Stranger (symbols)

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, Jul 29, 2017.

  1. .........

    This will probably be the last of the 'symbols' threads because we are finally seeing good activity in this forum: other threads that are getting a lot of good response — Yay! Yippee! Yahoo! [doing the Snoopy dance].


    This last symbol, 'stranger,' has turned out to be really interesting to me. Here's why:

    I can't find a single photograph of 'stranger.' This was a complete surprise to me.



    Stranger, Etranger. While the word itself suggests uncertainty, the image of stranger evokes a visceral reaction. As the stranger appears in the doorway ... we are called to ask, "Who enters? Friend or foe?" The mysterious other, this foreigner appears and time stands still. We are left not knowing whether to move toward or away from this "alien" being.

    ... In primitive cultures the stranger was seen as an enemy, a threat to the cohesion of the group or clan. Borders or territories were fiercely protected, and the stranger who entered was either captured or killed so as not to contaminate the group with his foreign spirit or magic.

    ... In dreams, the stranger makes his appearance as a shadowy figure, an "unknown other" crossing the boundaries from the unconscious to the conscious. ... Jung describes the unconscious as "the Unknown as it immediately affects us" and developed the technique of active imagination to deal with these alien images from our dreams. In integrating these unknown parts we work toward wholeness, a way of going home to ourselves. — The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images

    The three pictures that the book quoted from shows to illustrate its text don't seem strange to me at all. They show people in shadowy places or alone in a remote place. That doesn't seem at all alien to me. Who hasn't been there? I feel sympathy for the implied beings even though faces aren't shown in two of the pictures: the third is highly stylized.

    In photography, if we were to take the loose, broad definition of stranger to be anybody we don't know personally, then all of your pictures will be of strangers to me, and all of mine will be of strangers to you. This, even though I probably find nothing strange at all in your pictures.

    My definition or at least my understanding or feeling of what constitutes 'stranger' is someone who is alien, someone whom I do not understand, someone whom I can't relate to, someone whom I am probably afraid of.

    Being from a different country, a different age group, a different ethnicity, a different time: none of these either alone or all together generates a 'stranger' for me. For example:

    Yokoro by Malick Sidibé

    ... shows two beings who are different from me in all of the above ways, yet I feel complete understanding with them. I was very like them as a youngster: I am still like them in my mind.

    In the picture, below, the people might be strangers, but I'm not sure. I think the photographer was stranger to neither, and I don't see the people as strangers:

    GI with villagers in Vietnam by Philip Jones Griffiths

    That people are not known to each other and keep to themselves does not make them strangers, to my mind. In this next picture:

    Train station Berlin-Schöneweide, by Gerd Danigel

    ... everybody is keeping a very distinct distance from their neighbor, but I think that's because they know very well who these people are, as do I. I think they've arranged themselves very comfortably just where they are because they are not strangers in the true sense of the word.

    In all photographs of people not known to me and also (probably) not known to the photographer, I find that I can and do (think that I) understand them, that I relate to them. This is true even of people that are angry, that are despicable, that are doing horrible or disgraceful things. Not only are they not 'strangers,' they are all too familiar. I know them too well.

    Why does this always seem to be the case in good photographs? Why can't I find a photograph of 'stranger'?

    I think it's because, when making pictures, we photographers wait for connection, we wait for understanding, we wait for a moment of relating-to before we shoot. A good picture will be full of strange-ness, full of the unexpected, but it will be strange and unexpected because it's there with(in) some kind of connection. And that electric connection (often fired by strange-ness) is what we look for in post. I'm not finding pictures of 'stranger' because they're almost by definition what photographers don't take pictures of, what photographers don't understand, what photographers don't relate to: they're what gets screened out.


    In all societies, the stranger is the person whose love lies elsewhere. Even if they cannot be precisely defined, the stranger's centers of interest are not those of the majority. the artist typifies the artist's alienation from modern society. — The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols

    Maybe the 'stranger' is behind the camera. LOL

    If you have any pictures that you think show 'stranger,' or if you can link to any, please post them. Thanks.

  2. ...

    A case of a photographer shooting strangers ... and finding fellow persons, not strange at all is Irving Penn in his ethnographic projects.

