What do you expect from the photographs you are presented?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by je ne regrette rien, May 3, 2022.

  1. Innovative creators are able to conceive the journeys I mentioned and present them. That's not only craft, it's also talent. I've seen stories about the same subject, one conveying feeling and sentiment, the other appearing more distanced and cold. Although the subject in both cases was emotional in the same way.

    And then there is the viewer. Photographs are about connections:
    • the photographer's with the subject, and her capability to transmit this with the means selected. The combinations of such means are fundamentally infinite.
    • the photographer's with the viewer
    • the photograph's connection with the universal body of photographic work, in what is it innovative, in what repetitive (subject, combination, form, tools, techniques, etc)
    • the viewer's knowledge. One important Italian designer, artist, creator, author, Bruno Munari, said "Everyone sees what they know". The viewer becomes an active part of the connection and is responsible for their understanding of what they see and what is shown.
    • the stance "if I like it or I don't" is just not enough. It's too subjective.
    The conclusions I draw for myself are:
    • I don't know enough. Not enough about history of photography, not enough about its developments and complexity. Not about the combination of techniques and how they contribute to a visual message. I may know a bit about photographs and photographers, mostly due to the photographs I've seen, but that's it.
    • Photographs can be analysed and assessed, but then there is something instinctive about them, which leads to the conclusion about whether they make sense or not.
    • The little I know leads me to think that most of the photography I am exposed to adds very little to the sense of the global corpus of images. In other terms, everything has already been photographed - conceptually - and in most cases so much better by the original authors than the epigones popping up all the time.
    • It's not about photographers, it's about their photographs. This is not a congruent set: an author may produce one outstanding piece of work and then fade away in repetitions. That is why I focus on photographic work and not on photographers.
    • I'm driven towards photographs, it is interesting that @samstevens does not use social media and I may go that way as well: as far as I see, they are not suitable for my purpose. I need to look for curated work and not waste my time with randomly posted pictures.
    • Hopefully I will be able to transfer all this into my own photography, which, at the moment, looks a bit complicated I must say.
  2. Only if I focus on the thing photographed instead of the photograph.

    1) I do my best, usually successfully, not to think of photos as photos of things.

    2) If I’m after new, unique, or personal experiences, and I’m in a thing-oriented frame of mind, I focus on how the thing is photographed.

    Monet wasn’t the first person to paint a church, a landscape, or a bridge. Picasso wasn’t the first person to paint a bedroom chair. Adams won't be the last person to photograph Yosemite. The creativity and freshness and uniqueness in photography or any art is not necessarily in the thing chosen to be the subject.

    In one of the recent Photo of the Week threads, a lot of energy was spent on whether the walking man was really a statue or not. This is both understandable and limiting. Of course, we know how dependent on the “real” world photography is. It can be used to present the news and can be accurate to an acceptable degree for certain purposes. In the world of photography, there’s also a kind of tension between that real-world pull and the more imaginative and personal planes on which new visions can be adopted and built, the responsibility of both viewer and photographer.

    I don’t know that I can say it better than ...

  3. The very same situation that, in some eyes or circumstances, might seem repetitive, in other eyes or circumstances might be a significant connection to the past, a homage, or a re-envisioning. It's only limitations I might impose on myself that would keep me from making or seeing the old as new.
  4. In her first chapter "On photography", Susan Sontag says
    When I say everything I mean the conceptual thing, the conceptual subject.

    That's where I start from. Of course the "real" can be reshaped, transformed, transsubstantiated.

    I wouldn't compare photography with painting to begin with, because, even if they share the art of composition, the painter has intrinsically more control over the objects she places on her canvas than the photographer, who must make many more efforts and deploy many more abilities to find and arrange the objects to conceive and realise the image he has in mind.

    I think of two particular photos by Jeff Wall: A Sudden Gust of Wind and Dead Troops Talk. They are both about the real, depict the real, but we know that they are unreal.
    Absolutely yes!
    That's the puncture, the sting, the imperceptible, which distinguishes the repetition from the new. This includes the
    these distinguish the same representation of the same subject from a mere repetition.

    I have recently seen a perfect re-envisioning of Weston's Tina Modotti sixty-four years later: Hugues Erre. Both sting.
  5. If I don't focus on the thing photographed, my photographs are blurry. :(
    je ne regrette rien likes this.
  6. Sontag has much to offer that’s worth considering, in its place and as one of many ways to look at things. Sometimes, I find her richly cynical and dark, other times unnecessarily cynical and dark. I think the quote you provided is worth considering in some moments and worth rejecting or being suspicious of in others. Plato made the mistake of thinking there was some universal truth that remained hidden to the senses and to ordinary human beings. Sontag, by seeing us still locked in the cave, offers picturesque possibilities but also repeats Plato’s error. Here, her intellectual side, just as with Plato, relegates her sensual and emotional side to secondary status. This is one reason Plato so misunderstood art, thinking of it as *mere* representation.

