Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, Jul 29, 2017.
"Imagine yourself an ethnologist — or an anthropologist — from outer space. You descend to Earth. Knowing nothing about it, you are unprejudiced ... You quickly notice, among other things, that in most human tongues there is a word whose meaning escapes you and whose usage varies considerably among humans, but which, in all their societies, seems to refer to an activity that is either integrative or compensatory, lying midway between their myths and their sciences. This word is art."
"... you postulate the existence of a universal unconscious structure that underlies the disparate corpus constituted by everything humans call art. ... At the intersection of magical action and scientific knowledge, artistic making attributes a symbolic power to the things it names, at times gathering together, at times dispersing, human communities.
"And you conclude that these symbols that humans exchange in the name of art must have — for them, who are perhaps unaware of this, it is a minimum; for you, who know nothing but this, it is a maximum — the undeniable function of marking one of the thresholds where humans withdraw from their natural condition and where their universe sets itself to signifying. Likewise, you conclude that the name "art," whose immanent meaning still escapes you — indeterminate because overdetermined — perhaps has no other generality than to signify that meaning is possible. In this game of symbolic exchanges, the word "art" would be nothing but the empty square that sets them in motion."
Our extraterrestrial anthropologist/ethnologist continues to try to pin down the "immanent meaning" of "art." He studies art objects, he studies art history, he studies philosophy ... until finally:
"Armed with all the certainties acquired over the course of this journey through ethnology, the history of art or of styles, and logical ontology, you finally plunge into your corpus in order to extract a model from it, the embodies proof of your theory, its paradigm. And out of it you pull — indeed, yes — a urinal."
"... You realize that when a urinal can be art, then anything can be, provided one believes it. ... When the ontological definition of art ends up being equated with the empirical description — art is everything humans call art — that was your starting point when you were an honest but outside observer, then the autonomy of art has become a caricature of itself. And when all the disparate things accumulated through the history of styles as the heritage of humanity seem to lead to an institutional definition of art that is deliberately running in circles, then humanity itself must feel dispossessed.
[line break added] And so do you. For after all, in question is our culture, not the threshold nature/culture in the abstract, and our history, not that of an essence, and our performative speech acts, not a self-defining institution. The detachment of the observer — the ethnologist's outsideness, the historian's overview, the logician's neutrality — are unsuitable when the meaning of art, not just its recognition is at stake."
— all of the above quotes are from Thierry de Duve's Kant after Duchamp (1996)
>>>>>>> "where their universe sets itself to signifying"; "to signify that meaning is possible" ... in our culture.
Julie, why are you always so melodramatic?
wtf is an alien anthropologist?
An oxymoronic academic device.
A way to complicate thinking about art that becomes the means to avoid it.
i love this place when ppl express themselves
(most) landscape photography
I think that 'stranger' is something that most landscape photographers are powerfully aware of whenever and wherever they shoot. Not because they are looking for 'stranger,' not because they want to be on the cutting edge of discovery, not because they want to 'connect,' but precisely the opposite: they want to strip out any 'stranger'ness from their pictures. Doing this requires looking for it in order to avoid it. They don't have to understand; they just need to "know it when they see it" and exclude it from their pictures. They need to be exquisitely aware of its presence, so they can get rid of it. Kind of like how people who are allergic to peanuts are always thinking about peanuts.
Why does 'stranger' matter to landscape photography?
Using Peter Bialobrzeski's series Heimat (Home) as my example set, here is what Ariel Hauptmeier writes about his pictures:
"... 'Home' is a rather ambiguous word in English. It embraces national and regional ("homeland," "back home") as well as local identities ("home town," "my home"). It's an avowal of roots, where you come from, your origins, even these days when everything is so fluid. Yet for Peter Bialobrzeski, home is not a geographical marker. 'It's not about places,' he says, 'It's about pictures.'
"... He always wanted to get away. ... At some point Wolfsburg [his hometown] became unbearable, forcing him to leave, cast off all ties, and be somewhere else. He left home at seventeen, moved to a shared apartment in the country at twenty-one, studied in Essen and London, and learnt to fend for himself in New Delhi or Bangkok. Soon he was one of those people who are always on the move — and like it that way. Who lose a homeland and gain a world.