    I would often find myself daydreaming of being mysteriously deposited (with my ideal north-light studio) among the disappearing aborigines in remote parts of the earth. These remarkable strangers would come to me and place themselves in front of my camera [and] I would make records of their physical presence. — Irving Penn, 1974

    [ ... ]

    He came, he said, from "very small circumstances" and always remained to some extent an outsider. He took advantage of his unbelonging to make contact with those he did not know, who were even more remote than he to Vogue [magazine] but with whom he could briefly yet intensely engage. Like an explorer from another planet. Penn arrived in the lives of those tribal peoples via the diplomatic-economic-technological capsule of Vogue, but it was not Condé Nast who greeted them. It was a gentle and magnetic fellow man who saw them, posed them, and, for a lingering, all-consuming moment, touched them.​

    example of this work by Penn

    [ ... ]

    Penn did not say much, but the clues are in the pictures and in bits of written evidence, such as this account of photographing five Okapa warriors in New Guinea. Penn recalled:

    These were gentle little men. In their culture, when you touch someone they touch you back. So when I would place them in position, they would take it as an embrace and hug me back. It's a picture made up of a lot of double embraces. To imagine I had been concerned about bringing my wife after reading about cannibalism there.​

    [ ... ]

    [In his book on the portraits of people in Cuzco, Peru] he wrote in the book's introduction:

    The studio became, for each of us [the sitter and the picture maker], a sort of neutral area. It was not their home, as I had brought his alien enclosure into their lives; it was not my home, as I had obviously come from elsewhere, from far away. But in this limbo there was for us both the possibility of contact that was a revelation to me and often, I could tell, a moving experience for the subjects themselves, who without words — by only their stance and their concentration — were able to say much that spanned the gulf between our different worlds.​

    [ ... ]

    To redeem what was shallow, separate, and temporary in the world, he made an art profound and permanent, one rooted "in a broad base of human understanding and need," his own first of all.​

    example of Penn's work from Peru 1
    example of Penn's work from Peru 2

    Do you see 'stranger's in any of the linked pictures? I don't think Penn saw them as 'stranger.' Quite the opposite.

    [all quotes are from Irving Penn: Centennial (2017) ]

  3. Proximity, distance, the sense of togetherness while being apart. The sense of feeling apart while being together. The recognition in and of each other as being almost identical to but also independent from the other. Being invisible not only to ourselves but also to each other (The Other). Being all too visible to the point of not being noticeable.

    Last edited: Jul 30, 2017
  4. John Szarkowski on a picture by Atget (LINK):

    "After Atget, virtually all photographers photographed empty chairs in gardens. At least one photographer produced an entire book of empty chairs in gardens, and if that was perhaps excessive it nevertheless indicated how compelling the motif was to photographers in the middle of the twentieth century. The empty chair in the garden was a symbol for the person who had waited there, and finally left; or the person who had not yet come, but still might.
    Perhaps Brassai made the definitive empty garden chair photograph, and surely his friend Henry Miller (in Max and the White Phagocytes) wrote the definitive caption for all such photographs: Among all the objects which Brassai has photographed his chair with the wire legs stands out with a majesty which is singular and disquieting. It is a chair of the lowest denomination, a chair which has been sat on by beggars and by royalty, by little trot-about whores and by queenly opera divas. It is a chair which the municipality rents daily to any and every one who wishes to pay fifty centimes for sitting down in the open air. A chair with little holes in the seat and wire legs which come to a loop at the bottom. The most unostentatious chair, the most inexpensive, the most ridiculous chair, if a chair can be ridiculous, which could be devised. Brassai chose precisely this insignificant chair and, snapping it where he found it, unearthed what there was in it of dignity and veracity. THIS IS A CHAIR. Nothing more. No sentimentalism about the lovely backsides which once graced it, no romanticism about the lunatics who fabricated it, no statistics about the hours of sweat and anguish that went into the creation of it, no sarcasm about the era which produced it, no odious comparisons with the chairs of other days, no humbug about the dreams of the idlers who monopolize it, no scorn for the nakedness of it, no gratitude either.
    Miller is, of course, pulling our leg. The photograph is about all the things that he denies."

    - John Szarkowski
  5. ..........

    'Empty chairs' is a really good idea. I hadn't thought of it, but it works.

    The 'creature' that sometimes strikes me as a stranger is a bird. They can be very disturbing (as well as attractive, obviously).

    Danny Treacy has a project called 'Them' that seems like it ought to work, but it doesn't, at least for me. Most of them seem interesting but a little silly.

    "For Them Danny Treacy creates elaborate sculptural costumes from found clothes, he proceeds to wear the costumes and then photographs himself."

    The only one that seems effective is this one. That one does make me want to watch it a little warily. (I do note that he doesn't claim to be doing 'stranger' but he's trying for something like that.)

  6. "But I'm a creep. I'm a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here" - Radiohead, Creep.

