Relation of Photography and Reality - authors

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by ana_negri, May 14, 2015.

  1. Hello!
    I am working on my dissertation and need some authors that point that discussion: if photographs can be true or are an illusion.
    I would very much appreciate your help in naming serious authors, books, articles....
    Thanks in advance!
  2. A very practical approach to the language of photography is displayed by Andreas Feininger in Total Picture Control.
    A far more theoretical and philosophical author is Roswell Angier in his book Train Your Gaze which is mainly about portraiture, but covers many kinds of people photography.
    Good luck.
  3. Another good book to read, somewhat controversial but also insightful, is Susan Sontag's On Photography.
  4. Regarding books on the philosophy of photography, the most common recommendations include:
    • Camera Lucida - Reflections on Photography, by Roland Barthes
    • On Photography, by Susan Sontag
    • Classic Essays on Photography, edited by Alan Trachtenberg
    Of the three, Barthes seemed most relevant to me. He writes like I think. I found Sontag's book so dour and such a chore to read that I never finished it.
    Regarding truth and illusion, photographs are both. Among my many documentary photos of people I've come to know well, you could take any one out of context and conclude "I see from this photograph that this particular person is..." and assign some attributes based on your perception of that photograph. And it might be true, partially true or completely inaccurate - in terms of the nature of the subject of the photograph. But it would be very true in terms of the viewer's perceptions, because perceptions, emotions and impressions are always "true", even when based on misconceptions, illusions and lies.
  5. All photographs are true. No photograph tells the whole truth except about itself.

    You might want to read Stephen Shore's "The Nature of Photographs" and Robert Adams has done some good writing on
    this subject too , .
  6. One way to approach the topic is to visit the local law school and read the cases and texts that discuss admissibility of photographs in a court of law. (Google "admissibility of photographs in court" for a start). Central to the admissibility of the photograph is whether it is an accurate representation of the scene depicted in the photograph. By reading the discussions on when they are, and perhaps more importantly not admissible, the philosophical discussion is reduced to concrete examples. Such a discussion may be a good departure point for a broader discussion.
  7. By the way, if this is a serious dissertation and in some way related to philosophy, which it seems to be since it's about truth and illusion and also since you posted it in this forum, you might want to spend a little time considering whether a lot of notions of "truth" (photographic or otherwise) are actually illusions in themselves. It might be a bit of a quagmire, so it probably wouldn't be wise to spend a whole lot of time on it, but reading some stuff simply on different notions of truth might be both stimulating and helpful.
    HERE'S a very brief statement by Richard Rorty about pragmatism and Truth, which might get you started. And HERE'S a very brief article explaining Rorty a bit more. These are just shallow introductions. It's up to you whether further reading would be in order for your purposes. Since the article is brief, I will just share a bunch of it here, which includes some of Nietzsche's ideas, which I think can easily be related to photography:
    We need to make a distinction between the claim that the world is out there and the claim that truth is out there. To say that the world is out there, that is not our creation, is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do not include human mental states. To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human languages are human creations.
    Truth cannot be out there—cannot exist independently of the human mind—because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world in its own—unaided by the describing activities of human beings—cannot …
    The world does not speak. Only we do. The world can, once we have programmed ourselves with a language, cause us to hold beliefs. But it cannot propose a language for us to speak …
