What is it?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by unrealnature, Nov 28, 2013.

  1. This [LINK] is a photograph of the pubic hair of a pregnant camel.
    She (the camel) is a direct descendant of one of the camels once ridden by Lawrence of Arabia.
    This [LINK] is an abstract image titled 'Untitled.' I'm not even going to bother to add a linked image because nobody will click on it.
    If I tell you that I have a picture of a horse titled 'Bob'; or maybe it's titled 'Stoicism,' I would guess that a fair number of you are already ready to argue that the imaginary picture of a horse that I have not shown you doesn't look like a Bob and is not particularly stoic.
    At what point, or to what degree does the evidentiality of photographs actually prevent us from seeing them? As a further example, in Steve Gubin's recent thread featuring a photograph of four girls, all of the commentary seems to me to be about stuff that is not in the photograph; its only job is to be evaluated as possible evidence to support or fail to support what is not in the photograph.
    If I said of that photograph, "reading" the girls from left to right, that there is drama in the left to right undulation through the hair; left to right from eye to eye to eye; from left to right in the increasing back and forth torso-twistings; from left to right the rising degree of vamp from the first (motherly, with bra) to the crescendo with the hair, face, and twist of the third girl (braless), to the slowing/concluding cadence of the last girl (chest fully covered); that I enjoy all the shades of blue/lavender etc. etc. — are you bored stiff? Or does everybody else also see this but feel that it's personal/private or somehow unimportant or to "arty" to confess in a public forum?
    If a picture isn't evidence of something, are you going to look at it; or is evidence of *something* the first requirement of every photograph?
    [Of course I'm lying about the pregnant camel. Does it matter? If I hadn't said that, would you have looked at the picture? Maybe Steve was lying, too, and the four girls are residents of a juvenile detention center, dressed up for their parole hearing. Or they're at a casting call for the new movie, Clueless II. Does this change the photograph? I was also lying about the imaginary photograph of the stoic horse, Bob. His name is really Clyde.]
     
  2. Context is important.
    In a recreational discussion of no real importance or consequence, anything goes.
    If, however, a photo is under dispute in a court of law or subject to interpretation in such as way as to have real consequences, then every detail real or interpreted matters and will be subjected to scrutiny.
     
  3. Where an aesthetic discussion fits somewhere between a recreational one and a forensic one is a matter to consider.
    _________________________________________
    "nobody will click on it."
    "are you going to look at it"?

    Hmmm. Already answered?
    Since I generally discount or even ignore titles, I'd look at it regardless of what it's called.
    _________________________________________
    Why look at a photo?
    Interesting question. Often, because someone I respect, know, or consider an expert has pointed me in that direction. Other times, I come across them on my own, often in galleries or books, because someone else considered them worthy of hanging or publishing.
    Totally agree with Michael that context is important to how we experience a photo and its contents.
    On the one hand, there's my reaction and response to a photo, which can be personal and non-literal or visceral. And on the other hand, there's how I talk about a photo in a discussion about it.
     
  4. Michael, I agree that context is important. The problem is, it seems to me that context can swallow the picture. The photo gets glanced at, and then it's off to the races of all sorts of prompted speculation.
    I am not saying that this is true for "other people." While I would like to claim that my finely tuned aesthetic sense lets me look at all kinds of pictures "for their own sake" this is patently untrue; like everybody else, the first thing I (try to) do is figure out "what it is," either by sight or by title/label.
    When I tell you what the pregnant-camel-pubic-hair picture is really "of" I think you'll find (you, Michael, in particular, given what I know of your interests) that to be so interesting (it is *very* cool), that the picture-as-a-picture will more or less disappear. And that disappearance is what I am sorry about.
     
  5. Julie, you've raised some interesting points, but isn't everything a matter of interpretation within context in our path toward some personal truth?
    If I showed you a chair and said nothing about it allowing you to comment "as it sits", versus letting you in on the knowledge that it was Glenn Gould's chair and the back story surrounding its significance as a symbol of Gould's eccentricity, wouldn't that allow a greater appreciation from the felt significance developed through that knowledge, and therefore allowing you an expanded interpretation?
    At a broader level, a camera is just a camera, but a camera that took the picture "Earthrise" will be in a museum.
    An untitled picture without any explanation is often asked to stand on its own, but an elaborate explanation of it won't necessarily preclude a viewer's interpretation, rather it gives a viewer a platform from which to formulate an interpretation from following a guided path.
     
  6. All good points, Michael. But the aesthetics matter ... I can think of an almost infinite number of ways that the Steve Gubin picture could have been made that would have been less -- much, much less -- effective. The *way* the picture is made/presented given to our perception makes, if not "all" the difference, surely a great deal of it, and, as photographers, awareness of this matters.
    **********************
    To further complicate this issue -- and as appreciation for your input -- here is what the camel-pubics picture linked in the OP is truly of. Quoting from its source:
    .
    Dunes in the Russell Crater
    Lat: -54.3° Long: 12.9°
    During the less windy seasons in the Russell crater, on the highest dune on Mars, the black sand [which is covered with white dust] is completely covered with traces marking where tornadoes have lifted the accumulated sand.​
    .
    I am finding this photograph in the book This is Mars put out by Aperture. To me, every single plate is aesthetically gorgeous -- even though they are explicitly scientific and even though they were made by an unmanned probe. Credit is due to the editors (chooser) of the pictures Xavier Barral and Sébastien Girard, and they were chosen (and framed/cropped) *for* their aesthetic appeal, as this is intended as that kind of book.
     
  7. Perhaps context-described is less interesting (what does the picture of Glenn Gould's chair have that is so particular and interesting that a similar non-Glenn Gould chair does not? Visually, maybe not very much if anything) than context-discovered by the viewer. Or context-avoided. If the photographer's arranged context doesn't become evident in the personal viewing process, that may not even matter.
    Part of the pleasure of viewing an image is that the frame is the only physical constraint imposed on the viewer, which he has probably already accepted or factored in to his appreciation of the contained image, and then possibly forgotten as the novel image (that is, previously unseen) starts to engage his mind (emotional or intellectual). In looking at images, and where I have the choice, I avoid reading the title or the little text to the lower right of the print and then proceed to evaluate/appreciate the image without those references. Whether I have taken something from the viewing the image, or not, I then read that information and review the image to see if that has enabled further or different appreciation of what I saw. If I missed much because of a lack of knowledge of the context, then either the image is not persuasive enough of that or I have not really appreciated and understood what I was looking at. Or the context was of only peripheral importance to the aesthetic or emotional appreciation of the work.
     
  8. Arthur, I think there are two levels of "what is it?" The one you are thinking about, it seems to me, is that of what stuff is doing/meaning in the frame -- but this assumes that you know what that stuff "is." There is a primary level of "what is it?" that is just about figuring out, literally, what the stuff or thing is -- so that you can get scale and orientation, etc.
    Like you, I also prefer to consider a picture of identifiable stuff without the title or label or larger amount of load that it may be carrying. For example, I can and do admire the cleverness, aesthetics, and the success of this two page book spread [LINK] without reference to its larger context. How the individual pictures work on their own and then how well they mesh; working together and against each other, etc. And, for example, I very much enjoy Meatyard's pictures of people in masks even though I don't really know (or care) *why* they are wearing masks. I take them as they are given and they are wonderful.
    However ... however ... when I cannot tell what the material of which the picture is made "is," then I am not so sanguine. Using some of Carl Chiarenza's exquisite abstracts to illustrate, see if you can get what I'm talking about:
    01 Chiarenza [LINK] >>> fantastic, gorgeous, but I am uneasy because I don't know what it is
    02 Chiarenza [LINK] >>> also lovely, and I am much happier because I can tell that it is cardboard
    03 Chiarenza [LINK] >>> now I'm back to being unhappy, even though this is gorgeous ... because I can't tell what it is made "of"
    04 Chiarenza [LINK] >>> ahhh ... again, I feel palpable relief because I can see that it is peeling paint
    05 Chiarenza [LINK] >>> this one wobbles because I am pretty sure I know what it is -- because I know that Chiarenza likes to work with tin foil and sheet metal -- but it's not absolutely obvious that that's what this is
    06 Chiarenza [LINK] >>> ditto for this one. I can guess, but I'm not "sure" and that is a little bit distracting
    I love Chiarenza's work, including all the stuff where I don't know "what it is" but there is a visceral difference in the way I interact with the identifiable and the unidentifiable. What I find so interesting about the Mars/camel hair picture linked in the OP is that it is *both* an entirely non-abstract, scientific picture, and an abstract visual confusion of materials.
    [the book spread picture of the girls is from Rania Matar's A Girl and Her Room (2012)]
     
  9. Arthur, significantly Michael didn't seem to be talking about a picture of Glenn Gould's chair but rather Glenn Gould's chair itself. Michael was responding to Julie, saying that meeting something as a "what is it" is not unique to meeting it that way in photos. I had had the same thought as Michael on that, so I appreciate his making that point.
    And, yet, I have a different take as well, both for people, things, and pictures. Having recently met more transgendered folks and even so-called questioning folks in the queer community who refuse the label "transgender", I am more and more finding myself not meeting people with a "what is it" mentality. I more and more avoid that with objects as well, and photos.
    When I was looking for furniture quite a few years ago, I realized at a certain point I was less interested in looking for this or that piece of furniture or even caring what it was in favor of seeing the style as first and foremost. Did it fit in with the look I wanted? If so, I would find a use and a place for it.
    I might well see "film noir" when looking at a photo well before I consider "man in dark raincoat on wet street with neon light overhead."
    I sometimes, and this has been happening to me for decades, see tonality and shape long before I seek to identify what something is a picture of. Ofen, what something is slowly rather than immediately comes into focus as I'm considering other things about a photo, painting, sculpture, etc.
     
  10. I think that a photograph is intentional in the sense that it always points beyond itself to something else. It has "ofness", even if its subject is not something readily identifiable (as is the case wit at least some abstracts). And Michael, context does play a role in this regard, i.e., the photographer's designs regarding the photograph.
    Julie, is this where you're going when you ask " . . . is evidence of *something* the first requirement of every photograph?"
     
  11. "At what point, or to what degree does the evidentiality of photographs actually prevent us from seeing them? As a further example, in Steve Gubin's recent thread featuring a photograph of four girls, all of the commentary seems to me to be about stuff that is not in the photograph; its only job is to be evaluated as possible evidence to support or fail to support what is not in the photograph."​
    The only stuff that's ever undeniably in a photograph is a bunch of tones or colors, shaped by light. Solipsism aside, the rest is a matter of degrees of consensus about what is obvious, apparent, evident.
    If I said of that photograph, "reading" from left to right, that it isn't about the girls at all or anything that seems obvious, apparent or evident, but rather is about lurking dread, hinted at in the ominous vee-shaped shadow and implication of a stalker or predator lurking behind a window, studying the vulnerabilities of these young women, waiting for a moment to steal away any shred of a normal life they might have enjoyed - are you bored stiff? Or just thinking that I've watched too many David Lynch movies?
    Sometimes a photo is exactly what it appears to be and what it appears to be is only what we agree upon by consensus, or choose for ourselves despite consensus.
    We can impute intention, we can read our own interpretations into shapes we see as signs, we can experience emotions based upon those personal interpretations, all because a photograph of a deflated bounce house may resemble, to one viewer, a map of the location of the Sunni insurgency, thereby proving... whatever it is we'd like to have proven: that the conspiracy is real; that we really are more prescient, intelligent and perceptive than the drones we're forced to share air with.
     
  12. Hannah "... but underneath it all, I'm only 13. It's kind of scary. It's a hard feeling to not know where you fit in yet."
    So yes, it is personal and private of our own children, as fathers, brothers, uncles, friends, to see appearance and also know what's underneath "it all"; and with teen daughter or grand daughter: dread, dread, dread, and being sure they are where they said they were going to be, knowing that they won't be and running oneself ragged to find where they really are to drag their immature butts back home. Yeah we see it all right and hope that they can just work it all out with their mothers.
     
  13. Does the photograph tell a story, or do you need to tell a story about the photograph?
    I get the point about context etc. brought about by being told something about the image - but at what point is the story more important than the photograph, and why didn't you just write something and use the photo for an illustration? See, "The Painted Word" for a more comprehensive examination of this subject.
     
  14. Steve "...why didn't you just write something and use the photo for an illustration?"
    Or a video with narration. But video, narration, writing: communication in those alternatives may be equally or more difficult when the story in all its aspects is but partially known, perhaps the whole story only partially knowable at all. Photo images can carry a lot of information that is, broadly speaking, ah,....: non-verbal, or suggestive instead of precise; and with writing one often also resorts to images (metaphor, analogy, symbolism, etc.) to attempt communicating both emotions and ideas. Old time radio theater depended on listener imagination to create images, etc.
     
  15. "at what point is the story more important than the photograph"
    At the point when the story becomes more important than the photo. A context and an accompanying back story or narrative don't have to become more important than the photo, even while they can add depth to it.
    __________________________________________________
    While photos have significant connections to the things or people they are of, getting too swept away into the content as sole subject can be a way of avoiding what is there, which is also a photo. Note how the conversation about the photo of the girls quickly took on the shape of "my experience with teenage girls" just as the conversation about Link's photos of trains eventually became about train travels and Canadian rail passes. A good photo will send us to all kinds of places and I'm not knocking that, as long as it's accompanied by a sense of what the photo, and not just the content, is telling us, expressing to us, and making us think and feel.
     
  16. Fred: "Note how the conversation about the photo of the girls quickly took on the shape of "my experience with teenage girls...":
    Yeah, but more like it took on the shape of "my experience with my teenage girls" and if Julie says that what is the photo, that to discuss the photo as it is, we have to directly discuss the girls' sexuality, the flow of their clothing, posturing, and their body parts: that isn't going to happen: that would be a direct conversation about what is the photo that is DOA. A lot of older male protective instincts get triggered instead, mature adult contexts, and who doesn't remember going ballistic on girls about that age for the kind of stuff they pull. With a teenage boy you only have to worry about 1 **ck, with a teenage girl you have to worry about 100 **cks. Just sayin'...
     
  17. One thing I can do to keep it all in perspective is look at the differences between one photo of teenage girls and a different photo by a different photographer of teenage girls. That helps me separate "teenage girls" from "photo of teenage girls," though on some levels they are not that separate.
    If I immediately go to "my experience with my teenage girls" and over-personalize it (to the exclusion of other stances), I could risk missing some more universal considerations as well as missing out on what some degree of aesthetic viewing and distance can provide.
     
  18. Oh I know, Fred, and not to belabor my point. Julie is a woman and she can say of teenage girls " left to right from eye to eye to eye; from left to right in the increasing back and forth torso-twistings; from left to right the rising degree of vamp from the first (motherly, with bra) to the crescendo with the hair, face, and twist of the third girl (braless), to the slowing/concluding cadence of the last girl (chest fully covered); that I enjoy all the shades of blue/lavender etc. etc. — are you bored stiff"
    If those were my girls and a male friend of the family talked that way about them, like I said, women can say anything they want. But a male friend or acquaintance saying exactly that with a possible double entendre with the word 'stiff', talking about them twisting and writhing and if they have a bra on or not: I would have an extremely hard time restraining my anger from doing that male some bodily harm, that exact language. Julie can say it and it sounds fine, not offensive. But for a male saying that: there would be no friendship or contact after a male had made a comment to me like that about a teenage girl. That's some pretty primitive stuff and for that particular photo there isn't any separation available or allowable.
     
