Reality vs Vision

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by dwphoto|1, Oct 8, 2009.

  1. Should photographers strive to accurately represent reality or to offer others their individual interpretation of that reality?
     
  2. Can photographers strive to accurately represent reality?
     
  3. Tom's question is right.
    Or differently put: which reality?
     
  4. Douglas,
    Your question presupposes that it’s even vaguely possible to accurately represent reality in a photographic medium. More to the point, it implies that a certain traditional “documentary” photographic style is somehow superior to all others.
    When you realize that every simple choice the photographer makes, from the camera to the lens to the aperture and shutter setting and all the way through the paper used for printing, will (potentially) radically alter the final result in ways far more significant than what most people do in Photoshop, you’ll start to become a photographer instead of a button-pushing recipe follower.
    Not to mention, of course, that even the most advanced photograph is a tiny and very inaccurate projection of a vast multi-dimensional scene….
    Cheers,
    b&
     
  5. Douglas, sorry, my first reaction was not exactly polite maybe. But my point is: can you seperate reality from a vision?
    Do you believe there is one reality? Can there be, if people disagree on politics, art, which aperture to use for landscapes, which NBA team is better and so on? Isn't your reality a result of your vision, and likewise mine?
    The picture you take is from what you saw, and what you interpret as being the reality. But it's your reality; I might see other things there and consequently take another picture. What we see and how we see it is a direct offspring of our vision and imagination. We perceive it as reality, but it's just one of many realities. So you cannot do anything but give a individual interpretation.
    Ben's pointing at the same, though his conclusion that this is eventually the difference between a photographer or a button-pushing recipe follower might be a bit much (for me at least).
     
  6. Can photographers strive to accurately represent reality? --Ton​
    Yes, I think they can. And I say that fully aware of all the nuances and difficulties of defining "reality," especially some sort of objective and shared reality.
    I'm a big fan of considering perspective as very significant and thinking that much that we call reality is in fact contextual, cultural, and more changeable than we give it credit for.
    At the same time, when I say I took a picture of the Eiffel Tower everyone knows what I mean because of something we share. And when I show them a picture of the Eiffel Tower, though it may come from a million different angles with a million different weather conditions taken at all different times of the day, most people will recognize it as the Eiffel Tower. In that sense, my photo represents the Eiffel Tower. If I blur it or purposely move the camera so much that it becomes an abstract whose source is unrecognizable then I haven't represented the Eiffel Tower. There will be a "gradient," as Wouter so nicely put it in another thread, from how abstract to how representative my photo could be.
    Some photographers prefer to stick close to representing what they saw as objectively and universally as possible, as close to one end of the gradient or spectrum as possible.
    I believe that ethical photojournalists, some documentarians, good forensic photographers, and some artists and other photographers try to accurately represent reality. That is in keeping with my knowledge that everyone has biases and a perspective. It's MY job to keep in mind those potential biases and perspectives as a viewer and I temper what I see in the photo with that understanding, but I do understand that the photographers themselves (even if they operate with that same sort of knowledge) can strive to represent reality.
    I read no expression of one method being superior to the other in Douglas's question.
    Since "reality" is such a loaded word, I try to stay away from it when I talk and when I talk about photography. Nevertheless it's handy sometimes.
    I hope Phylo doesn't mind my quoting his recent encapsulation of some things about reality and photography from a recent thread. It's just below. It's pretty straightforward. That doesn't mean there aren't centuries of discussion with wildly varying accounts of the notion, but sometimes simplicity captures an awful lot of truth (I know, let's not get started on "truth").
    Often the reality I photograph is how I see and often it will vary quite a bit from how others would have seen it. Yet, unless I create a total abstract, there will be something represented that I don't mind calling real.
    "By reality I very much mean reality as the objective measure and state of things as they exist and are perceived by our senses, today, here and now. Scientific reality. An immediate descriptiveness rather then an immediate expressiveness. The laws of gravity are a fact of reality and they aren't subjective. By art I mean a notion of that reality, a concept within reality. Often idealized and romanticized, emphasized and psychologized. The scream by Edvard Munch gives us such a certain notion of reality, a powerful yet subjective awareness. Photographs can do that also, can be art. But photography as a medium has the consensus, rightfully so or not, of being more grounded to an objective descriptiveness of reality. Much more than painting, sculpture, music or poetry does . . . " --Phylo Daryin, Sept. 29, 2009
     
  7. This question on this forum will draw forth even more long discussions of the nature of reality and whether there is such a "thing" as objective reality before it's through. What is the meaning of is?

    I'll admit, I find some discussions on the philosophy forum annoying, but dang, this one may reach heights unreached since the Clinton Impeachment. :)
    [small boy with stick wonders what that papery globe in the tree is]
     
  8. JDM--
    When a particular thread is uninteresting to me, I stay away from it. That's because I appreciate that others may find stimulating what I find annoying. Even more so, I appreciate that expressing my annoyance in an unconstructive flyby is even more annoying than the original annoyance of the conversation I could have chosen to skip in the first place.
     