"A lot has changed. Your geographical home is no longer your destiny but something incidental."
"... [Yet] fragments of memory persist. Even the most boring backwater or ugliest industrial city preserves something of the aura of your first steps."
"... 'Home for me,' he says, 'is smells and memories.' "
"... He doesn't slip into romantic cliché mode or affect the detached, cool pose of analytical photography. He doesn't have swirling mists, nor does he record park benches full of graffiti. He shows no castles or electricity pylons. ... He shows neither unspoiled paradises nor devastations of the earth. No idylls or scars."
"... A dog. A brilliant emptiness of the sky. An opportunity to pause and be amazed. A hint of harmony. The possibility of silence."
[examples of Bialobrzeski's work: one, two, and three; from the second and third, you can click the + sign to get more]
"... Even if the world is in motion — as long as we have bodies, we long for places that are filled with meaning, which our memories are attached to, that are beautiful. These places are noticed. They become familiar and are experienced. They even get loved."
"... Finding something beautiful means conferring significance on it. Snatching it from oblivion, rescuing it, making it visible.
"People who are absorbed in nature. Memories of summer days. Life that has a place. Inner landscapes.
" 'A feeling of security, well-being, and summer warmth permeates my memory,' wrote refugee Vladimir Nabokov about his Russian homeland. 'That robust reality makes the present a mere specter. Everything is as it should be, nothing will ever change.' "
Before doing the Heimat project, Bialobrzeski had done several excellent projects on distant lands (explore his web site: he's very good). Here is how he describes the Heimat series:
"... It may seem a little conservative, but the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich have influenced my notions of 'German Landscape' more than those of Anselm Kiefer. And the Monk by the Sea is for me the quintessential visual rendering of the German landscape of the soul. Depressive and immensely full of hope."
"... my photographs are projection surfaces of post-modernist man's yearning for nature, though the silence is no longer the preserve of the solitary figure. There are always other people there, in red Goretex jackets. But when you look at the pictures, it's not a problem — in fact, quite the contrary. It is the figures and their distribution on the surface that turn the photos into pictures."
"... Having a 'home' means having roots, which is not the same as being rooted to the spot. The earth that contains the roots determines the code but not the substance."
Going back to the Nabokov quote, "Everything is as it should be, nothing will ever change," I don't take that as an invitation to sentimentality, or rigidity, though is certainly may be so for some people. In a world of rapid, constant change, that which is not 'stranger' is no longer the norm. Where and how we are 'rooted,' our 'home,' seems to me to be a rich vein to work photographically. Finding what is not strange (home) means knowing, being aware of, what is.
Secondary definition of "plagiarism":
copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not
Plagiarism is strange.
Next up, Phil will be sticking out his tongue and yelling "I'm rubber, you're glue . . ."
And that won't even make a strange picture. It will seem very familiar.
For me, the infrared seems to be a way to say, "this is not landscape photography; something is very wrong here." At the bottom of your linked page — which I really enjoyed looking at — he describes the work as war photography. Whatever it is, the off colors do grab my attention and do make the pictures off-kilter enough to make me spend more time looking at them.
Pink is such a weird color, wherever it's found. Large format pink is ... gorgeous and sick at the same time. It's good work. Thanks.
Masks have already been brought up several times in this thread, but another kind of 'stranger' is the amorphous, unidentified, faceless source of some act. Not even a mask; a presence that's not there, but that is acting on us.
Unlike the located, face of 'stranger,' this kind of thing, this kind of questioning, is done very often, and sometimes very well and by photography. Pictures that know that "somebody did this" and yet can't say "who did this." Intent, responsibility, is out there, somewhere, but it has no face. For example, W. Eugene Smith's famous picture from his Minamata series:
Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath
Who did that?
Or, look at this picture from Masanhisa Fukase's Slaughter:
woman lying on the slaughterhouse butchering table
Why didn't he just take a picture of workers butchering an animal? Because the workers aren't to blame for the slaughter industry. Who is? Who does that? You?
This is far afield from the topic of the thread but as a card carrying omnivore I couldn't resist adding some nonsense. I'll pull my stint inthe slaughterhouse if I get to take a few steaks home at cost once a week.
Of course I hope in this system that the vegetarians are compelled to work in the fields.