  19. "for that particular photo there isn't any separation available or allowable."
    I couldn't disagree more, vehemently as a matter of fact. It would depend on the male and the intonation with which he said it. I mean I guess we could ban Lolita as well, no? Or at least punch out the lights of the guy across from us reading it on the subway. Does not art deal with the primitive, the uncomfortable, even the profane?
    Not to mention that it's very unfortunate that society hasn't been as protective of young boys, particularly when we've left them alone with priests.
    Being protective of a person and a reality from another's actions is one thing. Being able to describe a photo or a situation or even a person, even in sex-related terms, is another.
    In another thread, I reproduced a quote I just discovered from Philip Roth which might be applicable.
    "I cannot and do not live in the world of discretion, not as a writer, anyway. I would prefer to, I assure you - it would make life easier. But discretion is, unfortunately, not for novelists."
     
  20. I agree with all that you just said Fred, on one level. But I'm narrowly addressing what I think the reasons are for what Julie noticed. She noticed the men weren't talking about what was in that photo in the way that Julie described that photo's content, which is perfectly fine of her to describe the photo like that, being that Julie is a woman. She asked if we, I assume she meant the men, didn't see the photo; the men seemed to her to be flitting all around the rather obvious content without actually landing on it. That's just not going to happen as I see it, I've tried to explain why from my perspective.
     
  21. I think it has a lot less to do with gender than with lack of photo viewing and describing skills.
    It's simply easier for people to go to "my teenage girls" or "my memories of riding a train" or "poor homeless person" than it is to concentrate on a photo.
    You could be right in your assumption about Julie's having men's reactions in mind when she described the photo in those terms (terms which I don't see in demeaning or male-oriented ways as you do), but I wouldn't make that assumption.
     
  22. Well, this conversation took a weird turn since I last read it. How did we get from abstract impressions, to references to b*dy p*rts with *sterisks, and threats of violence against guys who might dare to analyze photos the way a gal might? You don't usually see this sort of thing outside of the Canon vs. Nikon wars.
     
  23. I didn't think I was coming off as being contentious and I'm certain that if I'm read sympathetically, my meanings are clear and from common experience.
     
  24. Lex, why not stick to the subject of the thread instead of characterizing it and questioning the terms being used? Nothing weird is going on here, other than a peer giving his strong views about the terms of a photo. Though I disagree with Charles, he seems to me to be expressing himself sincerely and trying to address Julie's question honestly. The thread is about how we look at pictures and how and why we describe them in certain ways. I don't see that anything said is not simply worth addressing philosophically rather than characterizing as "war"like and weird. This isn't the Off Topic forum, where such accusations were common and where such characterizations of other members and their ideas got the forum closed. It's a philosophy discussion and I think Charles has, if passionately, stuck to the spirit of a good philosophical discussion. I take his words to be thinking out loud why Julie's description might not be adopted by many people. As I said, I think there are many reasons why others wouldn't describe it as Julie has, not least of which is many of our own unique ways of looking at and describing pictures, but more importantly because people don't normally look at photos carefully beyond subject identification and then personal experience of that subject, no matter how it's shot or presented. But, certainly, considering older males' possibly hesitant reactions to describing teenage girls a certain way and avoiding certain ways of looking at photos of them would not be something so far-fetched, even if I don't find a compelling case for its application here.
     
  25. Love ya Fred.
     
  26. Lex - "How did we get from abstract impressions, to references..."
    Because Julie in her OP gave us an example of a photograph of girls, described in feminine terms the flirtatiousness of the content, and observed that none had as yet spoken directly about that content, giving her the impression that the obvious was either unseen or that "everybody else also see this but feel that it's personal/private or somehow unimportant or to "arty" to confess in a public forum?"
    So Lex, would you then like to share? How would you answer what I considered to be a fair question from Julie? Or would you scold her for asking, as you appear to have scolded me for answering?
     
  27. "are you bored stiff"
    Yes.
    Cannot think of anything to say about it... because it a boring photo without "something", or, anything else.
    My old Gran would like because it would remind of her youth...so, I suppose that is something to say.
     
  28. Julie H:
    If a picture isn't evidence of something, are you going to look at it; or is evidence of *something* the first requirement of every photograph?​
    The original image is very illustrative of several concepts essential to understanding how to critique photography.
    Consider some philosophy about photography that has been around for a few decades. It was terrific that someone in the first thread found and linked to a similarly composed shot by Garry Winogrand, who was a consummate observer of humanity through the lens of a camera. He understood very clearly what he was doing, and he described photographs this way:

    Garry Winogrand:
    That's a photograph -- They're mute, they don't have any narrative ability at all, you know what something looked like, but you don't know what's happening ... There isn't a photograph in the world that has any narrative ability, any of them.
    They do not tell stories, they show you what something looks like, through a camera. The minute you relate this thing [indicating the photograph being examined] to what was photographed, it's a lie. It's two dimensional, it's the illusion of a literal description ...​
    Julie, and almost (but not quite) everyone else is looking at the photograph and then commenting on the visions of their own memories that it evokes. Of course everyone has different experiences, so the comments cover a wide range. But the point is they have little to do with the photograph, or what is in it, whether that is a non-existant "story" or if it is "evidence".
    The photographer, Lauren Greenfield, described the body of work the photograph is from as "isolating these very specific and somtimes extreme moments". The significance of that was analyzed decades ago:

    Susan Sontag, "On Photography":
    To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder - a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.​
    An instant in time, isolating extremes... is subliminal murder of the real girls that were photographed. And the story is not in that photograph at all. It merely shows what was there as it looks when photographed. The story is only in a compilation of many photographs and the discussion provided by the photographer external to the images.
    So in a sense, yes a photograph has the illusion of evidence, but in fact it is very carefully crafted to appear that way and is never evidence of "reality". The photograph in question is the work of an expert in using visual symbols to convey a desired message, loaded wtih emotional baggage, into the mind of viewers.
    The discussion here doesn't really say much directly about the photograph itself. It does say a great deal indirectly about the ability of Lauren Greenfield to use visual symbols!
     
  29. Floyd,
    A couple of quick responses:
    First, I think Winogrand and Greenfield contradict one another. Second, I don't really mind whether or not Sontag is right about "symbolic possession." If that's what the picture itself gives me, then that's fine with me. What I'm questioning is the photograph's "right" (for lack of a better word) to just be what it is -- and that includes ambiguity and lack of facticity.
    By contrast, a painting IS allowed to just be whatever it "looks like." Not only allowed, but expected to. I suggest that a photograph rarely is. It must be "of" something or the viewer is itchy with discontent.
    No matter how "carefully crafted" it is, to use your phrase, I find the viewers (including myself in spite of my wish to do otherwise) strain to see "behind" the craft to see what it "really" is.
    [Winogrand escapes this issue by being uninterested in the things. He loves the processes, the events, the in-between that's not about identity -- and I have never seen him use any "material" or players that is not obviously identifiable. No abstracts for Garry.]
     
  30. Winogrand, Sontag, and Greenfield are all saying the same thing, using different words and coming from a different perspective. It is almost certain that Greenfield is well aware of what the earlier analyst had to say and is choosing her words very carefully in that light.
    I don't really understand what "right" a photograph has? Photographs are just whatever the photographer produced. A photographer has the right to be ambiguous, or not.
    I also don't see the distinction you suggest between painting and photography. There absolutely are differences, but neither is allowed or disallowed to just look like what it does, because there is no other choice. Both necessarily are an image "of something". That something is the image. If it resembles something "real" that resemblance is an illusion, or if you prefer, it is an abstraction. All paintings and all photographs are abstract. None of them can possibly be reality if reality is something else.
    Specifically Winogrand was saying his photography is an abstraction because all photographs are an abstraction. A photograph is never the thing that was photographed, it's an illusion using visual symbols that creates a mental response similar to what something else might produce.
    "A photograph is the illusion of a literal description
    of how the camera 'saw' a piece of time and space."
    -- Garry Winogrand
    In other words: all photography is abstract. (And granted that some is more abstract.)
     
  31. Floyd Davidson, Dec 10, 2013; 07:59 a.m.
    Specifically Winogrand was saying his photography is an abstraction because all photographs are an abstraction.
    "A photograph is the illusion of a literal description
    of how the camera 'saw' a piece of time and space."
    -- Garry Winogrand
    In other words: all photography is abstract. (And granted that some is more abstract.)​
    Floyd -- I would have to disagree with your interpretation of both Winogrand's words, and the concept which lies behind them. My opinions only, of course.
    To say that a photograph is an illusion of a literal description is not the same as to say that it is abstract. Real or not, an illusion of something literal at least has the "literal" part going for it in terms of the ability of our brain to identify and categorize it. An abstract may, or may not, "suggest" some relationship with a literal object, but its overarching quality is its very lack of recognizable literalness. With good reason, impressionist painters are not categorized as abstract expressionists. Similarly, we do not lump Gary Winogrand and Robert Frank with Minor White and Aaron Siskind.
    This is hardly an original observation, but I would go beyond Winogands notion of a photograph as an illusion of a literal reality and suggest that is its own literal reality. In cases where it presents an illusion of a literal object(s), person(s), and moment in time, the reality of it, and the story behind it (I disagree with Winogrand that there is no narrative, particularly in the broad genre of which he was a practitioner) reside with the individual viewer. If they impose a literal interepretation and a storyline, then, whoomp, there it is. (This is a different way at coming at what you said in regard to the Greenfield photograph: "Julie, and almost (but not quite) everyone else is looking at the photograph and then commenting on the visions of their own memories that it evokes. Of course everyone has different experiences, so the comments cover a wide range.)
    As for Sontag's famous (or infamous) quote regarding photography as a violation and a "soft murder", that is only one way of interpreting a photograph, and a hyperbolic one at that. (I'm not going to plug it with a link here, but I once devoted a blog post to the discussion of violation and exploitation in candid photography. My conclusions, though personal, are vastly different from Sontag's, who I quoted in the article.) I'll gladly take "soft murders" and "subliminal murders" (including my own) for the purpose of creating visual documents and illuminations -- even those that confound, confuse, and anger - of the human condition.
    I still haven't addressed some of the items raised in Julie's original post. Hmmm...must go back.
     
  32. "I'll gladly take "soft murders" and "subliminal murders" (including my own) for the purpose of creating visual documents and illuminations"
    I'm not sure this isn't exactly what Sontag would have wanted. When I read her, which is awhile ago, I didn't understand her to be saying photography shouldn't be practiced. I did understand her to be asking photographers to consider carefully what they were doing and the ramifications of their actions, particularly in a cultural context and particularly considering the proliferation of photography in our everyday lives. I think if a photographer, now, is honest with himself about some of the impositions he necessarily makes on others when photographing them, that self awareness is ultimately a good thing for the world. Sontag's was not a proscription against photography, as I see it, but rather an attempt to raise the collective consciousness about its uses and effects.
    Regarding the Greenfield photo, I came away from that thread thinking much the same thing as Floyd, that most people were not looking at the photograph and were, instead, swept away by their own relationship not to the content of the photo but of what that content represented to them. It was much more a sociological than a photographic discussion, IMO. The interesting part, to me, is that this is one of the great uses and effects of photography and art in general. It touches our emotions and we're "allowed" to go anywhere we want with it. At the same time, THAT photo of teenage girls is different from OTHER photos of teenage girls. THOSE differences are significant. Many of the responders in that thread, rather than focusing on THAT photo of teenage girls, could have been focusing on ANY photo of teenage girls, because they were mainly addressing TEENAGE GIRLS, not photos of them and not that photo of them.
    I think there was more to be gleaned from that photo than what "teenage girl" made us think of. That would require an aesthetic as well as a psychological or sociological approach to the photo. That aesthetic posture toward a photo or painting is a bit more abstract than either a psychological or sociological posture would normally be. The aesthetic posture would include form, color, shadow, line, texture, and how all those relate to the content, creating something that IS and, importantly also, IS NOT "teenage girl." The IS NOT seemed to get lost in a collective concentration on the IS. What a teenage girl IS and what I think about teenage girls seemed to trump what the girls looked like when photographed.
     
  33. Just look at where the Flatiron Building discussion has now headed. We've moved completely away from the photo and are now discussing the difference between American and Asian architects. While a good photo will often open up the subject matter and move us in all sorts of directions, there's also a chance that our concern with subject matter will distract us from actually looking carefully at and sticking with the photo itself. It took only a day of discussion to get completely away from the actual photo. I consider that a loss, especially in a photo discussion among photographers.
    [It could be, however, that the discussions are showing just how much the Off Topic forum is missed here.] :)
     
  34. I think it fair to say that all our perceptions are abstract as fundamentally as Winogrand says a photograph is an abstraction. Perhaps Winogrand makes a distinction without a difference. Why would, or how could (in what circumstances) could an instrument our mind designs and builds be any more capable of rendering 'reality' than the mind that created that instrument? Our mind is an instrument with a lot of imprecision built in.
    Try getting a simple yes or no in answer to a simple yes or no question posed to anyone, try that to get an idea of how far the mind seems to instantly wander around. Would anyone be willing to try that?
     
  35. "Try getting a simple yes or no in answer to a simple yes or no question posed to anyone"
    Are you a man?
    Were you born in the U.S.?
    Do you have a mother and father?
    Surely, we could complicate these questions, and in many cases we do. But in many cases, we don't.
    As to your larger question, if both our minds and an instrument we create render reality, we still can offer a difference between our perceptions of each, the thing we perceive on the one hand and the picture of that thing on the other. I experience a difference, in terms of immediacy, between what I see with my own eyes, and what I see when I look at a picture of that thing. While the thing I perceive and the PICTURE I perceive are both on the same level of perception, the thing I perceive IN the picture I perceive, I believe, is a different order of perception. That having been said, I'm a firm believer in the case that art is as much how we see (to begin with) as it is what we make. It does seem like the "real world" is sometimes no different from a picture of it. Then again, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between a dream and a waking state, especially when we're dreaming, but taking that too far can get us into all sorts of trouble, as Descartes would have seen had he survived long enough to experience all the refutations of his dream thought experiment.
    Representations, signs, and symbols must be reckoned with. Isn't there data and metadata?
     
  36. Fred - "Isn't there data and metadata?"
    I think so.
    Sontag from above - "Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder..."
    Let's look at Sontag's use of the words sublimation and subliminal in that sentence fragment.