    "People are strange when you're a stranger. Faces look ugly when you're alone." - The Doors, People Are Strange

    I remember growing up and in school my classmates would tell me I was "strange". I wore it as a badge of honor because from my perspective and from where I was sitting everyone else seemed to be so perfectly bland in their single commitment of trying to fit in.
  7. Phil, while you said this in relation to strangers (which I agree with), I can identify with this in relation to familiar people as well. Sometimes, we are too distracted by other's presence. Absence or obscurity allows us to think of others in a different and deeper way than if they were in front of us. I was saying this also in a comment in the thread 'sensibility'.

    I like your picture very much. The visual tension works very well to show the contradiction between being visible vs invisible. Two identities facing blackness in front (the destiny?) in their own space, away from each other, yet connected, while their dark shadows signify (to me) their existence (footing) in the present. I am trying to imagine, how the mood of the photo will change, if the harsh shadows are replaced by diffuse ones. Would it reduce the sense of A moment in time that it gives to me, and feel more like drifting in time.
    Phil S likes this.

  8. Have you seen Gus Van Sant's movie Elephant? The ones who were 'strangers' didn't look particularly strange. It's a great movie but it was, for me, terrible to watch because — knowing what's coming — it's so normal ... until it's not.
  9. Supriyo, I was saying it in relation to being a stranger. I agree we can also be strangers to the ones we're most familiar with just as the ones we're most familiar with can suddenly appear to us as strangers. We're always alone in this sense.
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2017
  10. I've seen the movie but it was a long time ago. Sociopaths and psychopaths have an uncanny ability to blend in and to appear as being perfectly normal to others, precisely because of their talent of being so manipulative. It's not a crime to be a loner. But the media - and society in general since it's so tilted towards extraversion - has often described serial killers and mass murderers as being "loners" in order to justify how different they really were from "all of us". But the fact is that most serial killers and psychopaths weren't seen by people in their surroundings like that at all, precisely because of the psychopath's ability to blend in and appear as "normal" to others. If I remember correctly the film Elephant also follows some kids (who also end up being victims to the shooting or end up in the middle of it all) who could be described as "weird" when your only point of reference is superficial extraversion. Those kids of course are perfectly normal, meaning they weren't the psychopaths.

    The book Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto also talks about this phenomenon when people who just like to spend a large part of their time alone in order re-energize (as an INFJ I'm one of them) are being lumped together with the actual weirdos and psychopaths because of society's inclination towards extraversion.
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2017
  11. People aren't necessarily inherently strange or strangers. Some get to be strangers due to estrangement/alienation.

    I may be responsible for your being a stranger.


    This is a very early pic of mine. It haunts me a little because I took it when I was in a phase of sneaking around the streets stealing pics of people . . . and not feeling good about it. Though his expression, his body language, his red hair might be read by some as strange, I'm the one who caused the alienation in the photo by my distance, my use of the sterility of the environment with its prime color geometry, the tree as barrier, the shadow on his face almost seeming to create a mask (today, I'd probably emphasize that more than I did back then) and my unwillingness or inability at the time to get or feel close.

    I think, often, when I'm seeing someone else as a stranger, it's because I'm the stranger.
    Allen Herbert likes this.
  12. ...............

    The following won't seem immediately related to 'stranger' but I think that if you let it simmer for a while, it does have to do with the perception of strangeness:

    "We forget that a chair, for example, isn’t just a chair. In addition to being one it looks like one. The “likeness” of an object to itself, its immediate doubleness, gives every perception a hint of déjà vu. That’s the uncanniness. The “likeness” of things is a qualitative fringe, or aura to use a totally unpopular word, that betokens a moreness to life. It stands in the perception for perception’s passing. It is the feeling in this chair of past and future chairs 'like' it. It is the feeling in this chair that life goes on. It presents, in the object, the object’s relation to the flow not of action but of life itself, its dynamic unfolding, the fact that it is always passing through its own potential. It’s how life feels when you see it can seat you."

    "... In art, we see life dynamics 'with and through' actual form. Or rather, we always see relationally and processually in this way, but art makes us see that we see this way. It is the technique of making vitality affect felt. Of making an explicit experience of what otherwise slips behind the flow of action and is only implicitly felt." — Brian Massumi


    One Train May Hide Another
    by Kenneth Koch

    [ ... ]

    One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory
    One invention may hide another invention,
    One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
    One dark red, or one blue, or one purple — this is a painting
    By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
    These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses.