When our nourishment all comes from synthetic materials originating with ores mined on asteroids we can all live (happily??) together, till we find more stuff to disagree about. Enough said, over and out.
This thread makes me think of...
"It is the very being of children which we, the aged, have forgotten, or refuse to recall."
That's Ashraf Jamal in his essay, 'Giants,' that is in Pieter Hugo's book, 1994, which is pictures of children from Rwanda and South Africa [see Hugo's own text in the OP to the 'Our Beloved No Words ... ' thread].
"It is as if the Arcadia which children occupy is one which the adult world must disavow and shatter, be it out of envy, hate or despair, because of its own exile from that world. Tom Stoppard underscores this perversity by noting the erroneous and dangerous assumption that 'Because children grow up, we think a child's purpose is to grow up.' The root of this error in judgment stems from our inability to imagine a childhood freed from the curse of time and history. And yet, as Stoppard adds: 'A child's purpose is to be a child.'
"... It is curious therefore that, while societies worldwide uniformly abuse the rights and freedoms of children, it is children, or rather the idea of childhood, that emerges as the ultimate fetish and fantasy of liberation for the aged. If 'youth' is routinely abused, it is as routinely exalted and enshrined. Emblematic of that most avidly sought-after elixir — the 'lost horizon' of eternal youth — children are reminders of our lost past, our supposed innocence, which is why they are despised all the more, and why we, the aged despisers of the free will of children, inaccurately declare that 'youth is wasted on the young.' "
I think that almost all photography of children, including (especially) of adolescents, is of the idea of childhood, our idea of childhood; not of children. Obviously, I interact with children all the time, but I don't think they have the vaguest clue of where I'm at, and I don't really have any idea of where they're at. I never even think about it. Children are always around; I take my relationship with them, lovingly instinctively, whatever it is, for granted. But now that I stop and think about it, I find that they are 'stranger' to me, and I think that I am 'stranger' to them. More from Jamal:
"... as if willing the very inverse of a culture that seeks to abbreviate, foreshorten, and empty the moment of exchange between the viewer and the viewed, Hugo sought to open up and aerate the moment of insight."
"... Precocity pervades every one of Hugo's photographs. This precocity or self-knowing is not the upshot of the adage that 'one is wiser than one's years.' Indeed, the last thing that Hugo is interested in entertaining is our perverse relationship with youth, our desire to either destroy or idealize it. Despite the fact that he has composed, designed, lit his subjects, they are not fetish objects or glibanthems to beauty. Rather each subject pulses, fixes our eye, disturbs our composure. That they do so without aggression, without placing some moral demand upon us, without triggering our guilt, reveals the power of Hugo's image — they are all-importantly extra-moral, occupying a space outside the grim circuitry of the exploitative economy of youth."
Returning to Stoppard's comment that it is our mistake that "we think a child's purpose is to grow up," I agree with that. My own experience as a child was so massively present, so totally 'now' that there was no room for 'the future' whatever that was. My eldest sibling, seven years older than myself, was seen as a remote, unknowable 'grown-up' though she was herself not an 'adult.'
You can see some of Hugo's 1994 pictures here.
I'm going to do two more posts today, on two other photographers who have photographed children: Rineke Dijkstra and Hellen van Meene. Stay tuned ...
I'm not a fan of her work. I know that many people love her, so I won't belabor my opinion. What I'm interested in is what I think is her very typical 'take' on what she's doing with her pictures of adolescents. I think she is a good example of someone who is showing us the idea of childhood as sort of an apprenticeship to adulthood: kind of mini-adults or baby adults. This is what Jamal, in my previous post, has argued against.
She talks about her breakthrough moment in 1986 when working as an editorial photographer:
"People being photographed on commission, and definitely for a magazine, are highly aware of how they present themselves. Especially when it comes to businesspeople who want to convey confidence, they adopt a role according to set codes. That made the work tedious. I kept looking for the specific nature of every person I was photographing — "What makes him different from all the others?" — and never got that to come out. Only when, during a shoot, I'd be putting in a new roll of film and then look up for a second, that's when I'd suddenly see it: "Ah, that's the real him." "
That's pretty orthodox, unsurprising, modern portrait approach, I think. She believes she can find (connect with; understand) the 'real him.' In describing her interactions with children, she always talks about when/where she recognizes them as becoming adults. And her subjects know it. Here is what one of her 'beach' girls said:
"When I met Rineke at the beach, it was very windy. I kept thinking, Oh god, my hair, it's not going to look right. But I don't remember it being difficult at all. I fumbled around, trying to give what I thought I was supposed to be giving."