    Sublimation definition (emphasis added): Wikipedea - "In psychology, sublimation is a mature type of defense mechanism where socially unacceptable impulses or idealizations are consciously transformed into socially acceptable actions or behavior, possibly resulting in a long-term conversion of the initial impulse."
    Subliminal definition (emphasis added): (
    of a stimulus or mental process) below the threshold of sensation or consciousness; perceived by or affecting someone's mind without their being aware of it. Sontag says sublimation, which by definition means consciously intended, to describe an unconscious intent, a subliminal murder, behind the act of taking a photograph. That description is DOA, voided by her misuse of words. Because something conscious isn't subliminal by definition, and Sontag doesn't offer an explanation of how the conscious intent involved in sublimating a camera into a gun becomes a subliminal and therefore an unconscious soft murder. Of course it doesn't, its none sense. The meta data of her words, of language, brings a lack of clarity to the data she examines with those words. Here is another kind of language, the kind we also exhibit, body language. http://coyoteyipps.com/2013/12/10/coyote-connect-by-monique/ Compare the ambiguity and intrigue in the human videographer to the stark body language of the coyote, that later having no such meta data. The coyote neither comes nor goes, and an agitated neither coming or going describes its inner mental state. It can do but one or the other, and it hasn't decided which to do. Compare to the human: the human wonders out loud: "Do you want to play?" The human misses the mix in the coyote of aggressive approach and active fleeing, the coyote's mind is mind stuck in place, its movement shows that. Yet the human's mind wanders off to irrelevance. Our fellow predator species must flee, or must we, when our paths cross. To find middle ground with a coyote? I don't think it's possible. The thing is, look at the noise a human mind introduces into essentially closed space, the space between two species, between human and coyote. So if Julie, other ask or observe that we don't see, don't look, don't react to 'what's there', I have to agree. But its fundamental in us.
     
  37. I took Sontag to be speaking metaphorically and planting seeds of ideas. When taken literally and dissected as you've done, I can see the problems you have with it. I'd have to read more about the differences between sublimation and subliminal to know how seriously she may have contradicted herself. I think the camera/gun metaphor is useful, as is the shooting/killing metaphor.
    What I got when I read Sontag was not so much the exact psychological distinctions or the precise psychological ramifications of what she was talking about and not even so much the cultural issues she was addressing. I personalized it more. For me, a lot of what she is saying has something to do with my own alienation as a photographer, particular as one who photographs other people. That alienation, being aware of it, coming to grips with it, being uncomfortable with it, is energizing.
     
  38. I'm exploring the idea that Sontag, like Winogrand, makes a distinction without a difference thusly:
    Sontag - "To photograph people is to violate them,"
    Me - no more than just looking at a person violates them, and no less than just looking violates.
    Sontag - "by seeing them as they never see themselves,
    Me - our mind, not just a camera, daily sees others as they never see themselves.
    Sontag - "by having knowledge of them that they can never have;"
    Me - So we claim when judging others every day.
    Sontag "it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed"
    And that's my main point, that it isn't the camera or a photograph that turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. That's what we do with each other without ever taking a picture, symbolically possess them, representing them with mere words for example, or with a remembered mental image.
    Since we do all those things anyway without a camera, do we commit soft murder all the time then, so that it isn't unique to photographs? I don't think so.
     
  39. Sontag - "To photograph people is to violate them,"
    Me - no more than just looking at a person violates them, and no less than just looking violates.
    When Sontag and Winogrand talk about the act of photographing, I think they are assuming a resulting photograph which, to me, makes all the difference in the world.
    What's the difference?
    The changing, sometimes the robbing, of context.
    When I frame someone doing something, through the lens of a camera, I am isolating them from a great deal of their context. Others who will view the photo will not see the greater context that was present when the person was doing whatever they were doing. The significance of many actions and expressions is very much changed when taken out of the context of their original performance.
    The violation is not, IMO, in the looking that the camera does, which may be like our eye on some level. The violation, rather, is in the portrait that is created, which has the artifice of being FRAMED. The significance added (or subtracted) by the frame (which the camera provides) is where the violation and murder can come in.
    ________________________________________
    Sontag - "by seeing them as they never see themselves,
    Me - our mind, not just a camera, daily sees others as they never see themselves.
    With our cameras, we STILL the action. Our minds don't do that daily. Our eyes and minds experience the flow of action, not a stilling of an isolated moment.
    _________________________________________________
    Sontag "it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed"
    Though we can each do this to others, the camera can relatively easily turn someone into a SHARED object of possession. It not only preserves, but it can turn what was thought to be private very quickly into something public. It's one thing for a boyfriend to objectify a woman by treating her a certain way or looking at her a certain way. It's another for a nude picture you posed for in the quiet of your bedroom to wind up, during an ugly breakup, on the Internet. In the act of photographing is always the potential for the latter.
    It's also a matter of degree. We can, indeed, turn others into objects without the benefit of a camera. But please spend some time reading through the "critiques" on the PN nude forum. And see if looking at a PICTURE of a nude woman doesn't exacerbate this tendency or make it just that much more obvious.
    We say, metaphorically, that we turn someone into an object by treating them a certain way or thinking of them a certain way. Photographing someone yields that LITERALLY (a 2-dimensional object with four corners). That photographing results in a literal object has an affect on so-called objectification.
     
  40. Fred G:
    Sontag - "To photograph people is to violate them,"
    Me - no more than just looking at a person violates them, and no less than just looking violates.
    When Sontag and Winogrand talk about the act of photographing, I think they are assuming a resulting photograph which, to me, makes all the difference in the world.​
    It does seem that quoting specific lines has caused some to misinterpret what was actually being discussed, which as you are pointing out is in fact the effect of photographs. But even you are ignoring that with your opening comment that it is not different than just looking. It is vastly different! We don't remember just a single exposure at 1/100 of a second, we remember the abstracted impression integrated over the entire time we viewed them. And even if that is relatively short it still doesn't equate to the same as a photograph because it exists only in the mind of a single person (and probably not sharply so even then). The photograph can have a hugely more pervasive significance, which is of course what Sontag in specific was analyzing, and relatively is what Winogrand was waxing about in terms of his own photography. A photograph published on the cover of Newsweek Magazine, the NYTimes front page, or even if it merely made it into an art exhibition is seen by multitudes and is captured forever in the many minds that see it. It's the multitudes that Sontag was discussing. She was describing changes to cultures across the globe that had resulted from massive distribution of imagery. (And that was before the Internet!)
    And even for the person who makes a snapshot for the family album, we can be assured that a decade or two later the only real memory of that period of time spent with the subject of the photograph is not going to be from what was seen then, but will be made up of the effect of reviewing the snapshot one or many many times as the years pass. What we see just doesn't have nearly the effect of what we photograph.

    Fred G:
    What's the difference?
    The changing, sometimes the robbing, of context.
    When I frame someone doing something, through the lens of a camera, I am isolating them from a great deal of their context. Others who will view the photo will not see the greater context that was present when the person was doing whatever they were doing. The significance of many actions and expressions is very much changed when taken out of the context of their original performance.
    The violation is not, IMO, in the looking that the camera does, which may be like our eye on some level. The violation, rather, is in the portrait that is created, which has the artifice of being FRAMED. The significance added (or subtracted) by the frame (which the camera provides) is where the violation and murder can come in.​
    But of course the "portrait that is created" is the effect of "the looking that the camera does". That is what Winogrand meant by "Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed." And that is what Sontag meant by " it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed". Photography is a communications media using visual symbols to transfer the photographer's concepts into the mind of the viewer. What the viewer can see in any photograph is only a set of symbols generated from the "objects" the camera has "symbolically possessed".
    And as you are indicating, that is absent any context that the camera excludes. It is a skill on the part of the photographer to frame a subject with some specific context in a way that makes the symbolized object attractive to the viewer. That is "good composition". And editing, such as dodging and burning, is how context is made more dominant or less dominant.

    Fred G:
    Sontag - "by seeing them as they never see themselves,
    Me - our mind, not just a camera, daily sees others as they never see themselves.
    With our cameras, we STILL the action. Our minds don't do that daily. Our eyes and minds experience the flow of action, not a stilling of an isolated moment.​
    I don't think Sontag meant it in the way you interpret it in the first sentence. It was meant only in the sense you describe as unique to a camera. A person can see, of others and of themselves, only an effect integrated over time. The camera differentiates, and presents that as the definition of the object. Very different "seeing".

    Fred G:
    Sontag: it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed"
    Though we can each do this to others, the camera can relatively easily turn someone into a SHARED object of possession. It not only preserves, but it can turn what was thought to be private very quickly into something public. It's one thing for a boyfriend to objectify a woman by treating her a certain way or looking at her a certain way. It's another for a nude picture you posed for in the quiet of your bedroom to wind up, during an ugly breakup, on the Internet. In the act of photographing is always the potential for the latter.
    It's also a matter of degree. We can, indeed, turn others into objects without the benefit of a camera. But please spend some time reading through the "critiques" on the PN nude forum. And see if looking at a PICTURE of a nude woman doesn't exacerbate this tendency or make it just that much more obvious.
    We say, metaphorically, that we turn someone into an object by treating them a certain way or thinking of them a certain way. Photographing someone yields that LITERALLY (a 2-dimensional object with four corners). That photographing results in a literal object has an affect on so-called objectification.​
    Exactly. Every photograph has potential to redefine someone in a way that is neither accurate nor complimentary. In addition to critiques in the nude forum... my goodness, just read what was said about 4 teenage girls in a picture presented to this forum! Everyone seemed to see the symbols the photographer intended, but then they grade the photograph itself and all discussion of it according to moral triggers those symbols tripped.
     
  41. Sontag is so thoroughly last century ...
    I give you a vignette (from memory, so probably not perfectly accurate). I'm watching the documentary on photojournalist James Nachtwey, War Photographer. He's in Bosnia during that terrible conflict, and he's shooting families -- I'm remembering in particular a group of very old women, as they have seen/heard of the massacre of family members. Nachtwey is shooting with a wide lens -- he gets in very, very close -- he's about two feet from their faces. And while he's shooting (and a documentary film crew is simultaneously shooting him shooting them), you can see the wailing women adjusting themselves for the camera -- renewing the intensity, the angle, the quality of their visual presentation. These people have no need to lie -- the truth is already unspeakably horrible; their grief is already (naturally) visible, and yet they "work" the photographer as much as he "works" their scene.
    Who is redefining whom here? And if you can't tell (if it looks like the subject was caught unawares, possibly in a cruel way), then that very "can't tell" casts the viewers mind back to the photographer as much as it does to what was "done" to the subject.
     
  42. Floyd,
    I have an older version of Safari which doesn't allow me to use the block quote function which puts others' words into a gray box. Sorry if that causes confusion. The lines I put in italics were quotes from Charles W. in this thread and my posts were responses to what he said. From now on I will put the person's name in front of the quote of theirs I put in italics for more clarity.
    I think you got the essence of what I was saying. And thanks for your thoughts. The initial lines which I put in italics were me quoting Charles W. He quoted a line from Sontag and then added the "Me" line with his own restatement of her line. I was disagreeing with him. I started by quoting his quote of Sontag and his response to Sontag. Again, what's in italics in my post is my quoting of Charles and not what I think. What I think follows in regular type in the longer paragraphs.
    So for example, when you say:
    "But even you are ignoring that with your opening comment that it is not different than just looking."
    I have not made that opening comment. I quoted Charles, who made it. As you read my own words, you will see that, like you, I think photographing is very much different from just looking.
    In any case, throughout the rest of your post you do seem to recognize what are my own thoughts and they are pretty similar to yours.
    Thanks again for your comments.
     
  43. Julie,
    Good point, but I'm not sure why that makes Sontag last century, other than that she did live in the last century, as did many worthwhile thinkers. That we may attribute adjustments and playing for the camera to subjects of photos doesn't really change the fact that photographers can violate their subjects. Subjects can, of course, be complicit in the violation or can be the originator of a lie. It's an addition to Sontag. Not a rejection of her.
     
  44. Fred G.:
    I have an older version of Safari which doesn't allow me to use the block quote function which puts others' words into a gray box. Sorry if that causes confusion. The lines I put in italics were quotes from Charles W. in this thread and my posts were responses to what he said. From now on I will put the person's name in front of the quote of theirs I put in italics for more clarity.​

    My apologies for not catching that. I did see the change in view, but didn't catch on to why it was changing!
    Photo.net, like every forum, has it's own quirks about what can and can't be done with the editor. I had to experiment a bit with hand coding HTML to figure out how to do things in ways that I want. (I do a bit of professional typesetting, and hence I am perhaps more critical and also more insistant on style than most would be.)
    I literally hand type all of the HTML tags into the editor window. To quote the text above what I entered was as shown below:
    〈blockquote〉〈b〉Fred G.:〈/b〉〈p〉I have an older version of Safari ... in italics for more clarity.〈/blockquote〉〈p〉〈br /〉
    The trailing tag, 〈br /〉 puts a vertical space after the quoted text.
     
  45. Fred G.
    It's an addition to Sontag. Not a rejection of her.​
    Isn't that a demonstration of exactly what Sontag was analyzing to begin with? The effect of massive imagery made available via photography and cinematography has changed cultures and dulled our senses when it comes to such things as war. Instead of sorrow and morning the horrors of war, people pose for the camera to be seen "appropriately".
    Sontag may have lived in the last century, but that particular discussion is still now in this century.
     
  46. Floyd, yes, good points. As I said, I read Sontag a while ago and thought I remembered her approaching it more from the point of view of the photographer as the main culprit, as opposed to the culture of photography itself. But what you say also rings true from my recollection of reading On Photography.
    One interesting example I can think of are the photos from Abu Ghraib. The dullness of the senses (to be exceptionally kind) of those doing the photographing is obvious. And yet, the surfacing of those photos brought to light the kinds of torture and humiliation the military was engaging in.
    My own point would be that while photography can dull the senses and be violative, it is also a great means of artistic expression, documentary communication, and provides a record of things that might not otherwise be known to the world at large.
     
  47. Our senses aren't "dulled." We just know how/when to give them away to strangers. Nachtwey gets what they give, not what he takes.
     
  48. One other point about Sontag's wording. Murder isn't murder unless it's intentional. So "subliminal murder" is a contradiction in terms because she is in effect saying "unintentional intentionality " when she says "to photograph someone is a subliminal murder".
    Fred - "Photographing someone yields that LITERALLY (a 2-dimensional object with four corners). That photographing results in a literal object has an affect on so-called objectification."
    Ok that makes perfect sense, that a photograph is an object with an objectification within its frame. Takes on a life of its own. In that sense it may be fair to say there is soul stealing involved.
    With respect to the photographs of nude women. Yes that's an objectification, but where does Sontag's analytical terms lead me? Just in passing: would she call it subliminal objectification? but for nude women photos it's intentional objectification. Following her down the path, I also wouldn't then say that the nude women models are subliminally committing suicide by allow the objectifying photograph to be taken, wouldn't say they are committing a soft suicide, not with intention, not without intention. I just don't like Sontag's terms.
    As an object containing a symbolic representation of a woman without clothing, the photograph is property that one can hold in one's hand, possess. It is fantasy materialized and I would look more to fantasy as a phenomenon, the lengths to which fantasy will go to materialize, than to how fantasy's desire is accomplished, i.e., by drawing, photographing, sculpting. Fantasy has a life of its own and it is a very serious question to ask "Who possesses whom?" of the person that in one hand holds a photographic apparition of a goddess or god.
    Thanks to Frank for all and for "She was describing changes to cultures across the globe that had resulted from massive distribution of imagery. (And that was before the Internet!)"
     