  9. Fred,
    Who said it was "uninteresting"? I certainly didn't. Moreover, I didn't even say it was annoying, although it is beginning to become so with such a typical defensive response.
    I note from other forums in which you have participated that, in fact, you don't always "stay away" from things that annoy you, nor would I ask you to. In fact, if you look at my postings, this is one of a relatively few recent postings that I have made on this forum, for the very reason that discussions here tend to devolve into long and heated arguments. I don't mind the heat, but the length is sometimes a little much.
    Some of you are too easy to annoy. That's the real trouble. In a strict sense, I wouldn't myself consider my response to be "unconstructive," but rather a bit of teasing. Otherwise, I wouldn't have put in the emoticon. It will be a sad day in which we can't even tease each other a little from time to time. If the emoticon wasn't enough, then I will apologize and stay away while you all duke it out.
     
  10. Photographs don't represent reality they are reality; a genuine physical piece of reality itself.
    The realness of photographs is particular stunning because they are generated by a physical sample of subject matter travelling across space, penetrating a sensitive surface, and causing marks to form in it. The pattern of marks is the picture, the photograph .
    A photograph is a certificate for the existence of its subject matter.
    The existence of a piece of subject matter is a precondition for the possibility of a photograph.
    A photograph and its subject must both exist simultaneously in each others presence for a photograph to be possible.
    At the moment of exposure the sensitive surface becomes heavier. This increase in weight comes only from the subject which concedes an exact same loss in weight.
    The fact that photographs are generated by real things interacting one on another does not guarantee that the casual observer will correctly identify subject matter. Consider how many real photographs of real floating logs can be labelled Loch Ness Monster.
    Conspicuously, the qualities of a photograph which irrevocably link it reality do not apply to paintings, drawings, or pictures generated in a digital electronic environment.
     
  11. There is no “should”. The photographer does what s/he, individually, has to do – and it's different for each one.
     
  12. Do you believe there is one reality?
    YES, there is 1 reality ... always has been
    ... because people allow their prejudice, bias, self-centeredness, self-interest, mis-information, superstition, greed, fear, anger, or any other human blindness to filter this reality ... we differ inter-rater in the description of reality.
    Groups can band together and voice their viewpoint in unison, they can kill others who disagree, we can flood the media with our version ... we can even give the Nobel prize to reward unison with our views. Doesn't change the reality in any way.
    There is 1 reality ... 1 truth.
     
  13. When you realize that every simple choice the photographer makes, from the camera to the lens to the aperture and shutter setting and all the way through the paper used for printing, will (potentially) radically alter the final result in ways far more significant than what most people do in Photoshop, you’ll start to become a photographer instead of a button-pushing recipe follower.
    As photographers ...
    We are so bold as to work and strain to bend the reality and capture something that best meets our version of reality. And, if all else fails, and reality makes it's way to our sensor ... there is always Photoshop.
     
  14. [Ton] "Can photographers strive to represent reality?"
    Yes, one can, but it's a quixotic quest, even for the well-traveled postcard photographer.
    " I mean, what if I said that every photograph I made was set up? From the photograph, you can't prove otherwise. You don't know anything from the photograph about how it was made, really. But every photograph could be set up. If one could imagine it, one could set it up."
    and..." In the end, maybe the correct language would be how the fact of putting four edges around a collection of information or facts transforms it. A photograph is not what was photographed, it's something else." --- Garry Winogrand
    [Maris Rusis] "Photographs don't represent reality they are reality; a genuine physical piece of reality itself. The realness of photographs is particular stunning because they are generated by a physical sample of subject matter travelling across space, penetrating a sensitive surface, and causing marks to form in it."
    This is largely untrue. there are no physical samples of subject matter entering the camera or the eye -- from non-luminous subjects. What does are echoes of the physical subject in the form of photons bouncing off the surface of the subject.
    [Maris] "At the moment of exposure the sensitive surface becomes heavier. This increase in weight comes only from the subject which concedes an exact same loss in weight."
    That is a mistaken assumption.
    Rubbings, prints made directly from objects, scultures made from casts of objects, and ready-mades are a lot closer to reality than photographs.
    JDMVW: Thank you for descending to our pit to proclaim your superiority once more. :) Is there any possibility you will someday show us instead of just telling us about it? Relax, I'm just teasing.
     
  15. There is 1 reality ... 1 truth.
    I disagree. So there are two truths already.
    To say there is one truth or one reality will get very close to a semi-religious discussion. Whether you interpret this one reality as a Platonic idea, God, the Matrix or a shared consciousness, stating it exists means believing it exists. Since there is no way one can prove it exists. Even not circumstancial or purely theoretical. You simply cannot know it for sure. So rather than stating there is one reality, I'd say some people belief there is one reality.
    One step further on that. It is also quite typical for humans to assume that our sensory experiences and the way our brains handle them implicate a correctness. So our eyes, sensitive to a part of the wave spectrum, and the way our brain translates it (making 523nm orange) would be correct. Except when you're colourblind. And what our ears can capture (~20 to ~20k Hz, depending on age) are real sounds. Except that a dog can hear more sounds that are equally real to that species.
    Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy may seem a lot of fun, but at least he had the notion that maybe humans were not the most intellegent species on earth, or the ones at the top of foodchain. And he might be true there - we simply don't know? The movie The Matrix played with that same idea - what if we're all just being played like puppets in a huge theatre?
    Now I'm not suggesting we "loose our humanity" here or some silly notion like that, but in discussion on truth, reality and the essence of things, in my view it's good to be humble and realise that we, as humankind, could be all wrong. So try to steer clear from the absolutes. Though they make a great way to start discussion :)
     
