an altogether different question.

    I'm going away again now for a while, and I am sure that will please you.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2018
  15. It doesn't please or displease me since you've not, to my memory, contributed a lot here. When you've contributed thoughts on a Philosophy of Photography topic, as I recall, just as your thoughts elsewhere on various photographic topics, they're usually worth reading. I have less affinity for your thoughts about others' writing styles or the amount of words they use.
  16. "I'm going away again now for a while, and I am sure that will please you" JDM..

    Not me.

    I will never understand why folks get so upset by a few words.
  17. And that really is the problem folks take words too hard and personal.

    Words of forums are seen like a death from a thousand cuts. However, the death of a thousand word cuts, is just in the mind. Why would you care a monkeys

    You will be alive tomorrow and up in time to eat your breakfast;) That simple to understand.
    mikemorrell likes this.
  18. Excellently, or rather, very concisely put.
  19. Moving On?
    It’s more a matter of tedium than having one’s feelings hurt......
  20. " It’s more a matter of tedium than having one’s feelings hurt...…"moving on".

    Really, do we both believe that. Free speech tedious or otherwise....perhaps I'm more of a believer in the great Democracy of America than yourselves.
    Although it is very popular, among yourselves, to slag your country off..

Share This Page