  49. Charles, I often find myself disagreeing with the terms a philosopher or writer uses and even often find flaws with the soundness of their logic. But that doesn't mean, for me, that the general points they are making are invalidated. As a matter of fact, with the really good philosophers and thinkers, it makes me want to aid their arguments by finding better terms to use or more sound arguments, close to theirs, to make. If, indeed, it is the terms that you are finding contradictory in Sontag, I urge you to search for the gestalt of her writing and see if there's a way, by using other terms than "subliminal" and "sublimation" that you find less contradictory that might still preserve the basic themes Sontag is exploring, which still seem to have significance. If the hyperbole, colorful analogies, and sometimes confused or confusing terminology is going to sink such a writer, then Kant, Plato, Heidegger, and a lot of others will have to fall as well.
     
  50. Charles, since you don't like the "murder" analogy or what you perceive to be a contradiction in "subliminal" and "sublimate", what if we look again at a more positive use of or result from the act of photographing, where it seems to me very different from the act of looking. Imagine if the folks at Abu Ghraib had just looked at the torture they and their fellow evildoers were perpetrating. Isn't there a significant difference in the fact that they photographed the goings-on as opposed to just looking?
     
  51. " a similarly composed shot by Garry Winogrand"
    Must be a masterpiece then.
    Jeez, I just thought it was just a snap of three girls doing nothing, saying nothing...other than the conjecture driven into the work.
    But then we can tell a story, play with words, and turn the banal into.....crap.
    Or dare I say Art.
     
  52. I suppose it is her terms. I mean are the models who pose nude involved in a ritual murder/suicide? But of course I get her point. In putting her quote up for examination my point was more to show the artifice of language as metadata that is limited in how it can get to the meat of the thing. Sontag, in my perception, missed her mark by a measure.
    Abu Ghraib: we had images where words would have been less effective. But how much more/or less effective would have been a sound only recording of the torture? Would it have been more gut wrenching, more real, with the images provoked, like in old time radio, from the mind of the listener? I say that because just looking isn't an attempt at communication as were the pictures, as would have been a sound recording. So I don't see much difference between the objectification that takes place in our minds when we look at a subject, that its all that different from the objectification and other non-truths we tell ourselves every day all without ritualizing our misunderstandings/understandings in photographic form.
     
  53. Charles W wrote:
    One other point about Sontag's wording. Murder isn't murder unless it's intentional.​
    Redefining words used by another to mean something they did not intend will never provide valid understanding or discussion. One definition of murder requires intent to kill, but others do not. Typically, for example, intend to commit a felony makes an accidental death a first degree murder.
    Your entire discussion was based on a false premisis, and is therefore invalid on its face.
    The moral is that it is important to look for what people are saying, rather than ways to twist what was said in a way that can be faulted.

    Charles W wrote:
    Thanks to Frank for all and for "She was describing changes to cultures across the globe that had resulted from massive distribution of imagery. (And that was before the Internet!)"​
    You can be frank, and say that I wrote that.
     
  54. Allen Herbert wrote:
    " a similarly composed shot by Garry Winogrand" Must be a masterpiece then.​
    Well, certainly the Winogrand image is thought to be exactly that. The link posted in the other thread, by Sarah Fox, wasn't a very good representation of Garry Winogrand's "Untitled (Historionics on a Bench)" image though.
    http://s.wsj.net/public/resources/images/PJ-BQ444_winogr_G_20130911182858.jpg

    Allen Herbert wrote:
    Jeez, I just thought it was just a snap of three girls doing nothing, saying nothing...other than the conjecture driven into the work.
    But then we can tell a story, play with words, and turn the banal into.....crap.
    Or dare I say Art.​
    Well... there is no accounting for taste, good/bad/indifferent/yours/mine/theirs.
    I separate what I like from what I think is good art though. The image of the girls (and for that matter Winogrand's image) are not photography that I particularly like. I agree that the photographs both make objects of the females in ways that are not compimentary and also perhaps not fair to them. I shoot a lot of people pictures, some of which is Street Photography, and I have never wanted to make a picture like either of those.
    That said, they are both very good photography. They are each framed with extreme care to emphasize the point the photographer wanted to make, and were selected because the composition shows an instant in which the women appear as the objects the photographer wanted to show. How well that was done is what makes each an example of very good photography, and the proof is in the pudding: Look at the conversation and emotion here on Photo.net that the Greenfield image has caused! And just look at the fact that Garry Winogrand took his picture in 1964, published it in a book in 1975, and here it is 2013 and that image is currently touring art museums as an exhibition based on Winogrand's 1975 book "Women are Beautiful".
    It seems that whether objectifying the sexuality of women is or not a good thing, it absolutely is a way to get attention.
     
  55. Floyd - the attribution was there, thanking you for: "Quoted text." I thought my attribution was clear, though it could have been clearer.
    My final point about murder, in order to be murder, requiring intent was my final point, an afterthought. It was a final point and not a foundation for my argument. Nevertheless, in one reading allowed by dictionary definitions, subliminal murder is a contradiction in terms. By other dictionary definitions of murder, it is not a contradiction in terms. How do we know from Sontag which meaning she intended? I fault her for lack of clarity.
    My main point was that sublimation by definition is a conscious, intended process. Subliminal processes, on the other hand, by definition occur without our being aware of them. With that in mind, let's look again at Sontag's critical sentence fragment:
    Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder...​
    Sublimation of the gun is conscious by definition. Unintended murder can't be correctly compared to intended sublimation of gun to camera. Intended redirection of energy into a camera from a gun can't be 'just as' an unintended act, subliminal murder. For her to make such a mistake, I have to assume she used her own private meanings of sublimation and subliminal to make her point. She used the wrong words. Sublimation isn't subliminal, the first intended, the second outside our field of awareness. Sublimation can't be subliminal by definition.
    I'm not redefining words. I'm looking in a dictionary, finding the meaning of words, and then asking myself and others if the writer, Sontag, used those words correctly to convey her intended meaning. I can't glean her intended meaning in that sentence because of her poor choice of words. The issue is, what should her words mean to us, what can we agree the meaning is based on definitions of the words she used. Based on word definitions that are not my own, but are dictionary definitions, her words make no sense to me. Anyone want to point me to material that defines sublimation as subliminal?
     
  56. Is it possible that Sontag was recognizing our predisposition to being aware of symbols themselves without necessarily being aware of the ramifications or deeper meanings of those symbols? Humans can be that clueless.
    Mind you, I don't know whether Sontag would have intended this reading, but it might be an interesting way to look at it. Pure speculation on my part.
    Maybe it's easy for us to be conscious of a camera as a gun or a gun as a penis, for example. But how conscious are we of the next step, of what the camera as gun or the gun as penis means. Have we really internalized the power of these symbols or do we just take them for granted? Maybe Sontag is saying just that. We are conscious of the symbol itself, so we use the camera as we might a gun, but are we conscious of what that symbolism or use actually means or says? We feel the power of the camera as we would a gun but we don't have a clue about the "murders" we can potentially commit with them.
    Just listen to discussions about guns and gun violence in the U.S. A lot of people are only conscious of a gun protecting them. They haven't got a clue that the very same implement they think is a means of protection is a weapon of murder.
    A camera may give us a sense of POWER. In that sense we sublimate the gun part. And we are aware of that sublimation. It is a subliminal murder, however, because we haven't got a clue of what the power can result in.
    Looking again at the PN nudes. Many of those photographers hold that camera as they would their own dick. What they couldn't acceptably do in a more typical human interchange they know full well they can get away with while behind the protective shield of the camera.
    sublimation: "socially unacceptable impulses or idealizations are consciously transformed into socially acceptable actions or behavior"
    Being with and directing younger, beautiful, thin, nude women is transformed into acceptable behavior by the presence of the camera. The camera/gun provides the necessary power, or firepower. And the guys are well aware of this.
    The murder (objectification/dehumanization?), however, is totally unconscious, subliminal. The same guys are clueless about this part.
     
  57. I think she correctly understood 'subliminal' as unconscious. And so she probably thought, mistakenly, that sublimation was an unconscious process. Her intended meaning was probably: Because a camera is unconsciously a substitute gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder "- a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time."
    By appropriate she probably means: to be expected (or occurring; or sadly found) in a sad, frightened time. Because she can't mean murder of any sort is appropriate.
    I saw a show where Joseph Campbell wished he had never said "Follow your bliss." Maybe that sentence is one Sontag felt much the same way about.
    As to her broader meanings, I haven't read her book and don't know that quote in context. Penis can be a symbol for creativity too. Freud tended to taint everything. There's a good comparison of Freud v Jung on sublimation here: http://www.therapyvlado.com/english/concept-of-sublimation-in-psychology-of-sigmund-freud-and-carl-gustav-jung/
     
  58. Let me add emphasis to these quotes so that the context becomes obvious:
    Charles W wrote:
    Thanks to Frank for all and for "She was describing changes to cultures across the globe that had resulted from massive distribution of imagery. (And that was before the Internet!)"​
    You must be frank, because I'm Floyd.

    Charles W wrote:
    Floyd
    - the attribution was there, thanking you for: "Quoted text." I thought my attribution was clear, though it could have been clearer.​
    What a fabulous example of why your analysis of Sontag's discussion is invalid!
    You didn't use the right word, or even close, but you fully expect that what you said was still "clear". Indeed it was too! I knew you meant me, even if you said "Frank"! I'm not Frank, but in context it was still clear enough.
    Yet you insist that Sontag's words have to use the precise definition you choose for those terms, even though it is very obvious from the context of her entire essay that she had meant them to mean something different. Worse yet you even admit her definitions are within reason.
    Read what she said, not what you can argue against. Listen to her meaning, not your personal interpretation.
    It isn't enough to just apply your interpretation of the words of a quote from Sontag. She wrote those essays in the early/middle 1970's, and the meaning has been analyzed many times over in the more than 30 years since. It is a bit absurd to say that it isn't clear, when for more than 30 years everyone else has been able to agree on what she meant.
    Argue for or against what she meant, and don't try to interpet her words other than as she did.
     
  59. Sorry Floyd, I hadn't noticed my mixing up of names and I'm glad you were able to know I meant you from context. Your added emphasis made me hone in on that, or I still might have missed it.
    Man, I'm using the dictionary, not my personal meanings. Here is the first definition of murder from Merriam-Webster http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/murder "the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought". The other two definitions in that dictionary entry don't apply. Look at the other definitions, for subliminal, for sublimation. Those aren't my personal definitions that I provided. They are from the dictionary. If we have doubts about what a word means, we are supposed to look it up. I did.
    I don't insist that Sontag use dictionary definitions of words, I expect her to. I read what Sontag wrote in those couple of sentences. I didn't read the rest of her essay. I don't know what she meant except from what she wrote in the material quoted here. You have the benefit of gleaning her meaning from the context of the entire essay. I don't have that advantage.
    Cleaning up her text, pretending that I am her editor, I offered this translation of it:
    Because a camera is unconsciously a substitute gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder "- a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time."​
    Frank honestly, help me out. Does my edited version convey her intended meaning better than her original text, based on the broader contexts you possess from actually, unlike me, having read the entire essay? Please.
    My point in bringing Sontag's sentence up in the first place was to offer that we use contexts to render meanings, sometimes correctly, but often incorrectly. For example, I think I've made a pretty good case for Sontag's sentence being self contradictory in its actual text. Others who know what she meant from other contexts fill in the meaning, know what she meant, even though she said it poorly, even to the point of not recognizing, when reading the actual text, that it was said poorly. Because our minds fill in the gaps. That was your point when I rendered your name wrong, that you knew what I meant anyway. Our minds work that way. It is a good thing. But when is it not a good thing? Well for one, when I try and point out some bad writing. That's not a good thing. But that's trivial compared to crossing the street without seeing a car because our mind wants us to see an empty street with no car coming. Or when we step into a river's water thinking that it was the same river yesterday as today, and then we drown because we saw a mirage of a river and not the river before us. Fred had asked if there was data and metadata and I was trying to explore how our abstraction of our experience in the form of words creates problems, creates a haze over the experiential where data and language just don't have much to do with each other. Just as your understanding of what Sontag wrote in that sentence isn't supported by the words she actually used in that sentence when writing it.
     
  60. Charles, I didn't quite understand how your answer about data and metadata related to my question. Note that I asked it in the context of the difference between a thing and that same thing photographed, the thing being like data and same thing when photographed being like metadata. Your answer seemed to address Sontag's words but I don't understand how your answer actually relates to photos of things.
    It's interesting to me that Winogrand's "thing photographed" doesn't work similarly in all walks of photography. When I look at his photos and lots of other photos, I get it completely. When I look at a lot of documentary work, it has importance but also pertains differently. It's important to note the difference between "reality" and documentary photography, which may have a slant, a bias, or downright prejudices. So Winogrand's is a good warning to be skeptical about confusing the photo with what it's a photo of. Nevertheless, most good documentary photography does suggest a strong connection between photo and reality. We glean a lot about the realities of the world (from different eras as well as our own, from faraway places in addition to where we live) from documentary work. I'd feel it safe to say that, while there's always a distinction between thing and thing photographed, there are also degrees of the perceived rift between them. When I see a photo that relies on timing, particularly photos where a confluence of events happens in one significant moment and others types of photos as well, part of my joy is knowing that these events took place. It's one of the exciting things about photos. Even photos that rely heavily on artifice, sometimes, depend on the link to reality in order for us to get what we get out of the artifice.
    So, photography has this tension. To a great extent, it is built upon the realities we experience and yet there will always be the perspective (skepticism?) suggested by Winogrand's insightful statements.
     
  61. Fred, without looking back for your exact question and contexts about data and meta data, here's what my thoughts were. The OP is What Is It. What is what? The photograph, the data. What get's in the way of our seeing and talking about what's in the photograph? Some observed that instead of the actual content of a photo, folks were free associating from their own personal experiences or moral views. Does language get in the way? Are our brains wired to tune data out and replace it with known content, language place holders, signs that aren't actual data and can be very different from the actual data?
    I offered the coyote observer v coyote example, where an instinctive mistrust of that coyote's instability, partly coming, partly going, was seen not as instinct would see it, as calling for caution, but as the coyote wanting to play, or perhaps even 'recognizing' the observer. My mind played a trick on me when I didn't get Floyd's name correct. Folks seem to want to read that sentence as 'what Sontag meant' instead of looking precisely at what she said, the mind filling in contexts to turn nonsense text into sensible text. How is all that different from how we view a photograph? I think it is the same, that we have to, as you suggested earlier, learn to really look and that is difficult, our brains in part, wired against that effort. And I should say that lately, for a few months, I've been thinking about my own thoughts and language and wonder seriously if in their entirety they can in the future continue to serve me as accurate or true representations of what I have known as my world. I don't think so. I just want to throw it the entirety of that language and thought away, but don't know how really.
     