  16. Food fight. Oh boy!
    I thought only Leica's accurately represented reality?
    Back to the original question, I think both religion and philosophy point us as human beings towards an attempt to understand what is reality... but in the end, being less than perfect we each come away with our own version of reality (the blind men and the elephant being one good example, or Plato's example of the men in the cave another). My son's experience with brain cancer and recovery from surgery made me aware of just how little our eyes really capture reality and how much the brain processing that information results in the 'image' we think we see. It seems we only 'see' what we 'know' - a good example is soldiers in camoflage uniforms hiding in the woods. When first confronting that, they seem invisible, but when taught to recognize the patterns, they stand out quite well.
    I absolutely do not believe in absolutes, at least within our existence here. Check back with me when I am no longer here, and perhaps I'll have an update.
     
  17. I disagree. So there are two truths already.
    Actually that was my point. There is only one truth ... and 2 (and likely many more) descriptions based on all the skewing factors I mentioned in my post. Because we disagree, lends absolutely 0 credibility to the 2 truth philosophy ... that is just cowardice and laziness. The truth is out there ... we simply have to be willing to seek and challenge (ourselves & others).
    Today, the sun in south Florida is hot. My thermometer says it's 92F, yours may say 93F. One or both of our thermometers is right/wrong, instead of saying there is no true temperature, let's figure out the real answer.
     
  18. The possible existence of truth aside for the moment, which of these seekers that we seem to have defined here is the more successful. Now, I realize that I have to provide some guidelines with this group, so let's put it this way:
    Given that there are some photographers who believe they seek a truthful reality in their images, and some photographers who believe they desire to communicate a more personal view.
    Are those photographers who seek to accurately depict reality the more successful.
    or
    Are those photographers who share their personal vision of reality the more successful.
    Success is defined as either commercial success, or success through critical acclaim, or both.
     
  19. Douglas Weldon [​IMG], Oct 08, 2009; 03:28 p.m.
    Should photographers strive to accurately represent reality or to offer others their individual interpretation of that reality?
    Douglas, being a product of Dr. Timothy Leary, Andy Warhol , L.Ron Hubbard et al, I could come back with a nifty little quip like "What is reality?", but in the spirit of your post, I strive to create photographs that people want to look at, and feel different than before they saw my work.
    Maybe happier, maybe sadder, but different. I want to give them something other than a pretty picture.
    In a strange way though, we all have our own ideas about what reality is, so it really comes down to interpretation, so maybe my original comment has some validity.
    Bill P.
     
  20. Thomas, because we disagree you do not have to tell me I am wrong. I simply do not agree with your "1 truth" idea, period. Repeating "there is only one" is not going to convince me. Calling me coward and lazy is also not very impressive line of reasoning, and on the edge of impolite. So let's leave it at this and agree to disagree.
    Douglas,
    Better question now it's bit more defined :)
    I think it depends on the type of photography which one will yield the biggest chance of success:
    - A photojournalist depicting facts with as little as possible personal influence in the picture would do his job right.
    - A photographer aiming for art pictures should, in my opinion, certainly include a personal vision.
    The lines between those are never that strict, of course, but only to indicate that each approach has its value and place, and that each could be a way to success.
     
  21. It doesn't matter if there's one or ten thousand realities, we will photograph only what we're ready to see at that moment, and the great undiscovered ocean(s) of truth (Truth, and untruth) will do just fine without us.
     
  22. The reality IMO is very big, ambivalent, heterogenious thing which, probably don't need to be represented and there hardly is anybody who would like to have it represented at all. Basically because there is so much of it instantly available to behold anywhere.
    Not to mention it is seldom enjoyable or intertaining.
    But photographers are strange lot and some of them take calls for the ultimate. Even go beyond that.
    So, if someone will pop-up a good photographic ROR, we will be willing to take a look.
    Striving is really a part of reality and if you are to strive, strive you do.
    Offering of our personal interpritation of reality is what we basically all do all the time and there seems to be no way out of it.
    The IR, however nonreal it might seem to be, is, sadly, a part of reality anyway.
    Human boundary, so to say. :-[
    Just to be on the safe side, suggest the interpretations. They usually banal but can be usefull, even profitable. True representations on the other hand are hard to make and often left without much appreciation.
     
  23. Calling me coward and lazy is also not very impressive line of reasoning, and on the edge of impolite.
    Wasn't calling you anything ... simply engaging in conversation. What I said was that the multiple truth (there is no truth) philosophy is lazy and cowardly. The "everybody" is right idea is a way to avoid real probing & discussion to find TRUTH.
    What I think we agree on is that people see the truth through their own eyes ... and are apt to disagree, and maybe irreparably so. I am simply saying that ... because we see things differently, is a ridiculous reason to believe that there is no truth.
    Douglas;
    If you are shooting documentary, you should make every attempt to present reality as best you can (it will be skewed to some extent by YOU though). When shooting ART ... shoot and alter whatever YOU want for whatever intent YOU want. People will then see it and interpret it in the way that THEY want.
     
