Shoes and Eyeglasses (symbols)

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, May 27, 2017.

  1. The following is made with Supriyo's questions, from a previous symbols thread, in mind. Given that this post is very long and life is short, Supriyo is welcome to pretend he didn't see it ... :)

    A little bit of Barthes to set the next part up:

    The realists of whom I am one and of whom I was already one when I asserted that the Photograph was an image without code — even if, obviously, certain codes do inflect our reading of it — the realists do not take the photograph for a "copy" of reality, but for an emanation of past reality: a magic, not an art. To ask whether a photograph is analogical or coded is not a good means of analysis. The important thing is that the photograph possess an evidential force, and that its testimony bears not on the object but on time. From a phenomenological viewpoint, in the Photograph, t]he power of authentication exceeds the power of representation.​

    Now on to the what Mary Price writes in The Photograph: A Strange Confined Space, starting with her quote from John Tagg:

    This is not the inflection of a prior (though irretrievable) reality, as Barthes would have us believe, but the production of a new and specific reality, the photograph, which becomes meaningful in certain transactions and has real effects, but which cannot refer or be referred to a pre-photographic reality as to a truth. The photograph is not a magical "emanation" but a material product of a material apparatus set to work is specific contexts, by specific forces, for more or less defined purposes. It requires, therefore, not an alchemy but a history, outside which the existential essence of photography is empty and cannot deliver what Barthes desires: the confirmation of an existence; the mark of a past presence; the repossession of his mother's body. (Emphasis added by Price.)​

    These statements cannot be reconciled even though they are not altogether contradictory. Reconciliation would involve establishing facts, whereas facts are precisely the source of disagreement. Barthes says the photograph is a magical emanation; Tagg says it is not. Barthes says the photograph is evidence of something existing in the past; Tagg says it is evidence of something to be determined by investigation of material history and use.

    Tagg's argument would be perfectly understandable if only he did not insist on denying Barthes's argument. One difference between the two statements is that Barthes is subtle, poetic, and at home with both imagination and imaginative language, whereas Tagg seems afraid that if he entertains Barthes's imaginative construal of the photograph he will relinquish both contingency and specificity.

    If one thinks of that straight line from object through lens to photograph, with indexical correlation, that transcription, the question arises, How can Tagg say the photograph "cannot refer or be referred to a pre-photographic reality as to a truth"? Is the line not straight? Yes, the line is straight; the idea of transcription can be kept, and it will correspond to fact. Fact, in turn, to become meaningful, requires interpretation, context, and correspondence to other facts. Tagg's "reality" and Barthes's "authentication" can both refer and be referred (by means of the imagined straight line) to the pre-photographic scene. Tagg's two realities are, first, the irretrievable original scene, and second, the new and specific reality, the photograph — the first, I would say, transcribed into the second. Barthes's term, authentication, is the confirmation of meaning not in the represented scene itself, not in Tagg's new and specific reality, but in the photograph as evidence that the scene at one past time existed.

    [line break added] Tagg's denial that Barthes can identify the very portrait of his mother that restores the sense of her being (not, as Tagg has it, "the repossession of his mother's body") is outside the possibility of reference to truth. The truth of reference can be only to the representable world, in which objects (and the mother) can be pointed to, not to a realm of imagination, where what Barthes says is true is true because he has created and experienced that realm and conveys its use to his readers. Barthes is occupied with a passionate demand for a sign from the grave, but the search, as he well knows, takes place in his imagination ("So I make myself the measure of photographic 'knowledge' ").

    Tagg believes that the meanings of a photograph are revealed by the bias of interest and also that disclosure of interest is governed by the intended use of the photograph. His difference with Barthes lies in the claim for use of the photograph; either use seems to me defensible; the personal, phenomenological use by Barthes, or the institutional, materialistic use postulated by Tagg. No difference exists in the insistence on the need for interpretation; no difference exists in the belief that the photograph registers objects by means of transcription; no difference either in the belief that the objects interrupting the light existed.

    [line break added] Tagg places the difference in their respective definitions of the problem. "The problem is historical, not existential," he insists, and continues, "To conjure up something of what it [the problem] involves today, I suggest in the text that you ask yourself, and not just rhetorically, under what conditions would a photograph of the Loch Ness Monster (of which there are many) be acceptable? The Loch Ness monster as an example is different from the unicorn because many people do believe there is such a monster, whereas no one believes in a unicorn.

    No photograph would ever be acceptable as proof of the monster's existence to those convinced that no such monster exists. For those who believe the monster exists, no proof is necessary, and a photograph simply confirms belief. But this only makes problematic the use of the photograph as "evidence."​
  2. "I am ... asking that we ask ... what a photograph is, and I feel you are missing its strangeness, failing to recognize, for example, that the relation between photograph and subject does not fit our concept of representation, one thing standing for another, disconnected thing, or one forming a likeness of another. ... A representation emphasizes the identity of its subject, hence it may be called a likeness; a photograph emphasizes the existence of its subject, recording it, hence it is that it may be called a transcription." — Stanley Cavell
  3. Julie: I admit to being unfamiliar with Cavell's work. For me to respond to your last post, can you please provide at least a hint of his position on representation, in case the quote doesn't contain all I need to know? (I'm not sure what you quoted fully states that position.)
  4. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    what about a photo of the LNM in the Gulf of Thailand? Would that help?