  62. "Folks seem to want to 'what Sontag meant' instead of looking precisely at what she said, the mind filling in contexts. How is all that different from how we view a photograph?"
    To me, it's very different from how the photo of the teenage girls was viewed.
    When we "fill in" what Sontag's out-of-context words mean with more context from the essay originally containing those words, we are not free associating. We are carefully directly associating the words with the context in which they were spoken. We are relating her own words to her other own words and the greater ideas within which those few words were originally presented.
    When, on the other hand, we free associate a specific picture of four teenage girls with our own teenagers or our own experiences of teenagers, we are relating a photo to our own context or experiences, not to the context in which the photo was taken or the context of the photographer's body of work which would be a more direct association for reading the photo itself (and more similar to looking at Sontag's essay in addition to the quotes).
    I am not saying it's wrong or a bad idea to free associate with a photograph. I think it's a good thing and a pretty natural thing for people to do when looking at photos and art. But I think there's also something to be gained from looking carefully at the photo or painting itself as well.
     
  63. A more comparable situation would not be to compare the out-of-context quotes of Sontag to a single photo but rather to compare the out-of-context quotes of Sontag to taking a single photo out of a series that contained it. One might choose to address such a photo as a singular photo and understand, judge, and assess it strictly on its singular merits. But, if the photographer intended it as part of a series, there could be a lot missed or a lot confused by extracting it from a series as if it were meant to be a singular photo.
     
  64. Charles W wrote
    Man, I'm using the dictionary, not my personal meanings. Here is the first definition of murder from Merriam-Webster http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/murder "the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought". The other two definitions in that dictionary entry don't apply.​
    That is not only cherry picking both the dictionary and the meaning, but you are implying more to that definition than is specified. The term "especially" clearly makes it non-exclusive, yet you've made that the focal point of your definition. Regardless, that isn't the correct definition to use anyway.
    The number two definition reads:
    2
    a : something very difficult or dangerous
    b : something outrageous or blameworth

    And that is clearly more consistent with Sontag's usage. But to be even more clear, put the above in context by reading further down on the Merriam-Webster web page and review the meanings for the word "murder" when used as a verb. Then of course one might want to check other dictionaries too! A quick check at dict.com shows a variety of ways to explain how the word is typically used:

    "To destroy; to put an end to."
    "To mutilate, spoil, or deform, as if with malice or cruelty; to mangel; as, to murder the king's English."
    The Oxford online dictionary at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/murder defines is almost identically, with a slight variation in examples that might make it easier to relate with:
    noun
    the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another:
    the stabbing murder of an off-Broadway producer
    he was put on trial for attempted murder
    informal a very difficult or unpleasant task or experience:
    my first job at the steel mill was murder
    It is clear that Sontag did not mean to literally commit the crime of murder; she meant to destroy the context of a person in the sense of the second definition, which you totally ignored, given by Merriam-Webster.

    Charles W wrote
    Look at the other definitions, for subliminal, for sublimation. Those aren't my personal definitions that I provided. They are from the dictionary. If we have doubts about what a word means, we are supposed to look it up. I did.​
    But they are the definitions you choose, not the ones being used by Sontag.

    Charles W wrote
    I don't insist that Sontag use dictionary definitions of words, I expect her to. I read what Sontag wrote in those couple of sentences. I didn't read the rest of her essay. I don't know what she meant except from what she wrote in the material quoted here. You have the benefit of gleaning her meaning from the context of the entire essay. I don't have that advantage.​
    Then stop using ignorance to abuse what she said! You've created a huge diversion here that murders this discusion! Arguing about precise word usage in an essay you haven't read and particularly one that is nearly 40 years old and has been thoroughly hashed over for decades, including in later works by the author, is a waste of your time.

    Charles W wrote
    Cleaning up her text, pretending that I am her editor, I offered this translation of it:
    Because a camera is unconsciously a substitute gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder "- a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time."
    Frank honestly, help me out. Does my edited version convey her intended meaning better than her original text, based on the broader contexts you possess from actually, unlike me, having read the entire essay? Please.
    My point in bringing Sontag's sentence up in the first place was to offer that we use contexts to render meanings, sometimes correctly, but often incorrectly. For example, I think I've made a pretty good case for Sontag's sentence being self contradictory in its actual text. Others who know what she meant from other contexts fill in the meaning, know what she meant, even though she said it poorly, even to the point of not recognizing, when reading the actual text, that it was said poorly. Because our minds fill in the gaps. That was your point when I rendered your name wrong, that you knew what I meant anyway. Our minds work that way. It is a good thing. But when is it not a good thing? Well for one, when I try and point out some bad writing. That's not a good thing. But that's trivial compared to crossing the street without seeing a car because our mind wants us to see an empty street with no car coming. Or when we step into a river's water thinking that it was the same river yesterday as today, and then we drown because we saw a mirage of a river and not the river before us. Fred had asked if there was data and metadata and I was trying to explore how our abstraction of our experience in the form of words creates problems, creates a haze over the experiential where data and language just don't have much to do with each other. Just as your understanding of what Sontag wrote in that sentence isn't supported by the words she actually used in that sentence when writing it.​
    Well, to be this guy Frank again, you haven't done what you say you did above. You have made it clear that as an editor you are a failure. You've changed both the meaning of her words and the style of presentation for no particular import. You didn't do it to improve what she said, but simply because you haven't understood what she said. It isn't her lack of ability to communicate, as certainly all other critical reviews of "On Photography" have understood and accepted her meaning as valid. The quoted text is one of the most oft quoted parts of the essay. Lots of folks have disagreed with her, but not with her skills at writing. (Granted that that has been a common topic of discussion though, because most critiques find it necessary to first categorize her style in order to make sure people do understand it. It was not an academic analysis, for example.)
     
  65. Yes, yes Fred, well said, yet my main point is that those associations, careful contextual 'unfree associations' digesting a concept piece v. contexts supplied by freely associating our own experience to a photograph: in both situations our understandings may degrade into assumptions that cause us to not actually look at the girls in the photo, or to catch an error in a text. We fill in meanings instead of looking and it is difficult to be aware that our mind has erroneously filled in.
    Another example of that mechanism of mind: how hard it is to catch an error when proof reading. Our mind supplies the correct word and we can't see the error until pointed out to us by another who takes a fresh look without already knowing the meanings, a fresh look able to actually look at the words on the page. (I could have sworn I typed Floyd, but again I typed the wrong name even though consciously trying not to err.)
     
  66. Floyd - "It is clear that Sontag did not mean to literally commit the crime of murder; she meant to destroy the context of a person in the sense of the second definition, which you totally ignored, given by Merriam-Webster."
    Yes it is clear that Sontag did not mean a literal murder, that has always been clear to me.
     
  67. Floyd - "...she meant to destroy the context of a person in the sense of the second definition...."
    I'm sure she did mean that or something very close to that.
    As a verb, murder means an action of some kind. To destroy, mangle, kill, figuratively or literally. Sontag uses the term 'subliminal murder', where an actor 'murders' without awareness of that act, unconsciously, unknowingly destroying the context of a person.
    "Just as a camera is sublimation of a gun..."
    Sublimation is knowing, deliberate, intentional, on purpose, fully aware as set in stone by S. Freud and Sontag is obviously misusing 'sublimation' when we, as she intended, understand her use of 'sublimation' in the Freudian sense. In effect, she wrote that just as a camera is an intentional substitute for a gun, so a photograph is unintentional destruction.... She got that wrong. Intention isn't unintended, and unintended isn't intentional.
    And Floyd, the element of intent is by Freud's definition, not mine and not Sontag's. Sontag didn't understand the word 'sublimation' precisely at the point where she used the word 'sublimation' in that sentence. She may have used the word sublimation correctly many times in her writings. Here she did not. She made a mistake, and it is not a waste of my time to point that out. Sontag is obviously intending Freud's usage, just as would have a Marcuse, also writing at that time. But Sontag used it incorrectly in that instance.
    And we fill in her intended meaning anyway, even to the point of missing her mistake, or of refusing to see the mistake when it's pointed out correctly as I have correctly pointed out hers. Isn't that how our feeble minds work? We don't look, we don't see, we aren't cognizant, we operate by presets and assumptions, gloss over, etc. Or is it just me?
     
  68. Floyd - "You have made it clear that as an editor you are a failure."
    How about this then:
    Because a camera unconsciously substitutes for a gun, to photograph someone is subliminal murder "- a soft murder" [befitting] "a sad, frightened time."​
     
  69. Fred - "We feel the power of the camera as we would a gun but we don't have a clue about the "murders" we can potentially commit with them."
    It sounds like Sontag would have been in the camp of those who would have us increase our awareness of the reality of others, that is, for relatedness as opposed to objectification/decontextualizations.
    Fred - "It is a subliminal murder, however, because we haven't got a clue of what the power can result in."
    That's where Richard Avedon comes to mind, with the conversation he had with his psychoanalyst concerning photographing his ailing father, quoted in a recent thread as you may recall. The two spoke to Avedon having a hidden, hostile motive in that photographic act, a symbolic killing of his father. To me, that approach, of uncovering hidden motives is useful work although I prefer to think of it less formulaically as 'shadow work' in the Jungian sense. The difference seems to me that with Freud it's a search for somewhat formulaic hitherto unknown ugly stuff, which however true just leads to a deflated feeling. While for Jung, shadow work looks like a path that leads to a sort of self-reunification. I think it is the almost sycophantic laurens van der post who has Jung saying of himself that his own pilgrim's progress was something like a thousand mile fall into the pitiable lump of dust that he was. Given the size of Jung's ego and his successes, that probably was quite a long fall, but transformative for him in that he could accept his own mere humanity.
     
  70. And as to symbol, say Avedon ritually 'murdering' his father whether or not bringing into that an idea of an Oedipus complex, and just for lack of a better example: symbol conveys both a generalized and a local meaning. When those meanings combine we have good art, generally true so much as to be insignificant, almost trite, yet so localized and personal in meaning as to be somehow transformative. It's one thing to speak of a sort of shared complex intellectually, it's another thing for someone in Avedon's family circumstances, say, to confront in himself the effect of having had a father who could never communicate his love except by talking about money. Intellectually there is much to say, but when in confrontation with the pain of that effect, we can say nothing at some point and perhaps at that point truly listen to symbol and let go. But which symbol? I don't know. Yet on the one hand we talk of things in impersonalized symbolic language. On the other, we are struck at our core by symbol when symbol is experienced very locally with intensely personal meaning we probably can't adequately convey with words. But symbol can carry and convey, where we can't. A woman rape victim I knew couldn't sleep for weeks after the brutal event, and was in hospital. She finally slept and dreamed that in her room at home, a hitherto unknown door had become apparent. When she awoke from the dream she felt she could go on with her life. She was able to go home. The dream told her that there was a way. She had the feeling from the dream that things were OK. It is so general an image, a door, a passage, as to be trite, but it was a healing image in a dream that needed no words really, no technical discussion, with a localized meaning specific to her and her circumstances.
     
  71. Charles, if I understand your main point through this thread, it is your claim that Winogrand and Sontag are talking about a difference that is not a difference as you understand it. That is, there is no difference between the thing photographed and the thing.
    The way I would look at it is that there is a big difference, even though we look at both, the thing and the thing photographed, through perspectives and within contexts.
    Why we get into words and meanings of texts is not as clear to me, other than to show that these, too, are always going to be perspectivized and contextualized.
    But this is simply a function of being human.
    EVERYTHING is contextualized and known from a perspective.
    That doesn't mean everything is the same. It just means things are the same in that respect.
    What Winogrand and Sontag are asking is that we notice differences between photos and the things they present to us. If we don't see a difference there, just as if we don't see a difference between dreams and waking states, we can be in both epistemological and ontological trouble.
    The differences are of category, dimensionality, immediacy and, as I see it most importantly from the photographic standpoint, artifice.
     
  72. "in both situations our understandings may degrade into assumptions that cause us to not actually look at the girls in the photo, or to catch an error in a text. We fill in meanings instead of looking and it is difficult to be aware that our mind has erroneously filled in."
    The problem is this: When you glean a better understanding of Sontag's ideas from filling in meanings given in her original text, you are not ERRONEOUSLY filling something in. You are more CORRECTLY understanding her ideas. It depends on your goal. Are you wanting to dissect the specific meanings of words as used? (For me, this is more an exercise in grammar. Like Floyd, I spent most of my years as a typesetter and am good at catching typos and grammatical mistakes, including the sometimes confusing usage of words.) Or are you wanting to understand the ideas a thinker is presenting, in which case the whole of an essay is a better source than out-of-context quotes?
    When, on the other hand, you look at girls in a photo ONLY as if they were girls you know, you move FURTHER from, not closer to, a critical reading of the photo. That's not to say personalizing what you see in a photo doesn't have its place and isn't something grand a photo moves us to do. But if that's all that's done, it might be to miss new and bigger ideas and pictures, similar to what happens when one puts emphasis only on and dissects a few sentences out of context rather than reading an entire essay.
     
  73. Psychologically I don't see much difference between possessing an image of a person in the form of a photograph and possessing an image of a person ephemerally, only in my mind. There is a difference between the image of a thing and the thing regardless of photograph or only in mind; but psychologically I don't see much difference between holding a photographic image of a woman in one hand, or closing my eyes and having a woman as an image only in my mind in the other hand. The form the image takes, concrete or ephemeral, isn't that important. Sculpture produces an art object just as a photograph is an art object. A sculpture is a representation like a photograph is a representation, and there too is a difference between a representation of a thing and the thing represented. A sculpture is a 3d materialization of an image, a photograph 2d.
    So consider Winogrand, both rewritten:
    That's a sculpture-- They're mute, they don't have any narrative ability at all, you know what something looked like, but you don't know what's happening ... There isn't a sculpture in the world that has any narrative ability, any of them.
    Sculptures do not tell stories, they show you what something looks like, through a sculptor's chisel. The minute you relate this thing [indicating the sculpture being examined] to what was sculpted, it's a lie. It's three dimensional, and yet it's still the illusion of a literal description ...​
    If there were a distinction with a difference, how could my rewrite make any sense?
    Fred - "The problem is this: When you glean a better understanding of Sontag's ideas from filling in meanings given in her original text, you are not ERRONEOUSLY filling something in."
    Right. And when I glean a better understanding of a couple of sentences, how they are constructed and how words are used by the author, I'm not erroneously filling something in, I'm filling something in from objective contexts like a dictionary. Look, I hate to keep harping on that point, but if someone, including me, wants to use Freudian or Jungian language they (I) can certainly be understood as intentionally using another's idea, using it, amplifying it, coloring it or whatever, but in their (my) usage we should be able to compare that usage of a term with the usage of the person who coined the term, in this case Freud. Sontag brought Freud's conceptual framework into a discussion of photography and anyone is free to comment on how well she did that and if she made any errors. But a defense of her usage does not consist of saying "she really meant this" or "she really meant that" or claiming that I the critic don't understand the term and then not showing me in Freud's concept of sublimation how I somehow missed that Freud thought sublimation was a subliminal, not a conscious, process.
    Grammar is found in grammar books, how to use words in sentences correctly, but meanings of words are not grammar and my simple point on Sontag's use of sublimation/subliminal has to do with the meanings of a couple words, not her grammatical usage.
    And I'm using Sontag's mistake as a thing, like a photograph, that we don't look at, don't see, or gloss over her mistake of using the words sublimation/subliminal incorrectly when she fully intended Freud's term 'sublimation'. And I'm noticing that no one wants to look at the simple mistake she made. Don't look, don't see, can't acknowledge the thing. Which is human, not just an operation of our minds particular to viewing photographs, but an operation of our minds that in some important sense is a fundamental way in which our minds work. It is in that unconscious space, in the process by which an obvious known get's replaced by a representation, that we may find the origin of art, symbol and a whole lot more. Because it happens when we aren't looking, are diverted, aren't in control and instead in control is the autonomy of our mind. That's the rent in the fabric of our universe that offers a bit of hope that things won't always be as they are. Because in that rent we can have a conversation with symbol as it presents, can talk to it and it to us and in that process of becoming more aware we can begi to change and be each more loving with each and the other. But its awfully hard to look there.
     