  24. It is a misunderstanding that documentary has been about realism. Not since the days of Jacob Riis and Flaherty has it been so.
     
  25. May I kindly ask the apologists of "multiple truth"/ "multiple reality" to explain what is ment by this term?
    Is it not easy to assume there is only one with many aspects?
     
  26. Sweeping topic. Photography, since the time when Matthew Brady we knew made some alteration in his Civil War photographs has, to my mind, -even so- presented a greater reality than existed before then,so the answer is yes we can if we want to. I am thinking that Holbein, who had no camera, instinctively knew where his bread was buttered. And we don't get monarchs with double chins. The Crimean War was depicted with an agenda for public consumption, although I don't know that gravure was out at the time.
    Defining terms is always a tough exercise. I won't try because I can't do it without help.
    I was just lately watching an old murder mystery film by the master storyteller, Alfred Hitchcock. Called "Shadow of a Doubt." Takes place in a wartime setting of a sleepy Santa Rosa, California. The whole film is beautifully designed to "lift the curtain" on the "reality " behind the facade. I am tipping my hand I suppose. I think a photographer or cinematographer has to move beyond " reality" into the realm of imagination and representation. Representation of the whole by the single frame or the single film cut. Incidentally, try to rent this beautifully filmed black and white movie if you can, admirable opus for 70 year old flic. So I will let those who want reality have it if they like,thank you.. ("Reality TV"= Oxymoron of course.) gs
     
  27. Another thought comes to mind. When you get into a car accident, an appraiser looks at the dented fender. Then takes a photo for his or her file. On this mundane level, would anyone not agree that it is a true representation of reality. In a courtroom, a photo is admissable as evidence. Only, of course, if the provenance is established. So I guess maybe the answer is yes. On a mundane level.
     
  28. Ilia, what I mean by that is: there is no "one reality" and "one truth" from which others are derived. So two things can be contradicting and both true. For many things in daily life, this is an unneccessarily complex approach, of course. A chair is a chair, a camera a camera (well, even there discussion is possible). We can agree on many things in this world being what we agree on they are. Or we might all be terribly wrong on that; either way, there is a generic concensus on many things, and I do not deny that.
    To me a tree is large, to an elephant it may be not that large. What's true? The viewpoint of the beholder always severly influences what is considered true and real. But where does it stop having a beholder?
    And, extending that notion of one truth all the way, it means in the end, there is only one thing true. So ultimately, having reached that pinnacle of thoughts, so to speak, there is no discussion. No doubt. No disagreement. One single truth means one ultimately correct version. That, to me, is the point where it goes wrong. It is too absolute, too divine, and to me it feels like it justifies a supremacy card that can be played in discussions about religion, philosophy and the like. For me, the key to gaining knowledge is doubt, and one truth does ultimately away with doubt. It ends an process which I belief to be endless.
    Thomas makes it appear as if those of us who do not belief in a single truth, shy away from a quest for knowledge, insight and understanding. At least, I belief that is the lazy bit. That is of course not the case. All I do is always, at any point, leave a door open to have multiple views on a subject being both right (which in a single truth scenario is impossible).
    So Thomas is not wrong, but to me not right either. In my view, this is perfectly possible. If there is only one truth, one of us is wrong. Could very well be me, at which point, I'll have to gratefully admit a life full of wrong assumptions. But for now, for me, the idea of a single truth and a single reality clashes with way too much other assumptions.
     
  29. Thanks, Wouter. I would agree with your point of view.
     
  30. I find it interesting that no one has introduced the concept of the paradox in which both those who believe in one truth AND those who believe in multiple truths may be correct. As for me, I believe in the absoluteness of a multiple pursuit -- the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Would not most of us agree that even those works of art which would not be considered beautiful in the common sense -- say, many of Picasso's works during his Blue Period, are, in reality, Beautiful? I believe that the finest works of photojournalism and the finest of works of photographic art equally encompass this multiple pursuit.
     
  31. Probably because such an all encompasing paradox has no practical value. It is nor method nor instrument but a termination of reasoning. Leaving one in position where the accept or rejection of anything are similar and of zero value. Say, it is not cretive.
     
  32. ( Fred, no I don't mind at all that you quoted me from the other thread ). While a distinction can be made between the two I think it "should" be reality and vision, not reality vs vision. When they are investigated to the full both of them share the same token, the strive for our human experience to reach an apex of awareness.
    I think nearly every artist continually wants to reach the edge of nothingness, the point were you can't go any further
    Harry Callahan
    Replace the word artist with scientist and the truth of the quote holds up unchanged, as there's no philosophical difference behind the striving of the two. Smashing atoms or mixing paint. What makes photography so perplexingly interesting is that it can involve the purposes of both.
    Should photographers strive to accurately represent reality or to offer others their individual interpretation of that reality ?​
    Photographers should strive to be photographers.
    http://www.mocp.org/exhibitions/2005/08/taryn_simon_the.php
     
  33. "Should photographers strive to accurately represent reality or to offer others their individual interpretation of that reality?"
    Well, I keep telling reality to freeze and fit into a rectangle. It laughs and moves on.
     