    It was Nietzsche who first explicitly suggested that we drop the whole idea of ‘knowing the truth’. But in abandoning the traditional notion of truth, Nietzsche did not abandon the idea of discovering the causes of our being what we are … In his view, in achieving this sort of self-knowledge we are not coming to know a truth which was out there (or in here) all the time. Rather, he saw self-knowledge as self-creation. The process of coming to know oneself, confronting one’s contingency, tracking one’s causes home, is identical with the process of inventing a new language … So the only way to trace home the causes of one’s being as one is would be to tell a story about one’s causes in a new language …​
    Photos may not tell truths as much as they tell stories, many creative ones inventing new visual languages and revealing the photographer's own self-creation.
  8. Indeed, the nature of truth is itself a thorny philosophical issue, Ana. If you are attempting to address your OP within this context, you may wish to research different theories of truth. Fred provided you with a jump-start for your research. Here's a link to a set of articles in Stanford University's online encyclopedia of philosophy.
    At this point, I suggest you consider that photographs can be (and a lot are, in fact) representational and highly "realistic." Others, such as many of the abstract images you can view on this site, may lack such characteristics. It therefore is possible to view photographs of the first type as "true" (your word) and those of the second type as "an illusion." In my opinion, though, this distinction may be unhelpful given the multifaceted purposes of photography.
  9. Hmm. Ellis' world seems to be rather 2-dimensional to me :) For the rest I agree with him.
  10. You should look at, and read about, the work of Marcel Duchamp. He beautifully got to the heart of the matter by taking a printed drawing of a pipe and writing under it (in French) "this is not a pipe" i.e. its a lithograph of a drawing of a pipe.
  11. "this is not a pipe"​
    Rene Magritte was the author of this work.
  12. Dear all,
    thank you very much for all the responses. I will take some time going through your recommendations.
    Sorry not to have mentioned at the beginning that it is a dissertation on Photography, but as it is a topic 'thinking' about photography I found a better place under Philosophy, than any other. Everything is helpful. Thanks again.
  13. As usual, Fred G. has great insight. I remember a conversation with Ansel Adams from many years ago that photographs are made between the ears and the camera is only the device that makes it possible for others to see them.
  14. Ana:
    Do not forget that photography has very broad spectrum of intentions and aplications. Scientific photography is helping to record (ex.archeology) and/or explore (study of the universe, Huble telescope) our reality.
  15. Ana: I wish you well on your dissertation. It might help for you to keep in mind that philosophical issues arise in connection with many disciplines (if not all) and with many genres of art. Before physics, before psychology, before photography - there was philosophy.
  16. Ana, it might be helpful to let us know a little more specifics of what you're looking for. Can you narrow it a bit...this is a broad subject...
  17. +1 for Sontag's "On Photography"
  18. And for something less abstract and dense but no less important, some fiction of only a few pages to get you in the mood for deeper analysis, might I suggest Italo Calvino's "The Adventure of a Photographer". It is on the web, in the open domain, and can be found here:
    I wrote a blog post giving my take on this story - and what it tells me about photography and finding signals in noise - a start to finding 'truth' (whatever that is). It can be found here:
  19. The reality is what you see, consider to be real, and sometimes photograph. It may not be so for others, friends or not. Real can be implied in a photograph, notwithstanding its 2D, instantaneous capture and and other limitations.
    I like Barthe's book as well, and had the same problem as some others with Sontag's.
    Good luck. It is apparently a cyclical rather than a linear or Cartesian consideration.
  20. In addition to the texts Lex listed you might check Henri van Lier: "Philosophy of Photography", it's a bit academic ("Photographs are therefore fragments of reality within the (double) frame of the real.") - but may provide some different perspective than the canonical sources (like "On photography").