  74. "but psychologically I don't see much difference between holding a photographic image of a woman in one hand, or closing my eyes and having a woman as an image only in my mind in the other hand"
    I don't know what you mean by including the qualifier "psychologically" at the beginning of this sentence.
    This is a different question than the one I've been addressing which may account for some of the confusion I've had throughout this thread. I thought we were discussing the difference between a photo of something and the thing photographed, not the difference between a mental image and a photo.
    But I'll address the latter question now. To me, there is quite a difference. The photo image is tangible. I can touch it, or it is at least touchable even if a museum won't let me do so. I cannot touch a mental image, which is intangible. The mental image is far more ephemeral to me than the photo image.
    Yes, I can objectify women--very important--or homeless people, or hot, young guys with six packs. And I can do that in my mind (without a photo) as well as with a photo.
    As I said above, though, the photo has at least two qualities that make the objectification much more a factor and more complete, for me. It can and often is shared. And it preserves the image of the objectification, it sets it, as it were, in stone. A mental image is individual. Even though it can be talked about in public, it can't be shown in public because then it would no longer be a mental image. And a photo stills and preserves. A mental image ebbs and flows.
     
  75. The way I read Sontag was as a reminder how holding a camera can be used as an excuse to objectify, to pretend to do one thing (or even misguidedly think one is doing one thing) and have the result be very much another. Cameras are often used to hide behind. I'd be surprised if there were anyone who's used one who hasn't done that at some time or another. Even "I am documenting the plight of homeless people with the best of intentions" can become "I have exploited homeless people and traded on the pathos of their images."
    This is not to say there aren't plenty of other ways to objectify homeless people or anyone else. There are. But, in a society increasingly clicking away at everything in sight, it's not a bad idea for us all to reflect on what we're doing and what the ramifications of that are for others and for culture in general. If looking itself or creating mental images were the same thing as the act of photographing, why would we bother to carry around a camera and make photographs?
    For me, the tangible product is part of the answer and the external mechanism between me and the other is another part. The camera is an external mechanism. Our eyes, and our minds, are not.
     
  76. Psychologically? Because people do the objectification in their minds, that's where objectification happens. A distinction without a difference: how is a photograph as an object distinguished in its objectification effect from a sculpture? The photograph as an object contains both its subject, objectifies it, but at the same time a photograph records the subjective state of the photographer. But that latter recording of the artist's subjective state, however vaguely or clearly written, however distinct or indistinct, is a tool signature left by the artist who used the tool to create something; and every tool leaves a signature of the artist just as the artwork is of a subject. Even on the issue of a piece of art being an artifact of the subjective state of the artist, photography is not distinguishable from sculpture, painting, basket weaving, etc. We can say the photograph is more 'real', but this discussion is an acknowledgment that a photograph is no more or less representative of a real subject than was Michelangelo's David. Sculpture preserves (sets in stone) and is shared, has the advantage of being 3d, and can be massed produced and distributed as in Eifel Tower, Statue of Liberty, etc. A unique distinguishing characteristic of a photograph hasn't been identified? That a photograph is a more convincing illusion? I'm not so sure that argument can be successfully made. What I'm left with then is the fact of the power an image has upon our minds, whether the image exists only in the mind, or whether the image is materialized into an object where a photograph is in no yet identified unique way any different than other art. Except maybe its cheaper to produce and distribute photographs than it would be paintings or sculpture. But even Eifel Tower statuary is acknowledged to be cheap, in a different sense of course.
     
  77. Fred - "But, in a society increasingly clicking away at everything in sight, it's not a bad idea for us all to reflect on what we're doing and what the ramifications of that are for others and for culture in general."
    Perhaps more from the decline in common decency than a cause of that decline.
     
  78. "this discussion is an acknowledgment that a photograph is no more or less representative of a real subject than was Michelangelo's David."
    Not for me. One of the significant qualities of photos are their relationships to the things they are photos of. That a photo is not the same as the thing photographed doesn't for one moment mean to me that there is not a different relationship between a photograph of David and David on the one hand and a sculpture of David and David on the other. I would never take Winogrand's ideas that far, whether he took himself that far or not (which I don't know).
    I cannot take a picture of someone who isn't there. I can make someone up and make a sculpture of them. So, IMO, even when I don't make someone up and make a sculpture of someone who was there, it is still different from taking a photo of them.
    If, indeed, it is only an illusion (and I think it is NOT only an illusion, since what we take pictures of are there, at least for the most part), then the fact that a photo is a more convincing illusion is significant. The reasons that make it more convincing are just what I'm talking about and something very worthwhile to pay attention to.
    That art is, in part, artifice, is very important to me. How an artistic presentation or representation relates to my experienced reality outside of the art endeavor is important as well, and often determines how the artifice can operate.
     
  79. For me, Winogrand's contribution is not in telling me how photos work or how to look at photos. It is reminding me of something about photos. Though HE may not tell stories with his photos or may not want to see them as such, he won't be able to tell ME not to do that. He talked about a photo of Martin Luther King in front of a bus during the bus boycott as "the bus thing" and that's part of the way to actually see that photo as a photo. But not seeing it as a document of the event, not participating in the heart and soul of that event itself through the photo would be a great loss to me, and one of the reasons Winogrand's photos and ideas are only some among many. His is not the way to see photos. It is a reminder of a stance toward looking at photos that we can adopt not, for me, to the exclusion of other stances, but to supplement and check and relate to other stances.
     
  80. I get it. But consider that both a photograph and a sculpture create an illusion out of the subject, out of David who posed as a subject, made into an illusory David that is the sculpture and is also an illusory David that is the photograph. Once an illusion is created, distinct differences between illusions and the real object: well it is as though the object that became the subject doesn't exist. We can't speak to relative nothingness? "Murdered', destroyed as Floyd pointed out. That's the core complaint by Sontag, that objectification and destruction of the thing pictured, or sculptured. The object that became a subject is destroyed in the process of rendering them in art, not just in the art of photography. So it has always been subliminal murder in art, well before photography was invented. We don't want to be ourselves, we want to be something else, something else in a picture, a painting, a movie. For me, the parsing has to stop somewhere and for me it stops in noting that illusions are illusions regardless of how manufactured. For me, its there that it stops, in the 'murder' that the creation of illusion entails; because once destroyed, it is as though nothing noteworthy remains of the object that was the subject and meanwhile the illusion takes on a life of its own. That is either by consent, or it isn't, that process in which something else is created in art, is for good or bad, like everything else.
    We can't take a picture of someone who isn't there, but if we don't have the physical pictures, mental images will suffice, are a substitute for the photograph. Just think of what would happen if the internet went down one night, how actively the imagination would go back to work, and the same activity would occur nonetheless. But more important, with objectification, we are in effect taking a picture of someone who isn't there anyway. That's Sontag's complaint, and a valid one. It has to do with relatedness and whether others to us are objects or are treasured unique beings if I understand what I think her argument might be correctly, not having read the essay from which the famous quote was extracted. For me it goes a little farther here. The demand for relatedness comes from nature, is love, and nature in her wisdom requires love of us in order to work. There is no relatedness without love, only power. That's the basis of Sontag's complaint in my mind, or it is just my complaint, not hers. Or from her perhaps an admonition that if as a culture we surrender to power, we aren't a culture any longer, we are a disorder.
     
  81. "But consider that both a photograph and a sculpture create an illusion out of the subject, out of David who posed as a subject, made into an illusory David that is the sculpture and is also an illusory David that is the photograph."
    Sure, but while a photo and sculpture can create an illusion out of the subject, they can also make an allusion to the subject. IMO, art is, in part, in the combination and tension of that. And I think our sense of the allusion to the subject is often different and more immediate via photos than via sculpture. I love each for what they are and don't think one is "better" than the other, but I do think they allude differently, because of their different relationships to and dependence on the original subject.
     
  82. Of course, a photo or a sculpture can also point right to a subject. That a photo is not the subject doesn't mean it can't refer to the subject, in all sorts of ways. The reference can or cannot be illusory, and to varying degrees.
     
  83. Fred, partial quote (sorry) - "And I think our sense of the allusion to the subject is often different..."
    Yes, sure, and there isn't in our imagination a real subject unless our image is also of someone real and an allusion to them. There is a real difference in that with sculpture or imagination there may never have been a real subject while in photography generally there was. I'm not sure if there is much to make of that difference? At some point the reality of the subject becomes an incidental regardless of the art form, we don't really care if there was a real Sir Arthur or not, the real can get in the way of our enjoyment of the art.
     
  84. Well, as someone who does portraits, it makes a lot of difference that there's a real Andy or Carl or Ian behind my work. For a lot of viewers, the same is true. I was thinking earlier about THIS iconic and historical photo (by Dan Farrell), which was shown a lot recently. It's a case where I think Winogrand's view takes a back seat. Sure, there are photographic qualities of a photo of some little squirt saluting. I might attend to the lighting, the composition, etc. But, I'm seeing and caring about a lot more than what John John looks like photographed at a tender young age. The reality of what this photo is and represents is very much worth caring about. How can I and why would I want to separate this photo from the reality it portrays? It was a real live singular moment that most of us who were alive then will never forget and it's as important a transmitter and reminder of that moment as anything else. The reality is that Jackie wanted this iconic moment, wanted the formality embedded in it to counteract the horrors that took place leading up to it. This situation was choreographed, and yet it is one of the realest moments I can ever remember. Were the picture only an artistic creation of someone's imagination, it would not have the same impact and effect. The subject is hardly incidental. It makes the photo and there's no reason it shouldn't.
     
  85. Gary to the back seat or even thrown all the way out of the car, and Susan must have been speaking to cases other than Ferrell's photo. Anyway, we've covered a lot of interesting ground.
     
  86. I've reached a different conclusion, but it's been a great a fruitful discussion. Pushed me in ways I hadn't foreseen.
     
  87. Charles, did you notice that Winogrand's name is not "Gary"? It is Garry.

    It appears to me that this discussion has verified that Winogrand and Sontag were a number of things, starting with astute observers and more so than most they were able to communicate complex concepts to others in ways that literally moved the world forward a notch or two.

    And while I'm still trying to learn more from them, as I figure that much of what they understood and tried to communicat is simply over my head, I do notice that many people can't even get to the point of realizing just how far over our heads Winogrand and Sontag were.
     
  88. Floyd, that's a tough conclusion. I'm sorry but I can't respect being told I don't realize things are just over my head, or being in the presence of someone who feels they can tell that to other people. I always have more to learn and, like you, appreciate that fact, but I don't like such condescension.
     
  89. Winogrand was "over" very few people's head; he was not the brightest bulb in the pack. (Which does not mean that he did not have wonderful pictorial instincts.)
    And, as I said earlier. Sontag has long since been overtaken by history. There are very few people in the world today who don't know how to game a photographer; and there are many (even most?) who enjoy gaming a photographer much of the time -- which does not mean that anybody everywhere and anytime is happy to do so any time a photographer jumps out of the bushes and wants to "play."
     
  90. Fred G. wrote:
    Floyd, that's a tough conclusion. I'm sorry but I can't respect being told I don't realize things are just over my head, or being in the presence of someone who feels they can tell that to other people. I always have more to learn and, like you, appreciate that fact, but I don't like such condescension.​
    I had not considered that it applied to you, but I certainly will respect you as the authority on that.
    When people cannot read what someone has said and come up with at least some form of non-emotional logic in how they analyize it, I'm sorry but that statement applies even if it is condescending. An example is saying the way a word was used fits only one of multiple dictionary definitions when it is absolutely clear (and admitted to when it is pointed out) that the selected definiton is not the one that was used... and then later revert right back to the same thing, I'm sorry but that is not logical. That and repeated other instances of similar non-responsive discussion are indicative.
    Charles and Julie have exhibited no inclination to seek out the meaning of the content in various very highly regarded philisophical statements from both Winogrand and Sontag, and that seems to be very willful. Neither chooses to discuss the points made by respected authoritative sources, but instead they choose to ridicule the sources with emotions.
    That can never lead to serious discussion, and teenage level sardonic exchanges are far more condesending than my response to it.
     
  91. I agree with Julie that Winogrand would be over very few people's heads. It would be a shame to take him too seriously. He spoke in sound bites and what he said has much to recommend it but is also not a tight philosophical treatise worthy of being overblown into one. His thoughts, like his photos, are a snapshot in time. Julie also nails something important in directing attention to the role of subjects.
    Some of this objectification/murder stuff is summed up for me in a quick back-and-forth with a guy I was photographing while we were walking around town. We got to the Tenderloin, one of the "down-and-out" San Francisco neighborhood's known for the trading of street sex services and a bunch of alcohol consumption, where we wanted to head for some local color as background for our shooting. We didn't know each other well but had met a few times before we set up the shoot. We were talking about all sorts of things and after we took some sexually-oriented pictures, Scott with his shirt off in a cowboy hat in front of a straight, somewhat glitzy porn theater, I told him I sometimes feel like such a voyeur and actually enjoyed that role. He nodded knowingly and said that, as an actor and someone posing for photos, he was an exhibitionist and enjoyed that as well. We laughed and went on with our dance.
    It's sometimes that simple.
     
  92. Floyd, I'm just happy to have spelled his last name correctly.
     
  93. The problem with claiming Winogrand was in some way shallow, or any of the specifics you wrote, is very simple. He was explaining what made his photography what it is. And since very few people can claim to have been able to produce something near the same level, how can he be what you say?

    His photography is beyond the ordinary be a vast distance, and so is (necessarily) his understanding of photography that gave him the capability to produce it. That does not make him easy to understand, though it really does get hard when people make an effort not to.

    But the idea that an icon of that stature in the history of photography is not vastly over the heads of most people when discussing photography is just absurd. No Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York seems to have ever called anyone posting here "the central photographer of his generation". Have any of us managed exhibits in even 1/10th as many of the country's top art museums? And did a fellow who was able to accomplish that, and to be recognized for what he was during his lifetime, manage to do these things with not even an average clue about what he was doing?

    I can understand an individual disagreeing with some, perhaps even most, of what a person the Winogrand's stature might have said. But to try to discredit him as less than average in knowledge and understanding is more than just bordering on silly.
     