    While painting and photography offer different takes on and methods for *representation*, as arts they share a lot as well, especially so in the realm of *expression*, which goes well beyond representation. Here, the truth is not some hidden secret which often fools the senses by its so-called faulty and misleading appearances. Here, the truth is not only truly accessed by the intellect. In art, the truth is revealed expressively, sensually, passionately, not excluding the intellect but also not putting the intellect at the apex. Painting and photography offer both overlapping and unique methodologies. And their pictorial and sense-oriented *expressiveness*, while also unique in some ways, shares many qualities.
  7. That’s not always a bad thing! :cool:
  8. I would disagree with this all having been photographed as well. Humans, and photographers, can and do come up with new conceptual subjects.
  9. Of course humans and photographers can come up with new conceptual subjects and new and innovative conceptions to present visually.
    What I’m saying is that this seems to require a lot of creative energy, much more nowadays when, believe it or not, millions of photographs are produced every minute.

    Look at a photographer I’ve studied a lot (among others): Henri Cartier-Bresson. His experience is kind of irripetibile. He certainly had talent and also business skills, but as important, he was instrumental in exploring the world in an era of post-war transformation. People were eager to know how the world was developing, travelling was certainly available to a restricted segment of the population and Cartier-Bresson met this demand for knowledge and information about a radically changing world. With the means that were available at the time. And he quit photography around 1974.

    Certainly an innovator of his time, it makes no sense to emulate him nowadays, because people’s demands are different, information channels are different, mobility and accessibility are different (think of Google StreetView). When he quit photography he, smart as he was, was certainly aware that he had contributed with what he could.

    The success of Davide Monteleone is due to his choice of then-transforming Soviet Union and Russia and the need to document the human condition during this transformation. And there are endless examples. All outstanding photographers are precursors in their own way, besides their (self-)communication skills.

    All has been photographed by now. Creating something new, presenting it in a new way is certainly possible, requires talent and work, a lot of work. And as far as I can see it is quite rare.
  10. Hasnt it always been rare? And, as we were saying before about social media, doesn’t how far you can see in so many ways depend on which direction you look?

    I can understand some of your conclusions in light of the fact that you’re talking about someone like Cartier Bresson against the contemporary backdrop of millions of “this is what I had for lunch” or “look at me in front of the Statue of Liberty” photos. Isn’t that apples and oranges?

    When Bresson was working, and developing his most influential style and approach to photography, my dad and others like my dad, not by any means photographers, were thrilled with their accessible-to-the-masses cameras and labs, snapping pics of my mom and millions of other soon-to-be-left-behind-girlfriends of WWII at the 1939 New World’s Fair.

    Though they were not photographers and not playing in the same ballpark as Cartier Bresson, today those shoeboxes full of pics, for the style of clothes and cars at the time if nothing else, are more interesting than most of what you’ll find on Facebook. In a hundred years, I would not be surprised if the Facebook version of the shoebox held some of the cultural allure that the pre-WWII family and event snaps hold for us today. Still, though, looking at Bresson in the context of Facebook’s millions of snaps is a little like looking at Matisse in the context of a yellow pages* filled with house painters.

    *speaking of anachronisms, lol!

    I’m thinking that the viewer’s responsibility, and certainly the critic’s or theorist’s, is to narrow the field of view and separate the wheat from the chaff. If one doesn’t want or have the time to do that, take advantage of the many excellent gallery and museum curators who do it. Once that’s done, there’s a reasonable point of comparison between Cartier Bresson and what’s happening today of significance in the art and documentary world of photography, as opposed to the world of Facebook and Twitter.

    As a founder of Magnum, I’m sure Cartier Bresson would be proud that, today, one can still turn to Magnum instead of the millions of throwaway photos on Facebook to get a picture of contemporary photography at a certain level.

    Not that there aren’t some gems to be found on the Internet. And not that the “Facebook-aesthetic” can’t be mined, much like the snapshot and Polaroid aesthetics of years ago, for artistic or other significant possibilities, with some intention, thoughtfulness, and creative energy applied.
    Supriyo likes this.
  11. Due to this being a relatively new technological, digital, and Internet age and cameras being in the hands of more and more interesting and diverse people, I think if we’re open to it this is likely going to be a fascinating period for photographic and cinematic innovation. Being open to it means that our paradigms for what’s good will be changed by such work, so the average viewer will likely dismiss the innovative because it doesn’t meet the expectations previously built up for what’s good. That’s why it can take time and some eyes with expertise and influence to help guide viewers toward more unfamiliar work that might just matter in the long run.
    inoneeye likes this.
  12. Probably you are right. Only the "hits" resist time and come through to us.