    Other interesting reading may be "The reflexive Photographer": "by taking photo after photo, I come closer to truth and reality at the very intersection of the fragmentary nature of the world and my own personal sense of time.", Daido Moriyama

    On a lighter note:
    "Art = the lie that tells the truth.
    Art history: the truth about the lie.
    Aesthetics = the truth that the lie about the truth is the truth.",
    Nein Quarterly
  21. Photograph may not tell the whole truth but All photographs are true.
    You might want to read John Freeman's "Photo Graphy"
  22. "Photos may not tell truths as much as they tell stories, many creative ones inventing new visual languages and revealing the photographer's own self-creation"
    An element of truth always exists in a photograph it is not a pure imaginative construction but has a strong element of visual recording. It often has its own imaginative/reality truth where the photographer is just a bystander....the photographers understanding is little different from the viewer.
    A photograph often takes a life on its own as it shakes hands with imagination and reality to create another reality of truths...perceiving those truths and understanding is an intellectual process.
    The story is something you read in books a photograph exists in a partnership between imagination and realities. Understanding a photograph is about understanding the significance of a hand shake.
  23. Forget the story book.
    A photograph is unique it is not a verbal dilatation ( if we talk about it being Art with sufficient verbal viscosity then it will be Art....the Art is in the words not the Art ) a photograph is very special and different.....yes, it has special place of its own....different from other Arts. It goes.....somewhere else.
    The somewhere else is a percieved/imaginative reality joining with truth of a image... all copies of reality contain truths, non more than the cold photographic image.... Unique in the Arts... the most powerful of Artistic impressions>
  24. Truths are about individual pre perception based on values and culture. We dismiss truths we do not want to hear and value those we like. For instance we dismiss the truths of hunger and destruction of our planet.....but believe in a likeable truth that eventually one day it will be better.
    A photograph is a frozen moment in time without a future or past.
    That it all it offers anything else is pure conjecture.
  25. Has my posts been so intellectually blinding... reaching a essence of truth that non of you folk are intellectually capable of penning a response.
    If you think it is BS say so. But nice to say why.
    Promise I not will not cry....okay, just a little bit.
  26. Jeez, after the big mushroom, and the fallout; would like to think there are some pockets of humanity left.
    Perhaps not. Oh well.....just the way the cookie crumbles.
  27. Allen, perhaps what may be wanting for readers are some images and your comments on them that back up what you are saying. For instance, you say: "A photograph is a frozen moment in time without a future or past." For a statement not to be taken simply as a glib comment, some proof or at least reasoning would be useful. Then, with the image and your comments as testimony the readers can connect to something that goes beyond words and debate a tangible example.
  28. "For instance, you say: "A photograph is a frozen moment in time without a future or past"
    It has future and a past but we don't see that in the Photograph. We are looking at a frozen moment in time which is open to interpretation dependent on the individuals take on the Photograph...the take is subject to many influences culture/beliefs/experience/ knowledge/artistic understanding/ intellect and list goes on.
    For instance looking at the photo below every thought about it pure conjecture other just a recorded before, no after, just a little moment in time frozen for all eternity.
  29. Where does this photo take us....
  30. Arthur, my last post was out of respect for you.
    Hey, all the death watch beetles have left.....scary. It seems all about a certain person who e-mails folks.
    Scary death watch beetle person.
    .just a thought.
  31. "The following examples may form some sort of evidence that photos can reflect both or either the past and a future."
    What do they tell us? A cross with a past open to speculation of what it means subject to the culture you are part of.. Is it just two lines, a symbol of oppression bathed in blood, a false religion turning a prophet into a God.....or, just a fairy tale. What past would you like to choose ? The future only the imagination can create. A derelict house does it tell of the past or future? It is just a subjective view of the present. A cross on a graveyard of a dead soul. What does it tell us of the past or future. Nothing...just a cross over a dead body.
  32. A frozen moment in time without a past or a future.
    The Photograph.
  33. If the mind does not imagine any past or future in looking at a photograph, or any other significance it might present to the viewer, it is likely that the same might occur when that mind is presented with a painting, a sculpture, a novel or a poem. Any, or all of these, can incite the use of imagination, or not.
  34. Imagination, the past, the future....and the present.
    We have reached the same page in the book of...of, something. Arthur.
  35. The power of an honest photo.
  36. "The power of an honest photo"
    It makes me want to cry..."mans inhumanity to man". Robert Burns.
    Im not sure about the honesty of any photo without context (the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.) and a honesty from the photographer.
    The power of a still image to create emotional response, change, is another level of it documentry, call it anything. The power to create powerful emotions, to change the world, to perceive and understand, is that not what Art is constantly trying to achieve?
  37. Don't know about honesty but I guess we feel better when we collectively cry and show each other how caring we are by our public reactions to such photos. Then we trot off to our Labor Day picnics. But at least we care! The honesty in the original photo tends to get a little muddled in the process of reaction and ongoing history. Nick Ut's photo of the so-called Napalm Girl was taken in 1972 and the Vietnam War didn't end until 3 years later. And we've been fighting unnecessary and politically-motivated wars ever since. Yes, the photo supposedly got into our collective psyche and we were all horrified and then when the U.S. invaded Iraq and we were told to go shopping, we did just that. But we're all moved by photos. Doesn't help the dead and maimed much, though. The reality goes well beyond the photo.
  38. I think we're generally well-served to consider that photos and reactions to them, when they deal with honesty, truth, or reality, are a framing of honesty, truth, and reality.
  39. Nothing's perfect. But you can't deny the power of some photos to change people's beliefs, minds, feelings, and actions, even if not right away. In this case, I think the refugees were helped by many because of the picture. Maybe we should have more appreciation in the good nature of man to help others.
  40. ana >>>"I am working on my dissertation and need some authors that point that discussion: if photographs can be true or are an illusion."

    Much too broadly posed question. Typical of what a philosophy professor might give a student to write an essay on with an expectation students will usually pose much too narrow responses. A better question that one could actually write something with clarity about would be "Can elements of photographs be true and can elements of photographs be illusions?" Thus posing such a question broadly vaguely as a whole opens the door to all manner of abstractions, and term definitions, and interpretations.

    For instance a recent black and white news photo of the recent floods in South Carolina in some newspaper with a descriptive caption. One can say with certain truth that the image is a 2-dimensional black and white graphic of the South Carolina flood captured on a specific date and time during the day. If it shows houses and cars in the water one can with truth state the image elements show such. Most such news images have a list of elements which if a specific question is asked can be either stated as true or false. Other questions might be uncertain. For instance someone might ask if the scene was specific town. Without easily identifiable structures or signs that would be unknown.

    On the other hand someone might argue the image isn't true because we humans see in color 3-dimensionally and the photo was not. Indeed one can say no photograph accurately represents the human visual experience but that is not important because within narrower limits of the elements of human visual perception of what a photograph can represent may be readily specified and be stated as true and also be stated as valuable within those limits.

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