While I'm not a fan of Dijkstra's work, I don't fault her for her attitude. There's nothing 'wrong' with it. I use it as an example of how adults typically photograph children.
Hellen van Meene
She's more interesting than Dijkstra (not necessarily 'better'). I think she is aware that she doesn't know what children 'are,' but at the same time, she's not really noticing that children are (possibly) out of reach or 'stranger.' One of the better essays (by Kate Bush, 2004) about van Meene begins with a quote from van Meene:
" 'The photographs are not meant to be portraits, which is why they have no titles. It is not my intention to give expression to their personality or state of mind. Nor do I want to sketch a sociological image of contemporary youth or girls at the moment of puberty. ... As a matter of fact, I treat my models as objects that you can direct and guide. They are simply material for me.' "
" ... Van Meene's windows are opaque rather than transparent, not thresholds to elsewhere, but barriers or reflecting surfaces that emphasize the isolation of the figure locked within its own psychic space.
"Their gaze never meets ours. They exist in a state of peculiar self-absorption, their eyes shut or averted or simply void (as in the empty, dark apertures of the young Japanese girl with flying hair, or the girl who has painted fake pupils on her eyelids). In refusing to glance toward the viewer and thus share their conscious sense of themselves, the models seem to assert the autonomy of 'their picture' and protect its self-enclosed space from our probing eyes. This self-containment could in itself be recognized as a feature of childhood or early adolescence — no one has such a capacity to be consumed by his or her own interests as a child — but in pictorial terms, it could also explain why painting is so often invoked in relation to van Meene's photographs."
It's interesting to note that while almost all of van Meene's pictures do not have eye contact, when I did a Google image search, almost all of the pictures that came up were the few that do have eye contact. People are picking them out and featuring them.
And yet ... Van Meene's conflicted approach can be shown if I expand the lead quote from her at the start of the Bush essay, above. If I look in one of her earlier books, I find a fuller version of it, talking about her child models:
"I can relate to them. I understand them better. I see in them what I once was. Their attitude is stillness; they are not really committed yet, they are still playful and open-minded; they still have this touching susceptibility, they are still themselves."
That comes immediately preceding the quote already given above:
"'The photographs are not meant to be portraits, which is why they have no titles. It is not my intention to give expression to their personality or state of mind. Nor do I want to sketch a sociological image of contemporary youth or girls at the moment of puberty. ... As a matter of fact, I treat my models as objects that you can direct and guide. They are simply material for me."
The added quote seems to directly contradict its next paragraph, yet they are written together. I leave it to you to figure it out.
Here are samples of her work:
from The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits (her most recent work)
more from Rabbits
from earlier work
Three photographers, three different approaches to the strangeness of children.
I agree with Phil above. Van Meene's photographs seem very contrived and after a couple, for me lose interest. The hair hiding the face, no matter how symbolic and the realms of different meanings that can convey, gets over used and I'm not sure the settings add anything. And it seems all her photos have the quality of contrived lifelessness. I can understand that she is creating an ultimate objectification of children or whomever her models are, that of null feeling. But it doesn't read as stranger to me, it reads as artificial and fake. That kind of pseudo-strange can't come anywhere close to the strangeness value of the ultimate objectification of humans done by I hate to bring him up again, but Peter Witkin. I look at that stuff and everything inside me just flips out.
That's not to say that Van Meene isn't a fine photographer, she really is a beautiful photographer and I can appreciate the craft of her images and her exploration. Still, though, her stuff is too stiff.
Pieter Hugo has another project called 'The Journey' that is described here and which you can see some of here:
The Journey 1
The Journey 2
Some commentators have compared these Hugo pictures to those taken by Walker Evans with a hidden camera on the subway, but I think that's not right. Evans's pictures are of people wearing their 'public face.' Hugo's aren't.
This also harks back to my much earlier post #30 from Roland Barthes:
Separate names with a comma.