    Yes and no. I'm attracted by curated work, but I am also aware of some initial selection bias of collections as the ones presented by Magnum, VII, AgenceVU, ParalleloZero, etc. even if it is worth keeping an eye on those of them who do scouting of new talents.
    Definitely. I have not yet managed to put this in perspective, but shoe-box collections of contemporary pictures will be of value in 20 or 30 years, because they will have the patina of time passing. Think of Vivian Maier and her story. If we imagine her in a present time, her imagery is created out of some naivety and candidness, with quite a few of orginal and attractively funny shots, documenting life in the streets. I think it's nice documentary, some critics are critical of her, I think she's enjoyable. One of the keys is that her photography is not pretentious.
    Absolutely. However, I suspect that the judgment over quality of certain work is influenced by "other" interests. Commercial ones for example, or praising the established, ignoring their demise (as Martin Parr calls it). Some time ago I've attended the presentation of a book by an amateur, published by a renown house, edited by an established editor, commented-on by a known photography critic, supported by a well-known brand of photo equipment. The job I find absolutely mediocre, lacking breadth and depth. But it served the purpose: an averagely interesting subject, prominent sponsors, an adequate, high-level promotion, targeting a certain market, probably successfully.
    That is what I'm talking about. It's a challenge. And I long to find those interesting and diverse people you mention here:
  13. My own appreciation a quite subjective criterion: "I see what I know" and I may also add "I see what I feel and I feel what I'm sensitive to".

    It would be very interesting to define what "poetry" is. Daniel J. Teoli Jr.'s definition is a fascinating one but also very synthetic, there is a lot of room for individual projections. Thank you for signalling the blog, it is worthwhile deepening.
  14. Yes. After all, how did Cartier Bresson come to most of us? Likely neither by rummaging through random shoeboxes nor by scouring the Internet. History (and the institutions involved) presented him to you.
    Yes, I think bias is a fact of life. The best I can do is be aware of it in others and myself and overcome it to the extent possible, but I’ll never get rid if it completely. Genetics, cultural exposures, class, and taste all contribute to bias. Cartier Bresson did not come to us without some bias at play.
    A good case in point. I found the story about her work and the way it found its way to us, the fight among her family, the art world, and Maloof, as interesting or even more interesting than the work itself. And there is an argument to be made that Maloof was not the best presenter of her work and that a better job of culling and curating her work would have given it more resonance. Curators play a role that not all artists or art collectors or lovers of art could perform as well, any one of whom would also be prone to bias.
    Yes. That’s part of the process. The art world is not free of outside and side interests. Art is very often (also) a commodity. I can be aware of and accept that while still experiencing the art, music, theater, movies, etc. that are most meaningful to me on a different and more personal plane, where the work is strong enough to break through all that and I’m capable of letting go of the outside interests in the moment of experience. There will always be these kinds of examples of the mediocre being successful due to other factors. For me, the examples don’t say as much as they seem to say to others. I just move on and am still able to find and appreciate more meaningful work in spite of the mediocrity that often gets elevated.
  15. Cartier-Bresson is THE iconic photographer of the twentieth century. A communist aristocrat (or rather an aristocratic communist?). Mastering the craft (formerly and lately a painter). Mis-understood, mis-interpreted. A genius of his time.
    I try to deal with it. Photography, as all of the plastic arts, is not subject to the laws of physics. Fortunately. Personally I've come to the conclusion that the less time I spend on social media platforms the better. Sometimes I have the feeling that members just upload the whole of their memory cards (or smartphones).
    It seems to me that she was just passionate about photography and photographed. Then her life continued and ended. We are born into this world having nothing and we die leaving everything behind. And then, as it happens, somebody finds stuff and has to get rid of it (the warehouse where her boxes were kept) and by pure chance John Maloof ran across it. He was a real-estate agent, with sales skills, and that was his driver. Not really a curator. My personal opinion is that the dispute about her estate was purposefully created by the lawyer. Vivian Maier had some talent on her side, certainly some obsession and the patina of time, the latter being fundamental.
    Yes. I recall the lawsuit against William Eggleston by Jonathan Sobel, a financier, because the photographer had produced new prints of some of his iconic dye-prints.

    Overall, my original question stems from my personal belief that photographs should go very much beyond the mere representation of reality. I look for a sense in photographs. Understanding what others think about the sense of photographs helps me assessing my own work better.
  16. Or she may have too many drinks during writing “On Photography” (per her own notes)
  17. Or just enough! :)
  18. "What do you except from photographs presented to you" Je

    Try the word "appreciate" instead of the word "except".
  19. I subscribe to Apple News and specify Photography as a subject of interest. I recieve several photography related articles and blogs every morning from different parts of the Web. Some of them are quite inspiring and I have tried to share one or two on PN occationally. However, if I try to randomly look into social media for a good photo, I am most likely to be disappointed.

    Also, presentation and sequence matters a lot in how a series of images are appreciated. I think, many photos on social media when viewed randomly may not create an impression, but presented in a certain way can be insightful. These are my observations.

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