  34. Right on! Phylo's Callahan quote and Ted's comment are beginning to put a spin on this discussion!
     
  35. My buddy majored in philosophy and he would laugh at this discussion. Even philosophers can't figure out what reality is, nor where it begins and ends if it does exit. Now imagine an "artist" with a "camera" walking up the university bar where all the post-grads philosophers hang out. You need a PhD to come to the barstool...
    Anyway, this is from THEIR perspective, and is, of course, completely separate from what our concerns and questions might be as "Togs"...
    What about Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which talks about scientists trying to view the elusive electron and other subatomic items: They are so small, that once you shine a light on them (or other method to see them) you actually move them by that act, and so it's impossible to tell both the location and velocity at that level.
    One would think that it would be impossible to capture reality, because by capturing it with your lurking and clicking, shuffling and snapping, chair-climbing and panning, you're changing it. Or maybe after the wine is served, nobody really notices at all...
    (And electrons don't drink wine.)
     
  36. Tim,
    Well, I keep telling reality to freeze and fit into a rectangle. It laughs and moves on.​
    Very nice. Be glad it laughs ;-)
    Ed, kind of funny to bring up quantum mechanics.
    Photography is all about light. And light is.... uhm, yeah, uhm... A bit of wave, a bit of energy and a bit behaving like mass....
    Our most important input to take a photo in the first place, and that's already something that's hard to define, multi-faceted and showing a different aspect whenever the scientists call on it. So, yeah, we discuss reality and try to paint with light...just crossing science's biggest mysteries, as a hobby :)
    But one question: what's more important in this discussion? The discussion itself or the answers? Even if PhD philosophers have trouble with it, should that make us stop discussing? I sure hope not, for me it's all about provoking the brain and make it do what it's designed to do: think.
    (by the way, I've met quite some philosophy students, and was rather unimpressed by them often enough. Many of them can understand what others have said before, but to me, philosophy has more to do with standing on the shoulder of giants and look further, than with looking at the giants themselves. Not all studies get the aspect of stimulating a investigative and creative mind very right. But that aside).
    Phylo,
    Photographers should strive to be photographers.​
    Sounds intriguing, but also screams for definition. Is a photographer somebody who operates the camera, or somebody who uses a photocamera to "catch" images as he sees them? Would make quite a difference, I'd say.
     
  37. Wouter,
    When considering the threads original question, I simply think photographers should strive to be photographers, meaning by this that photography is both about reality and an interpretation of reality.
     
  38. OK, clear, understand. To me, it wasn't exactly clear how to interpret it. Thanks for the clarification.
     
  39. As someone said, a piece of rock is truth and so is a piece of sculpture. There is no single reality (as physicists and mystics, both will attest) so art is an artist's rendition of truth.
     
  40. The photographer brings order to reality and does not produce a replication of the visible - as stated by Walker Evans, "Reality is not totally real." More recently, Giorgio Morandi said, "I believe that nothing can be more abstract and unreal that what we actually see."
    What is missing in the discussions of reality, and is central to photography, is the idea put forth by Walker Evans that, "The secret of photography is, the camera takes on the character and personality of the handler. The mind works the machine."
    Do you want blind reproductions, a "true copy" of reality with no message other than, perhaps, decorative appeal - and revealing precisely nothing?
    Reality is unstructured with no ready-made meanings. It is the photographer who finds, among the infinite possibilities, a single image to transform the visible and the invisible structures into a coherent, aesthetically organized whole.
    The image is bounded by a frame, the world is not. When the photographer chooses to put a frame around the visible, it is no longer reality, as the very act of selecting the subject liberates it from its ties to reality. The photographer is attempting to make the visible more than evidence, but a statement.
    The photographer must realize and understand that when you choose a particular view, with a specific focal length lens, and put your camera in its final position - when you trip the shutter, reality has been radically changed into two dimensions, bounded by the frame you've chosen, and liberated (or literally ripped away from) the time and space in which it existed.
    In another way, this has to do with a science concept and something I've never clearly quantified for myself - which is "observer bias." In science, when testing is being conducted, observer bias is only looking for results or behaviors you are expecting while ignoring or failing to notice those you're not expecting. In photography, you may extend that to making images of the subject you expect to make (your ingrained reality) - while ignoring (or not seeing) the alternative images (realities) available.
    Since photographs often have a subliminal stream of ideas, emotions, and memories - are Cindy Sherman's images less real because she chooses to invent the reality she is photographing?
    The image is a vehicle for meaning in its own right - beyond the simplistic task of representation. In painting, this was formalized by Cezanne who said that an artistic picture can no longer be a replica of reality, but must (in Cezanne's words) - "…create a parallel reality, which conforms to the particular laws of the medium."
    If you study Robert Frank's work it is the radical subjectivity of his images that prompted Jack Kerouac to write, "To Robert Frank, I now give this message: You got eyes." Are Frank's images literal translations of reality? No - they're subjective interpretations of what he was seeing.
     