  94. Floyd - "Charles and Julie have exhibited no inclination to seek out the meaning of the content in various very highly regarded philisophical statements from both Winogrand and Sontag, and that seems to be very willful."
    OK. I've skimmed Sontag's On Photography, it was fair of you to point at my failing there, although that failing was more from being lazy than being willful.
     
  95. Floyd Davidson wrote: " ... Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York ... " That would be Szarkowski. The same Szarkowski who referred to Winogrand as a "city hick."
    About Winogrand's verbal articulations, as opposed to his photographs, which I love:
    .
    ... Renouncing photography's capacity to tell stories and its role in journalism, [Winogrand] asserted that "still photographs [have] no narrative ability." Negating the medium's rich heritage as a tool for social reform, he flatly stated, "I don't have messages in my pictures." Rejecting its potential for self-expression, he maintained, "I don't have anything to say in any picture." And when asked about photography's supposed link to veracity and if the camera ever lied, he replied, "If there is such a thing as truth, it's a lie." All you know from a photograph is "how a piece of time and space 'looks' to a camera." Instead, he bluntly stated that his objective was to explore "the contest between form and content," and he encouraged critics, curators, and casual observers to write whatever they wanted to about his pictures but admonished them to banish all talk of the "mumbo-jumbo" of meaning: "It's nothing to worry about! It doesn't have anything to do with taking pictures!"
    [ ... ]
    ... while Winogrand drew freely on Szarkowski's ideas and while Szarkowski in turn passionately defended his photographs,. Szarkowski also recognized that Winogrand was not always the most articulate spokesperson for his art. In Winogrand: Figments from the Real World (1988), he wrote of the photographer's "grudging, elliptical remarks on his own work"; his "epigrams" that were "designed to infuriate the guardians of conventional photographic wisdom"; his tendency to "undermine one epigram with another, delivered with the same Old Testament certainty, but not quite consistent with the first"; and his "coldly contemptuous" treatment of students. But it was regarding the question of meaning where Szarkowski and Winogrand most dramatically parted company. Szarkowski reveled not only in the act of looking at photographs but also in thinking about them deeply and writing about them cogently, and he never underestimated "the symbolic power of photography." ... As he struggled to come to terms with Winogrand's late works [which he thought was weak as compared to his early stuff], Szarkowski wrote that Winogrand "constructed clever evasions to distance himself from the moral implications that others might see in the world of his pictures." ... Szarskowski stated that "if he had with words plumbed too deeply the meaning of his pictures -- had allowed analytic intelligence to look too insistently over the shoulder of intuition -- intuition might have been cowed." And he concluded that Winogrand "surely understood that ... his pictures described his world" and might also provide a "just metaphor for our recent past."
    Szarkowski was right. Toward the end of his life, Winogrand suggested that he had begun to accept the symbolic power of his art. Perhaps this change in his thinking came with the greater perspective of age, or perhaps as the fifties and sixties began to assume the aura of the past, it became easier for Winogrand to step back from his own work and see that his photographs, though fraught with anxiety, inexplicable chaos, and profound beauty, were also deeply symbolic of both his time and his country. Whatever the reason, at a lecture in San Francisco in late 1983 he referred to the "social meaning" or "meanings" of his work. When questioned afterward by the photographer Richard Gordon, Winogrand acknowledged that he was beginning to reconsider what his photographs "meant." His death the following March at the age of fifty-six, only weeks after he learned he had cancer, prevented that reconsideration.​
    from 'The Mystery of the Visible Garry Winogrand and Postwar American Photography' by Sarah Greenough
    .
     
  96. Julie, have you carefully read what you quoted? Someone is conjuring up supposed contradciton in out of context quotes where there is no contradiction.

    Show me where Winogrand said there was no symbolism of any kind at all in his photography. Show me where is said there was no substance or no import. Taking something like ""I don't have messages in my pictures" to mean literally that is invalid. Things like "They do not tell stories" does not mean there is nothing in a photograph that communicates. All of these quotes, while they may be "designed to infuriate" are his method of conveying the understanding Winogrand had that made his photography great. The no stories quotes (it is something he said fairly often) was always followed by something to the effect that a story requires a time interval, which a photograph cannot have. The image cannot show what is happening over time, but can only show a composition that existed at that instant.

    Consider your claim about what Winogrand was "negating" when he stated "I don't have messages in my pictures" with a more complete quote of what he said:

    "I don't have messages in my pictures...For me the true business of photography is to capture a bit of reality (whatever that is) on film, later, the reality means something to someone else, so much the better."

    You seem to have virtually reversed his actual meaning! He knows full well there is a "message", but is saying 1) he doesn't put it there, he captures a photograph of a scene that contains it, and he cannot determine precisely what the symbolism means to others.


    I've never suggested, by the way, that you are alone in your views... Clearly most people can never understand creativity on that scale, and that of course includes me. But denying that it is there... is a total miss.
     
  97. Leaving the current discussion ...
    ******************
    I want to try, if only for my own edification, to bring this back to what I was hoping to talk about from the OP. I'm going to use a different analogy that might (might!) make my objective apparent, since, so far, what I've said about letting the picture be what it is has not succeeded in getting across my intent.
    If you are cooking and you make a dish, you use ingredients. In my following analogy, I want the dish to stand in for the picture (in our case, the photograph). What I am not interested in, and what almost all of this thread has been a discussion of, is the ingredients (I have no problem with discussions going in their own direction; I'm just, in this post, going back to my own, thread-starting objective). I can make a particular dish with various ingredients, for example, chicken or beef, yet it remains the same dish. Yes, it will be different in obvious ways (chicken is not beef ...) but the dish will still be that dish, with its whole effect, its balance, its structure, etc. See if you can sort out the ways in which a dish is not its ingredients.
    To illustrate, here is a visual test -- or exercise if you prefer:
    Start with Steve Gubin's picture of the group of teenage girls referenced in the OP. That's our reference dish that we have cooked up and tasted. Lets say the girls are chicken; we've made our dish with the ingredient of chicken.
    With that picture in mind, now look at this picture of a group of Shanghai merchants, taken in 1862. It uses entirely different ingredients -- lets call the men, beef -- from Steve's picture of the group of teenage girls, but I will maintain that it is essentially the same kind of dish. It is about the fascinating interweavings via posture, eyes, clothing, tones, of the group in the same way as the same kind of interweavings as are found in Steve's picture.
    Now, look at this picture by Rania Matar of a teenage girl in her room. Like Steve's picture, this one is also made with a teenage girl, it uses the same ingredient (chicken) but I would maintain that it is an entirely different dish. As already said, Steve's picture (the dish, not the ingredients!) is about the group dynamics (body language, the interweaving of the postures, eyes, etc.), while this one, this dish (not its ingredients!) works from the sparks and threads the lead to and from a single nucleus. Two entirely different dishes.
    The picture is the dish. All of the symbolic, theoretical, or identity/culture associations that emanate from "what is it?" questions are about the ingredients, and, for my purposes in this thread, I do not care (or do not mind) whatever they may or may not be or mean. I'm interested in when -- or even if -- a photograph is able to be a dish and not its ingredients, in the same way that a food dish is able to be that dish regardless of whether its made with beef or chicken or tofu.
     
  98. Julie H wrote:
    The picture is the dish. All of the symbolic, theoretical, or identity/culture associations that emanate from "what is it?" questions are about the ingredients, and, for my purposes in this thread, I do not care (or do not mind) whatever they may or may not be or mean. I'm interested in when -- or even if -- a photograph is able to be a dish and not its ingredients, in the same way that a food dish is able to be that dish regardless of whether its made with beef or chicken or tofu.​
    If by "dish" you mean the distinction between a salad, a desert, a dinner an so on, that analogy might work. We have different genres in photography that are the same distinction. We might say that portraiture is beef and chicken is Street Photography, for example Or, maybe Street is like any meat you have never tasted before, "It tastes just like chicken!".
    In that respect, yes a photograph, regardless of what the objects shown are can be a particular genre. Just as a salad is a salad regardless of which kind of meat is used, a portrait can be of a man or a woman, or for that matter of a dog, and it is still a portrait.
    But the ingredients are what provides any number of characteristics, not the least of which is the taste. In the end, no matter what else (colors, shape, smell, etc) that appeals to a diner, if it doesn't have the right taste, it isn't good. And chicken salad doesn't taste the same as beef salad. The ingredients count more than anything else when it comes to what people like or do not like.
    Perhaps we could compare that to a really great looking portrait made on a street corner at mid-day. If it barely shows, or perhaps not at all, the surroundings where it is made, that might well be part of what makes it a good portrait as it will lack superfluous distractions that are not needed to describe the subject, a human. Now, take that great portrait and post it to almost any forum on the Internet and ask if because it was made on a busy street corner at mid-day in an urban setting, is it Street? The correct answer is no, or at least that it is a very poor example. The "subject" in portraiture is the person, the "subject" of Street is the relationship to surroudings. Same ingredients but a different dish; and yet it is the ingredients that determine whether people like it. Nobody actually cares if it is a salad or a breakfast it it tastes good.
    But lets analyze your example photographs for what they are, and are not.
    There certainly can be comparisons between the composition used in the picture of the girls and the picture of the men. The same mechanisms or visual symbols are used to trigger a viewer's senses. Maybe we could say that both the chicken and the beef have had salt, pepper, and teriyaki sause applied. But that composition is to bring out the taste of the chicken in one case and the beef in another. They might be the same "people picture" genre or dish, but the ingredients are different.
    The composition in the picture of the girls brings out the female transition of a child to an adult. If that isn't appealing to the viewer (and clearly it annoyed some people to an extreme), they just won't like it. The similar composition in the picture of the men is also used to help a viewer relate to what is important to the subjects, which in this case appeals to a very different taste. First it is men, second they are old, third they are a different racial/ethnic group, forth they are "mature", and fifth what they are contemplating may or may not be moral. Note that only that last similarity in taste is the same as what is in the picture of the girls.
    Hence your "dish" might be a salad, but no matter how hard you try it absolutely matters whether the principal ingredient is chicken or beef, and the two pictures may both be images of a group of people, but even though both could be related to the morality of those people it again absolutely matters which ingredients are used. Chicken doesn't taste like beef (or to make it more dramatic, chicken is not what whale meat tastes like, and whale meat is a commonly served dish where I live and would be very acceptable; and perhaps not where you live). Potentially immoral young women leave a very different taste than potentially immoral old men, even if the "immorality" contemplated by 13 year old girls won't be immoral for them in another ten years, while the immorality of merchants plotting to extract every dollar from the pockets of a community is a never ending aspect of human greed, and thus actually is important.
    So, can a photograph be just a photograph? Can dinner be just dinner if it is fried tongue from a Bowhead whale? Maybe a photograph isn't just a photograph if the subject is the sexuality of 13 year old girls in American culture.
     
  99. There is too much reciprocity between the dish and the ingredients for me to be able to separate them so distinctly. The question arises: why would I even want to?
    For me, the strange thing about reactions to Steve Gubin's photo was not that the ingredients were being emphasized, but that they were actually being ignored, free association to one's own teenagers replacing those who were in the photo.
    It was as if I sat down to a meal of chicken stew but refused to even taste it because I was served chicken stew as a child by my mean stepmother.
     
  100. "why would I even want to?"

    Good point Fred! If you aren't thirsty, why drink the KoolAid...
     
  101. Julie - "It is about the fascinating interweavings via posture, eyes, clothing, tones, of the group in the same way as the same kind of interweavings as are found in Steve's picture."
    Why not just argue that you see the Shanghai merchant photo as a fascinating interweaving like you saw the famous girls as a fascinating interweaving and leave it at that? We all saw something else, not because we didn't look, not because we don't know what a photo is. Why not just talk about the picture as opposed to abstracting some concept or analogy as an exercise in, what, how to look at art; or how to not look at art except as a stimulus to word play that has little to do with important feminist content in the 4 teenage girl photo, for example. The thing is, you saw it your way and I appreciate how you saw it, others saw it a different way and were told they just didn't look.
     
  102. Charles: "how to not look at art except as a stimulus to word play"
    A very good point, Charles. One that often comes to mind.
    Charles: "The thing is, you saw it your way and I appreciate how you saw it, others saw it a different way and were told they just didn't look."
    This is tricky, IMO. I think there's an art to viewing photos.
    I didn't see what you saw, but found it interesting to hear what you saw. I've heard you talk about photos enough to know you look . . . and see well.
    But in reading through that thread, I did get the feeling that a lot of people were, of course, looking, but I'd question the photographic depth some were viewing with. And I know this sounds a little elitist (though to me it's just being realistic), and I can live with that. Viewing can occur at a variety of different levels, just as photography can. I think there are more experienced and more expressive and more nuanced and more expert photographers than others. And I'd have to say the same about viewers.
    For me, this still means that anyone is entitled to photograph and their photographs can be appreciated for what they are and can give them great fulfillment. And anyone is entitled to view a photo any way they want. But there are some photos that are going to mean more to me than others. And there are some readings of photos that are going to mean more to me than others. I will be happy for the viewer that is enriched by his or her viewing of a photo. But I know, over the years, I have developed my viewing skills to where I get more out of photos in general than I used to. I think it is, in part, a learned skill, or a practiced one, or at least one that often matures with experience. And I think it's not unfair to question how we look and what we see. Though, as I said, it's very tricky stuff and we risk stepping on toes when we do so.
     
  103. Don't mean to sound too frustrated. I think too it's partly a case of relative importance. Someone may get a degree in photography to learn a lot about how to create an effect and it may not be that important to the viewer the ins and outs of why a photograph works for them. With those 4 girls, shown in a photo-journal on social issues, not a coffee table book of works hanging in a museum: well you know, I take the point that it takes study to look, and even extended that point to say that we don't look, hardly look at anything let alone a photograph. But those 4 girls are in the equivalent of the Life Styles section of the Sunday paper with the photographs an accompaniment to the author's words, not art per se.
     
  104. While I am attempting to make sense of the various tributaries that have branched off the main thread (comment on all? comment on any?)...I find myself laughing at the references to "Steve's photo". It is Lauren Greenfield's photo. I know we all know this, yet I wonder why I am saddled with the burden of ownership? ;-)
     
  105. Steve, I'm one of the culprits. After I posted, I realized I should have said the photo that Steve linked to.
    Why are you saddled with ownership? A couple of thoughts. 1) We know you and don't know Greenfield. 2) You put it on the Internet . . . you own it. Just being facetious of course, with the latter. Mostly, it's quickspeak and a little laziness on my part.
     
  106. Fred -- I'm just joking around (which you know). I have some volunteer work I have to run off to in a minute, but reading the last few pages I have been struck by so many different thoughts (sparked by some of your comments, and some of other posters) that I want to just sit here and consider them all. I hope I don't forget by the time I can get back to this thread.
     