  5. How about I give you two stories about identity vs transcription, which is what Cavell is after:

    In 1906, two histologists, the Spaniard Santiago Ramón y Cajal and the Italian Camillo Golgi, shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. For both men that put one too many neuroscientists in Stockholm.

    ... Indeed, there was not a single part of Cajal's program — the clam that each neuron was functionally, developmentally, and structurally independent — that Golgi accepted. In the first instance, as Golgi openly argued in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech [I'll skip the argument] ...

    ... Here was a fiercely consuming debate between the two competitors, fought to a large extent over the objectivity of images — an all-out image war. Both scientists brought numerous figures to their presentations. Furious at what he considered Golgi's visual manipulations, Cajal accusingly wrote of his rival's "strange mental constitutio[n]," one "hermetically sealed against criticism by its "egocentricity." Golgi was closed to the evidence (according to Cajal) and his inability to register faithfully the outside world of nature had plunged him into an "absurd position" for which one could only appeal to psychiatry for adequate terms. To Cajal, their joint presence in Stockholm was a grotesque injustice: "What a cruel irony of fate to pair, like Siamese twins united by the shoulders, scientific adversaries of such contrasting character!" True, Cajal is generally seen as having won this debate, but it is also true that Cajal's theoretical stance (endorsing the neuron doctrine) shaped some of his own depictions. — Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity


    In Michael Antonioni's Blow-Up, a professional photographer takes pictures in a park because he finds the landscape beautiful. When he develops the film, some obscure and barely readable figures in the background suggest that he has inadvertently included the picture of a murder. His passion of curiosity about what is actually on the film and what it means requires that he repeatedly enlarge (blow up) the frames to discern the details. But the enlargements produce their own distortions in graininess and ambiguity of outline. His best technical efforts refuse to disclose an absolute correspondence between what he imagines (the victim of a murder, which he imagines whether or not he can clarify it on film) and what is actual, which he can determine only by verifying his imagining. The slippage between the mind's eye and the physical eye, ways of seeing which humans try to make coincide, can never be easily verified. — Mary Price

    The pictures are transcriptions; the identity of what is seen depends on the viewer(s).

    One further comment: most of what passes for "abstract" photography is cases where the photographer transcribes (photographs) what he thinks the viewer won't be able to identify and that's his only purpose; if you can't tell what it is, it must be abstract. He hopes you won't be able to identify what it is.

    That's the opposite of what most other arts consider to be abstract. In those arts, the artist has a very clear understanding of the identity he has in mind, but while it can be expressed, it can't be transcribed. He hopes you will be able to identify what he has in mind.
  6. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    i reckon most photographers hope viewers will view their abstract photos as abstract paintings or, at least, in the same league as other 2-D visual artistic stuff.
  7. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    but even when you are told what it is, it is still an abstract photo. being told that an abstract photo is in fact a photo of soap bubbles in dappled light doesn't make it any less abstract for most people

  8. Abstract painters have an idea in mind — passionately in mind — that they hope to convey via their art. It can't be transcribed; it can be expressed.

    Most abstract photographers have no idea in mind at all other than transcribing what they think (hope) can't be identified.

    If it "is" soap bubbles, it's not abstract. That's the point for painters; it's something that can't be transcribed. Soap bubbles can and are transcribed.
  9. A case could be made — and I would love chewing it over with anybody who wants to make it — that if you start from Szarkowski's statement in The Photographer's Eye that:

    The [photographer] learned that the world itself is an artist of incomparable inventiveness, and that to recognize its best works and moments, to anticipate them, to clarify them, and make them permanent, requires intelligence both acute and supple.​

    ... you can see abstract photography not as expressive of the photographer's ideas but rather as of the world-as-artist's ideas, and we as recipients of its art, its attempts to express what it can't transcribe. Of course, that means ascribing 'ideas' to the 'world' ...
  10. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    but it "never is" soap bubbles. that's the point.
  11. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    how about starting with "a reduction from n-dimensions to n-1 represents an abstraction"
  12. It "never is" anything. It's a transcription.
  13. n has no place in a photograph.
    Last edited: May 31, 2017
  14. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    to me a transcription is a mapping and i can't see any difference between a photographic mapping and a painted mapping. even allowing for intent, tools, viewer bias etc.

    edit: n defines photography
  15. Really?
  16. n is a placeholder

    photography is placefilled
  17. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    no, photography is an nxm array of dots
  18. Julie, thanks for the 2 stories, which I found both helpful and interesting. Nonetheless, I have some reservations about the statements above. When a photographer creates an abstract image, do you really think that a viewer's not being able to identify the subject is "his only purpose?" In my somewhat uneducated opinion, I think this is overly generalized and/or overly strong. Indeed, in some cases, a viewer cannot discern or identify the subject of an abstract image. There are others, though, involving degrees of abstraction, in which there may be some identifiable elements.
  19. Michael, I think the answer may be pretty simple. It's not really that an abstract photographer's only purpose is a viewer's not being able to identify the subject. It's that the purpose of many writers is to sound both certain of themselves and like they know what they're talking about, with a little provocation thrown in for good measure.

    Speaking of subjects, I often like non-abstract photos whose subjects I can't identify or are too numerous to mention. Also interesting are photos, absract and non-abstract, whose subject is the photo itself as opposed to the "thing" in the photo masquerading as the putative subject.
  20. Fred, you've described why I've been so attracted to abstract photography - in its many varieties. Also, your first sentence, above, is interesting, and it prompts me to consider it down the road when I make photographs and when I view them.

Share This Page