  41. What is missing in the discussions of reality, and is central to photography, is the idea put forth by Walker Evans that, "The secret of photography is, the camera takes on the character and personality of the handler. The mind works the machine."
    Do you want blind reproductions, a "true copy" of reality with no message other than, perhaps, decorative appeal - and revealing precisely nothing?​
    Yes, but this idea put forth by Evans must be seen in context that, for Walker Evans, photography's greatest potential as a form of art was precisily it's ability for recording fact. Looking outward instead of inward. In contrast to the Stieglitz school Evans was after the artistic potential of descriptive photography, as he saw it in the work of Atget. Evans was going after an impersonal style, marked by an " intensity of vision ", " recording with the studied indifference of an archaeologist, stripping the image of any pictorial rhethoric that would instruct the viewer how to feel. " What Evans recognized though was that this in itself also was a form of rhetoric, a style.
    http://www.artbook.com/0870700324.html
     
  42. "... for Walker Evans, photography's greatest potential as a form of art was precisily it's ability for recording fact."​
    Yet, Evans did a lot to change the facts to fit his personal viewpoint, including radically cropping the image after it was taken. In some cases he physically rearranged objects within a scene to better state his personal ideas of what the "facts" should illustrate. The idea that Evans was the master documentarian and recorder of untouched "facts" is an idea that is not true.
    However, none of that contradicts the truth of Evans statement that the "mind controls the machine." If you understand the meaning of that statement, then you have to understand that a photograph is an extension of the mind controlling the machine and how that mind perceives its own self-defined reality.
     
  43. I think I did understand the meaning of the statement, and I don't disagree with it, but the statement must be understood in context if it's used to illustrate anything about Walker Evans' personal view or main idea towards photography on the subject of " reality vs vision". A personal view he held about photography's greatest potential being its factual descriptiveness, a view also strived after at the time when he was at his most mature point as a photographer. ( The book I linked to is a good read and deals quite extensively with this, with " Reality vs Vision " in photography and how it was approached by different photographers throughout history, from Atget to Evans to Frank to Friedlander,...)
     
  44. I don't see anything in Evan's statement that needs to be viewed only within the context of his work - in fact, I never brought up Evans work, only his statement about the mind controlling the machine. Do you think the statement is true or not - regardless of Evans or his work? Would it have made a difference in your reaction to the statement if I said a friend of mine, Bob Smith once said....? You seem to be having a reaction to the statement because it's attributed to Evans - let's get past the point that he made the statement and made photographs - and examine the thought behind it which has a truth contained in it no matter what kind of photographs you make.
    Because a mind is controlling the machine - is there not a reflection of that mind in the photograph? If there is, then the only reality in the photograph can be the one that the mind controlling the machine sees as its own personal reality.
     
  45. You may be able to compare it to being a news reporter. If your article is not intended for the opinion section, then you should attempt to present the news as is, as un-biased as possible, but otherwise put a spin on it and let it represent how you feel about the subject.
    I would say it depends on your audience.
     
  46. You may be able to compare it to being a news reporter. If your article is not intended for the opinion section, then you should attempt to present the news as is, as un-biased as possible, but otherwise put a spin on it and let it represent how you feel about the subject. I would say it depends on your audience.​
    If you can find a news source that is not biased through specifically including and omitting chosen pieces of information - please point me at that source.
    With personal, creative, photography - the audience has little, if anything to do with what you put into the photograph. My personal work has nothing in common with news reportage versus the opinion section. Everything I do includes my personal view of the subject matter, from the moment it is selected through making the final print.
    The simple act of selecting what you're going to photograph - by choice alone - elevates that subject above all of the other things you've chosen not to photograph. You're making the statement that in your opinion, that subject is worth your consideration, and if you can communicate that reason visually - then you've made that subject worthy of other people's consideration.
     
  47. I never brought up Evans work, only his statement about the mind controlling the machine. Do you think the statement is true or not -​
    Obviously there's a mind controlling the machine but that doesn't necessarily mean that the consciousness of the mind is being expressed through the use of the machine and in the resulting photograph, if that was not the minds/photographers goal in itself, like with Evans. But true, who's work or his own opinions of it isn't relevant per se in this discussion.
    Because a mind is controlling the machine - is there not a reflection of that mind in the photograph? If there is, then the only reality in the photograph can be the one that the mind controlling the machine sees as its own personal reality.​
    Not necessarily.But what is always there in the photograph, as a direct consequence of a mind controlling the machine, is the intention of the mind rather then a reflection of it. A shown intention of the mind doesn't necessarily shows us a reflection of that mind, if at all. And in photography the intention can relate as much - and only - to the descriptive language inherent to the medium, with the photograph being a " reflection of reality ", as it can relate to the expressive language of the mind, with the photograph being a " reflection of the mind ". I do agree that it can be possible that : "the only reality in the photograph can be the one that the mind controlling the machine sees as its own personal reality." But I disagree with the premise to that conclusion, as I also read the conclusion then in that there's no possibility of an actual reality ( the state of things as they actually exist ) to be shown in the photograph.
     