    [ ... ]

    … One sidewalk
    May hide another, as when you’re asleep there, and
    One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
    Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
    foot of a tree
    With one and when you get up to leave there is another
    Whom you’d have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
    One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
    May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
    You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It
    can be important
    To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.​

  13. Some samples of strangers (©2000 me)

    Loneliness is not
    An old man on a park bench

    But an empty park bench
    In the rain.

    Loneliness is not
    The empty gaze
    Of a stranger, but
    A lover who looks at you
    With the eyes of a stranger.

    Loneliness is not

    The dim street lamp
    On the darkest corner
    Until she stands under it
    In the yellow circle
    Of despair.

    Loneliness is
    A hired Santa Claus

    Ringing his bell
    In front of the store
    Pretending not to see
    Faces in chaotic crowds
    Of people pretending
    Not to see his.
    Phil S likes this.
  14. Supriyo likes this.
  15. ............

    I think empathy is what prevents us from making pictures of 'stranger.' It's why I don't see 'stranger' in any of Brad's work.

    As I said in the OP:

    Here is Luc Sante describing the work of the great photojournalist James Nachtwey:

    "A difficult aspect of Nachtwey's task as he shoots is to avoid two opposing pitfalls. He cannot pretend to embody his subjects' viewpoint, a categorical impossibility, but he also cannot stand apart from it. He must therefore function as a kind of translator: this is what you would see if you were here, his pictures say, and this also approximates what the people in the pictures might be seeing. It can only ever be an approximation, since he cannot account for the ways in which association changes sight — that a nearby corpse is very possibly a relative, for instance, or a ruin formerly the site of a remembered happy event, are matters that a foreign photographer cannot conceivably simulate."

    [ ... ]

    "It is another strange convergence of moral stance and aesthetics that his continuously renewable sense of horror strongly resembles the sense of wonder. Photography requires a certain kind of innocence in its practitioners, not to be confused with naïveté, and a moral mission demands something very similar — both, after all, are works of witness for which a view occluded by habit or fatigue would be ill-suited."​


    A different tack to 'stranger' might be that of something like Ralph Gibson's The Somnambulist. Think, for example of the cover picture with the two hands awkwardly curling over the bow of the boat that contains a black sphere. For me, his book doesn't make me see 'stranger' as a being separate from me, a being that I don't understand and/or can't relate to. Rather, it taps backwaters and odd corners of my own psyche, my own imaginative open-doorways or mindways. It gets lots of strangeness but, for me, does not get the presence of 'stranger.'

    I think that Gibson's work is different from Phil's picture of chairs, which does almost work for me. In Phil's picture the long gap between the two chairs and the black at the top of the frame do bring to mind an unknown/disconnected presence.

  16. OMG.

    Once again, theory that confounds.

    Empathy doesn't prevent someone from shooting 'stranger.'

    This is for the same reason a sad person can effectively photograph happy stuff.

    Photographers/artists may be, but don't have to be, LIMITED by their emotional states. They can be LIBERATED by them as well. They can also be LIBERATED by their imaginations and powers to create what's not there.

    In some cases, strangeness is just empathy with the right edge.
  17. But not all pictures are taken within the context of encounter with a stranger. In the example of looking at Brad's street portraits for me as the viewer it's in the encounter that I can feel the familiar even though the people are still strangers to me like most people that you pass by on the street will be strangers.


    About the idea and representation of strangeness, do you mean something like Roger Ballen's work? Ballen's work and subjects are definitely strange, but it's such an explicit kind of strangeness that it looses its tension on you the more you are exposed to it. Compare that to Ralph Eugene Meatyard's The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater where the strangeness comes from the subverting of the context (in Ballen's work the context is already strange) and as such has a more brooding and lingering quality to it.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2017
  18. Roger Ballen's stuff always strike me as fun; sort of a wonderland, fantasy world that little kids will contrive out of whatever is at hand. I think he may *want* to be strange, but to me it's just kind of like a magician show, where you choose to enjoy the romp.

    Meatyard. Why didn't I think of his maskings? Good one. I'll have to think about it some more, but that does kind of work, especially the Lucybelle Crater project.

    I don't think his "spooky" ones (without the mask) do it, though. They are more about ... hmmm ... what are they about? ... . Maybe the same kind of thing I was trying to describe in Gibson's pictures. Something to do with my own mind's going in and out of here-and-now-ness (auto-correct kept making that here-and-newness LOL).

    The thing that's tricky is having a 'stranger' be strange in the photo. Almost always, a person who was strange has been "recognized" as fellow at the moment of picture-making. See Brad's work. That's what makes it "the" moment to take a/the picture.
  19. Saw THIS on tumblr. Effective in its simplicity.

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