  107. The entirety of its ingrediants comprise a 'dish' of something, say a dish of ice cream. The term dish refers in that usage to portion size. A dish of ice cream can have too much ice cream or can have ice cream with too much salt in it as an ingrediant: either way a dish of ice cream is a portion of ice cream regardless if the contents are any good.
    A dish can even have nothing on it, or can have anything on it, within it. One dish is distinguised from another only by what the dish contains, a measure of a food. Similar ingredients form a stew, other ingredients form a cassorole, etc. Stew is distinguished from cassorole, but at the point of comparison of stew and cassorole, we aren't talking about a dish any longer. We're talking about food. In photography then, we might say, "Oh, bring me a frame (dish) of something, a wooden frame (dish) with matting, holding something suitable for a living room." Genre compares to a particular food, but I don't think anything is gained by substituting the word 'dish' for the word 'food', the word dish only allowing a discussion of our experience of no particular thing, the frame emptied by our consumption of its photographic content, and our take away reduced to just our experience of the energy of a photo, energy as a separate thing, a thing in itself, energy stripped of content. Energy that is a feeling, intense, indifferent, sublime: the only thing unique about a feeling is the uniqueness of the person experiencing it, but it isn't feeling devoid of the content that evoked it, the feeling itself without content is no special thing to be extracted. The only thing special is the person who felt it.
     
  108. "letting the picture be what it is" - Julie H
    "As he struggled to come to terms with Winogrand's late works [which he thought was weak as compared to his early stuff], Szarkowski wrote that Winogrand "constructed clever evasions to distance himself from the moral implications that others might see in the world of his pictures." ... Szarskowski stated that "if he had with words plumbed too deeply the meaning of his pictures -- had allowed analytic intelligence to look too insistently over the shoulder of intuition -- intuition might have been cowed."​
    In my world -- the only one that I can plumb with any reasonable expectation of comprehension -- the most significant photographs (by others) frequently reek of, and burst at the seams with, intuition. Szarkowski does not state it this strongly, but analytic intelligence is the enemy of intuition. Analysis is best applied to the photographs of others, and kept securely locked in a lead-lined box when creating one's own photographs. Although it can be (and should be) brought out again, after a period of time, and applied to one's own photographs. "What is it?" It is what is there. It is the four girls in Greenfield's photograph, just as Julie described them:
    there is drama in the left to right undulation through the hair; left to right from eye to eye to eye; from left to right in the increasing back and forth torso-twistings; from left to right the rising degree of vamp from the first (motherly, with bra) to the crescendo with the hair, face, and twist of the third girl (braless), to the slowing/concluding cadence of the last girl (chest fully covered); that I enjoy all the shades of blue/lavender etc. etc. — are you bored stiff? Or does everybody else also see this but feel that it's personal/private or somehow unimportant or to "arty" to confess in a public forum?​
    Too arty? Too personal or private? No, not at all. Certainly not in this particular forum. Yet that photograph is also what viewers may make of it. There is a disappointing trend of condescension toward the notion that personal experience is a valid method of comprehending and discussing a photograph. A beginning point only, yes. The "thereness", the "itness", of the image must also be considered, along with the how and the why. But to disparage what a viewer brings to a photo seems...foolish and illogical. The experience is the flesh on the bones of the photograph. Without it there is only color, tone, shape, and arrangement of object(s), the point of view, bla bla bla. The more experience (both in life and in viewing and paying attention to photographs) the more solid the flesh that can be placed on the bones. Can the "wrong" flesh be placed on the bones? Perhaps. A viewer looking at this woman with an ice cream cone may come to vastly different conclusion as to its meaning or significance (or utter lack thereof) than Floyd, or Julie, or me. What is it? A woman with an ice cream cone, seemingly amused, standing on a street in front of a men's clothing store. A banal and pointless moment? Or?
    Words. A "Tunisian date" can mean a food or it can mean a dinner companion from a particular country. Words can be used to cleverly, or not so cleverly, describe a photograph. But the true grasp of a photograph can often only be had by going to the place that exists between the words used to describe it. What is it?
     
  109. Steve: "but analytic intelligence is the enemy of intuition"
    Have to disagree with you here, Steve. They can go hand in hand. One can be analyzing quite intelligently a situation or a potential shot and still use intuition or be intuitive in shooting it. One can analyze intelligently how to post process a shot and still leave room for intuition to come into play when it kicks in. My experience is they can be strange and powerful bedfellows rather than enemies.
    Steve: "Analysis is best applied to the photographs of others, and kept securely locked in a lead-lined box when creating one's own photographs.
    For some, this is likely true. Sometimes, it is said but also belied by the reality of the working situation. For others, it is just false. Great thing that variety!
     
  110. For Steve :) :
    .
    As the secret blackness of milk, of which Valéry spoke, is accessible only through its whiteness, the idea of light or the musical idea doubles up the lights and sounds found beneath, is their other side or their depth. Their carnal texture presents us what is absent from all flesh; it is a furrow that traces itself out magically under our eyes without a tracer, a certain hollow, a certain interior, a certain absence, a negativity that is not nothing ...
    ... We do not possess the musical or sensible ideas, precisely because they are negativity or absence circumscribed; they possess us. The performer is no longer producing or reproducing the sonata: he feels himself, and the others feel him to be at the service of the sonata; the sonata sings through him or cries out so suddenly that he must "dash on his bow" to follow it.
    Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible​
    .
    Most great photograhers expect, hope! -- but don't require -- that we respond to their work in this manner. Eggleston makes it mandatory.
    This is what makes their work more than ordinary.
     
  111. I try to keep in mind the difference between an original stance toward or response to a photo or work of art and a critical discussion of that same work of art. The former might lead to what I think Charles was referring to above, the "play with words" Merleau-Ponty so poetically expresses. The other will be a bit more down to earth and analytical. Doesn't mean either stance or response is the only one an individual can have. It's just how one talks about a work in different contexts. There's no reason one can't go from the experiential to the critical and back again a million times, each adding depth and breadth to the other, often losing sight of which mode one is even in, because they so feed on each other.
    I find most clear distinctions of so-called opposites, here made quite "black and white" for us by Ponty, to be false or, at best, misleading. It's ironic coming from a philosopher, Ponty, whose own ideas were, in part, his own carnal texture.
     
  112. Fred G. [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG], Dec 19, 2013; 02:17 a.m.
    Steve: "but analytic intelligence is the enemy of intuition"
    Have to disagree with you here, Steve. They can go hand in hand. One can be analyzing quite intelligently a situation or a potential shot and still use intuition or be intuitive in shooting it. One can analyze intelligently how to post process a shot and still leave room for intuition to come into play when it kicks in. My experience is they can be strange and powerful bedfellows rather than enemies.
    Steve: "Analysis is best applied to the photographs of others, and kept securely locked in a lead-lined box when creating one's own photographs.
    For some, this is likely true. Sometimes, it is said but also belied by the reality of the working situation. For others, it is just false. Great thing that variety!​
    Fred -- Absolutely. And really we are not in disagreement. I prefaced what I wrote with "In my world" for a reason. (For me there is a significant difference between "in my world" and "in my opinion".) What I wrote was more in the context of Julie's quote of Szarkowski. My interpretation of what he meant by analysis is not of the "stand here, frame this, use this lens, exclude that object" variety. I take it to have meant analysis of meaning, symbolism, nuances, cultural signifiers, etc. The editing (selection), post processing and printing is the "analysis" that occurs after the act of taking the photograph and I by no means intended to diminish its importance. I am inconsistent and imprecise. Talk to me tomorrow and I may posit something completely different. I do my best. Sometimes precision in understanding requires a seeming imprecision in communication to capture the visceral meaning that sometimes only exists between the words -- the "blackness" of the "whiteness" -- and which words alone, no matter how rigorously defined, can successfully impart. Julie -- thanks for that quote, I appreciate it as I think you knew I would.
     
  113. As to Mr. Carnal Textures, I suppose it was the case of a smart fellow whose chief purpose wasn't to actually look at what it is and talk about that, but instead whose chief purpose was to distinguish himself and his ideas within academia. The soundness, validity, reliability, comprehensibility of his language wouldn't matter to him all that much in that setting, just how differentiated from other academics his smart wording allowed him to appear. Perhaps that is too cynical of a view of him. On the other hand, the people of France spent a lot of money on Ponty's education and I'm not sure they got much value for that money. Because I see Ponty as deliberately moving his words around like chess pieces, smart and consistent perhaps, but not focused much on whether a chess board is a very good representation of the realities that the game of chess itself analogizes. As someone great once said, words are a map of territory and we should therefore not forget that words are not the territory; where words can take on a life of their own, become quite easily irrelevant to the territory they describe. As much as possible the language we use to convey our commonalities shouldn't be needlessly complex, I say on behalf of the taxpayers of France.
     
  114. Charles: "Perhaps that is too cynical of a view of him."
    I think it is. Though I have my disagreements with Ponty and with the way his quote is being used here, I don't see a reason to question his sincerity toward and appreciation of his subject matter in favor of viewing his motives as simply distinguishing himself among his peers. My relationship to most thinkers of his caliber is that they stand in dialogue with others throughout the ages. He had important things to say and consider, and marks an important place in aesthetic theory even when he wasn't necessarily talking about aesthetics. That he is right or wrong is much less important to me than the breadth of his ideas and that they encompass at least a part of looking, even if it doesn't cover the totality of it. Certainly the idea of a musician being in service of the music or having the music speak or play through the musician is not that foreign, eccentric, or self serving an idea.
    I disagree with you about words, by the way. When words are used well, they can both map the territory and become it. A good philosopher, or novelist, or poet, will not only use words to refer to the subject and to describe and explain it. They will make the words act in such a way as to mirror or reflect or shed light on the subject, in their use itself. Philosophy is not only in the ideas presented. So much of it is in the way those ideas are weaved into a whole. I don't read Descartes, Nietzsche, Kant, Ponty only for the ideas themselves. I read them also for the way the ideas are formed and take shape, the process of their taking shape, the internal (and external) dialogue they seem to convey, for the very usage of the words will often reflect on and even help propose the ideas themselves. I see their use of words and logic, sentence structure, premise and conclusion, step-by-step reasoning, use of metaphor and analogy, as I do the musical line of the violin in the orchestra or the lead guitar in a band. It's why Plato wrote dialogues instead of narratives, why Sartre wrote plays in addition to treatises, why Wittgenstein wrote aphorisms instead of metaphysical essays, why Descartes wrote meditatively and skeptically rather than dogmatically. Words, and their use, often cannot be separated from the territory they are mapping.
     
  115. Fred: "When words are used well, they can both map the territory and become it.. "
    That's where my mind turns to Ken Schles' comment about image, where Schles observed that Socrates, who hated imagery, provided us with imagery, metaphor in order to best communicate his philosophical sense of things. And it seems to be Ponty, like everyone I suppose, who would also 'dash on his bow' for the wordless experience of a sonata.
     
  116. Charles, can you provide a citation for Schles's comments about Socrates and imagery or for Socrates's comments about imagery themselves to which you and Schles refer.
    My understanding is that it was representational imagery that Socrates had a problem with, rather than metaphorical imagery or imagery itself, but my memory could certainly be refreshed on that. The allegory of the cave and Socrates's seeing himself as a midwife don't seem inconsistent with any of his views that I've read. Rather, it is paintings of beds, for example, that he sees as more removed from the truth than other beds. Socrates's use of the image of shadows on the wall of a cave isn't being used to represent what actual shadows on the wall of a cave are like, but rather to help us understand what opinion is like compared to knowledge.
    From The Republic:
    "We have here three sorts of bed: one which exists in the nature of things and
    which . . . we could only describe as a product of divine workmanship; another
    made by the carpenter; and a third by the painter." (326)

    God, he argues, “made only one ideal or essential bed” (326) after which the material beds are
    patterned. He is the “author of the true nature of Bed” (327) and all his works constitute the
    true nature of things” (327). The carpenter is the “manufacturer of a bed” (327) while the
    painter is the artist who “represents [my emphasis] the things which the other two make” (327). The “work
    of the artist” (327), Socrates concludes, is therefore “at a third remove from the essential
    nature of the thing” (327). Because the tragic poet is also an “artist who represents things”
    (327), albeit in a form different from the painting, this will also apply to him: “he and all other
    artists are, as it were, at a third remove from the throne of truth” (327). To put this another
    way, the artist (painter or writer) seeks to “represent” (327) not the “reality that exists in the
    nature of things” (327) but the “products of the craftsman” (327) and of nature (trees,
    mountains, etc.) as these appear to the onlooker.
    Mind you, I'm not defending Plato's or Socrates's views of art or, indeed, many of the objectionable ideas put forth in The Republic. But I don't think they are undermined by any so-called inconsistency.
     
  117. Fred, here's the citation, did Schles get it wrong as to representation as opposed to generally despising images??? Thanks.
    http://www.onshadow.com/artists/schles-ken/an-interview/
    This brings me back to a discussion in Oculus about Plato’s Republic, and the use of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to describe the meaning behind Plato’s “line of cognition.” To me this argument encapsulates a large part of our discussion here. Plato despised images because they didn’t reflect a “true” reality. He was trying to get towards an objective knowledge of things. I find images interesting, expressly because of the conundrum they present. They project things they are not; they allow us to see, through metaphor. I’ve become extraordinarily fascinated by Plato, because what is perhaps his greatest discussion is embodied in the allegory of the cave, which is itself an image, a metaphor. Here’s a guy who hates images, and yet he is compelled to create an image to convey meaning and to project significance.​
     
  118. Charles, I'm by no means an expert on Plato, but until I put in a little more research, I do think Schles may be getting it wrong, or at least approaching it eccentrically, at least as far as this particular quote of his takes us.
    Plato, I think, recognizes perception's limits but also recognizes its necessity as a starting-point of knowledge. Images, as being a rung on the ladder lower than perception, are too often deceptive, as can be perception itself, especially when we mistake them for what they are standing in for.
    Socrates was nothing if not an ironist. It would stand to reason that he, himself, would use imagery even while being so skeptical of it. Socrates is the man who professed his own ignorance, usually lauding the intellectual capacities of his interlocutors, while always maintaining the intellectual upper hand in the very same dialogues and arguments with them. He would not be beyond using imagery in an attempt to show the follies of relying on it. For he weaves the images in the Allegory of the Cave with higher-minded Ideas and Ideals. He uses the image as a stepping-stone to knowledge, not as representation but as metaphor, not content to rest with thinking the image itself is the truth or even shows it, but rather as a pathway toward it. He would claim that most art of his time does not do that. He would say that representational art is a bit like idolatry, substituting the mere appearance for the reality.
    In any case, it may be insufficient, but it's the best I can do for now.
     
  119. Charles: "And it seems to be Ponty, like everyone I suppose, who would also 'dash on his bow' for the wordless experience of a sonata."
    Getting back to Ponty, words, and photos. I've heard it a lot and, to be honest, it's one of the reasons I got frustrated enough with Philosophy and was moved to try my hand at playing the piano for quite a few years and then moving into photography. Words to explain and describe art always seemed to fail where art was much better at doing it itself. But I try not to be unfair or unkind to philosophers, whose job it is to describe what is often the indescribable. So philosophers have to talk about love and about truth and about art. And, for me, it's just too easy a mark to fault them for talking about the unspeakable . . .
    Charles: "like everyone I suppose"
    In some ways, like everyone, but in other ways, a pretty unique breed.
     

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