  48. Isn't there something valuable to be learned by putting a quote in the context of who said it? If Evans makes a claim about photographs but his work shows something very different, it may say a lot about the quote. Some quotes sound good on paper, but if the ideas aren't embodied in actual photographs, then they may only work in the abstract and not in practice, possibly making the quote of limited use. I think if a quote is belied by someone's own practice, it's well worth at least considering that. The quote may work in the context of others' work, and that should also be taken into account. What I'm saying is that many things sound good . . . and that's about it.
    "The secret of photography is, the camera takes on the character and personality of the handler." --Walker Evans
    I have no trouble squaring Evans's quote, which I like, with there being a distinction -- what the OP is asking about -- among various degrees of adherence to representations of reality by different photographers. It's not a question I often concern myself with, but it comes up often enough for a reason.
    The Evans quote is true, has merit, and shows great insight. Nevertheless, our having an effect on the outcome, perspective, and character of a photograph doesn't preclude knowing what we mean when we talk about representing reality and being able to strive toward that.
    I can safely say that a forensic photographer strives (a key word in the OP) to represent reality more than some others. I can also twist that and say even the most manipulative photographer is representing reality (his reality.) I may recognize that the forensic photographer still has a perspective and a bias and makes photographic choices. But his choices will usually favor representing straightforwardly what he sees. That has meaning and is not undermined by the Evans quote.
    Many other photographers, even ones who approach photography more aesthetically than forensic photographers, express a desire to accurately present what they see. Even if I know some of their character and personality are imbued in the photograph, I also know what they mean and I can distinguish between photographers who strive to do that and photographers who don't.
     
  49. I believe it is useful to study some aspects of perceived reality to understand the complexity of the question. One important aspect is physiologically based. When a typical human observes a scene, the mind assembles a composite picture composed of many sub-pictures; one's overall field of view is about 190 degrees wide; however, of this 190 degrees less than 1/100th is sharp at any instant in time.

    Within the sharp, "instantaneous" (maybe 1/10 sec) field of view, dynamic range is limited to not many stops (maybe 4?). However, if you allow time enough for your eye's iris to adjust, a few stops can be added....your brain will then assemble a high dynamic range version of the physical image.

    Which of these "realities" would you like to record or represent?
    http://www.newarts.com/images/VermeerLadyWriting.jpg

    Vermeer's painting of a Lady Writing at an Open Window looks realistic at first glance. Look more closely - the painting's effective dynamic range is far beyond what can be seen with a blink of the eye. Still, I would call it a realistic painting as it likely is not far from what one would remember after observing the scene for a few seconds.

    Read up on "Human Vision"...
    Dave in Iowa
     
  50. Sorry, I did not understand how to post an image in the text of my above post. I repeat it here...
    I believe it is useful to study some aspects of perceived reality to understand the complexity of the question. One important aspect is physiologically based. When a typical human observes a scene, the mind assembles a composite picture composed of many sub-pictures; one's overall field of view is about 190 degrees wide; however, of this 190 degrees less than 1/100th is sharp at any instant in time.

    Within the sharp, "instantaneous" (maybe 1/10 sec) field of view, dynamic range is limited to not many stops (maybe 4?). However, if you allow time enough for your eye's iris to adjust, a few stops can be added....your brain will then assemble a high dynamic range version of the physical image.

    Which of these "realities" would you like to record or represent?
    http://www.newarts.com/images/VermeerLadyWriting.jpg

    Vermeer's painting of a Lady Writing at an Open Window looks realistic at first glance. Look more closely - the painting's effective dynamic range is far beyond what can be seen with a blink of the eye. Still, I would call it a realistic painting as it likely is not far from what one would remember after observing the scene for a few seconds.

    Read up on "Human Vision"...
    Dave in Iowa
    00UlDW-180825584.JPG
     
  51. I saw an interesting painting the other day - it was an old fashioned country lane with cottages on both sides. Down the centre the painter had painted a line of electricity poles..... I'm sure they would have come out had it been a photograph.
     
  52. Douglas,
    Should photographers strive to accurately represent reality or to offer others their individual interpretation of that reality?
    The first thing the photographer does is take a whole dimension away from reality. He makes a two dimensional image of a 3d-situation. And if that's not enough, he steals all the colors away, if he chooses so. Or he saturates the original colors. He was in a real situation with real smells, real wind or real rain, and he ends up with a flatten image of what (seemed to be) reality. An accurately representation is therefore impossible. Of course that depends on one's interpretation of 'accurately'.
     
  53. "Should photographers strive to accurately represent reality or to offer others their individual interpretation of that reality?"
    I think in answering that question one needs to make a distinction between a photographer (in the clinical sense) and an artist (who uses photography as a medium for their artistic expression), and of course between the two lies the photojournalism which, although claims to be an objective observer, cannot help but be governed by their own moral interpretation.
    Like Fred, I believe our interpretation of reality is guided by cultural forces (at least that's what I think he's suggesting) but also by social and historical influences as well. That's not to make one's reality any more significant or accurate than another's, but it is to say that the reality that surrounds us can, and is, interpreted subjectively (I'm not suggesting that I see the sky as black when in fact it's blue, and I'm not talking about surrealism either).
    So the reality we see around us can be photographed accurately but that doesn't mean we should strive to do so in a clinical/forensic way. I think we can present a photograph accurately in it's context but individually in it's composition. Our emotions or moods can influence the time of day we choose to photograph, capturing different angles and light. It can influence the level of editing we perform in the digital dark room. However, as observers of that work we can also interpret it differently and so the reality the photographer intended may vary from the reality the viewer interprets. Even photojournalism relies on the photographer's ethics and moral judgments to capture the 'story' that will make news and not necessarily the reality that exists in that scene.
    Forensic photography does capture reality in it's most accurate form (I use the term "accurate" as intended by the initial question posted by Douglas) however beyond that I don't see individual interpretation of reality as being any less accurate. The initial question posted suggests there is a generic 'holly grail' of reality a photographer should strive to achieve....I much rather subscribe to the view that individual interpretation or reality is what defines us as a photographer
     
  54. There is no "should". We all do what we want, the results are immensely varied. Calling a picture beautiful,
    soulful, artistic, ugly, haunting etc. are just subjective judgements. We take what we want - some may enjoy, others
    not. Enough of this philosophical claptrap!
     
  55. Enough of this philosophical claptrap!​
    Welcome to the Philosophy of Photography Forum. It's here for the claptrap....
     
  56. "Enough of this philosophical claptrap!"
    exactly what part of philosophy of photography forum dont you get george????
     
  57. bmm

    bmm

    I sometimes think we have these discussions upside down.
    Because we start with an assumption that it is the photographer who is the primary focus of the 'reality' vs 'interpretation' choice-continuum. My own view is that the end viewer is massively under-played in this discussion.
    To use the quote above, if a 'camera takes on the personality of the handler' then surely, largely, the 'image takes on the personality of the viewer'...
     
  58. I am enjoying your discussion here and I must say I don't find that on the other forums. Keep it up please!
    Let's have a look at what the ultimate searchers of reality have to say about it - of course I refer to nothing else as "science" .

    Biology : As Dave Martin has pointed out, the functioning of the human eye is special and gives a hint how the human creature cuts out parts of the outer world - intriguingly similar to cameras, like Dave said.
    On a more general note, there is the notion of Autopoiesis (self-creation) in biology as a denominator of any living creature (including grumpy men with cameras). This concept involves restriction of perception down to a few narrow channels, which allows the creature to reduce complexity of the outer world and finding a niche (a way) to exist.

    In that regard I could say yes there is one truth and I am perfectly happy with it - if I only hadn't read the damn science articles (not to mention the endless rabbiting in here :)

    [​IMG]
    The truth lies in the hands of the beholder

    To be continued with of course philosophy, gender studies, sociology, theology, art studies
    Greetings from Georg (beholder of the universal truth)
     
  59. Douglas Weldon [​IMG], Oct 08, 2009; 03:28 p.m.
    Should photographers strive to accurately represent reality or to offer others their individual interpretation of that reality?
    Perhaps neither. A lot of the discussion focusses on what is reality and limitations of its interpretation. A third possibility is to take reality or a mental or machine (camera) perception of reality as simply a starting point or a constraint and to construct something wholly different. Photography, like a painter's brush, palette and canvass, is a tool to create. No need to try to represent reality if what you wish to do is to create an image which communicates what you want to say to the world (or a part thereof). No need to be constrained by reality.​
     
  60. From my perspective I think an individual photographer should strive to do what is meaningful to them as an individual. If I understand the question as it was intended.

    For a "documentary photograph" in the purist sense of the word I would imagine a photographer would try to create the most pure view possible. They would exercise every opportunity to make the final image's portrayal of light (mimic [although impossible] the range of light we see by keeping shadows open and so on) and view (probably a 50mm lens if the camera is 35mm) come as close as possible to our ideas about what we see. I hope this makes sense - difficult at best to put into words because of the endless plasticity of words such as reality and so forth. Although a documentary photographer could just as easily manipulate many of these opportunities to get their point across whether or not they see their point of view as objective or subjective.

    It is certainly a great question to pose and for me as a photographer a photograph is never reality regardless of it's "purity". To me its always an interpretive language open with endless possibilities and this is why it has held my interest for so long. A teacher (where paragraph starts so the idea was) of mine said what he thought was most interesting was photography's ability to lie. This was long before PS and digital.

    Ansel Adams who many would consider conservative at least in his subject matter said, "The negative is the score and the print is the performance". If I look closely at his prints I find many of them highly interpretive from what was before the camera (to my experience) or how my eye sees. Often he would emphasize certain potential abstract qualities presented to him in the original scene through much darkroom manipulation. So for me anyway I always like to keep in mind a photograph is a 2 dimensional representation of a 3 dimensional reality at best. Depending on the image maker some photographers prints (and exposures) move different degrees from somewhat realistic to highly abstracted depending on their ideas, hopes or aspirations about which they want to present.
     
  61. I sometimes think we have these discussions upside down.
    Because we start with an assumption that it is the photographer who is the primary focus of the 'reality' vs 'interpretation' choice-continuum. My own view is that the end viewer is massively under-played in this discussion.To use the quote above, if a 'camera takes on the personality of the handler' then surely, largely, the 'image takes on the personality of the viewer' ...​
    I think this is an exceptional point, but would add the personality of the viewer at least in terms of looking at photographs can be altered as he or she learns more about the practice of looking at photographs say through formal education, individual study or even a practice such as meditation.
     

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