Why Is Photography Important?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by michaellinder, Nov 4, 2015.

  1. “Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet)

    To prepare for this exercise, start by substituting "take photographs" for "write" in the quoted material. Then, for the sake of whatever discussion will follow, stipulate that the last clause therein involves the use of a literary device (hyperbole) and should not be taken literally. So, why is engaging in the process of photography important to you?

  2. SCL


    Photography, for me, is a way to see and preserve dynamic things statically, and come back to them as desired to reexamine them, alter them, or learn more from them. It is satisfying when it works, frustrating when it doesn't, and another excuse to engage.
  3. I believe that one idea, or one photograph, can rapidly change the whole world.
  4. As it is now (things do change over time, of course), it often feels like an urge to express how I see the world around me. Part personal expression (hopefully creative), part sharing with others what I see. What keeps coming back is much as Stephen described. Rediscovery, and/or getting it right this time. There is also a very introvert and introspective part to that, and that matters to me too, a lot.
    I do not have the illussion that my photos will change things, nor that they have any everlasting value. But hearing/knowing that people appreciate seeing my photos, that a photo can evoke their emotions - that is already quite something, and I'm happy that succeeds, and proud too. It's the one and only reason to share photos, and making somebody else's day a bit better is very rewarding. Maybe not changing the world, but at least taking a step in the right direction.
    Plus, it must be said, I am very poor at any other form of creative expression, so photography suits me well as the only way in which I at least manage to produce something.
  5. In part, it has been my reaction to the unanswerable questions posed by Philosophy.
  6. I recall watching in one of the recent Olympics, the opening ceremony, athletes parading in. Virtually all of them had a smart phone, raised at arm's length, doing a selfie video. Unsettling.
    Our grandkids birthdays now, are all recorded, the cake, the presents. I wonder idly if anyone will ever watch these records.
    What were vices are now habits?
  7. Mendel, isn't the question why it's important to YOU?
    I was born in 1954. My birthdays and my siblings birthdays are all recorded as well. They were being recorded on film even when we all shared one phone which hung on the kitchen wall and had a coiled cord that used to get tangled up all the time, when we couldn't even imagine a camera being tied to a phone we would carry in our pockets. Now, when the extended family gets together, which seems to be for major milestones such as 80th birthdays, 50th anniversaries, or funerals, we tend to look back at those family snapshots. I'm very glad we have them to share.
    What were vices are now habits?​
    I think the kinds of photos you're talking about (birthdays, cakes, presents) are more significantly neither vices nor habits, but probably closer to ritual.
  8. Yeah, good points.
  9. For me photography remains a space in which I think and feel deeply about things, as I believe we are all meant to. I pour myself into photography (and some other passions) in a way that is completely incompatible with my daytime employment, and in this way it serves a very important need for me. I enjoy the contrast between the grind of daily life and the creative, intuitive retreat into the visual and feeling areas of my mind. I like that photography keeps a foot in both the literal and the limitless.
  10. Before I discovered "serious" photography, I had two creative outlets. I have a digital piano, at which I plunk away every once in a while. And I occasionally pop out something resembling a poem. Photography has been my primary source of dabbling in creativity since acquiring my first digital camera in 2003. This has enabled me at least to pretend that I can exist in the aether without having to make sure that my feet are planted on solid ground. I can have flights of fantasy. I can push envelopes that ordinarily would be dangerous for me to push. To me, photography is a self-esteem generator.
    Fred already said something like this. Aside from just noting my agreement with him, I will note that photography allows me to delve into philosophical issues without the usual verbal dialectic.
  11. It's magical, God-like, to freeze time and replay it later.
  12. Photography is important to me because it makes me focus on and appreciate my very short existence on this beautiful, miracle planet.
    And digital has made it so immediate and free flowing that the camera becomes an almost natural extension of my conscious state of awareness of both time and place but at a much more intense level than ever before.
    Photography makes me glad I'm alive. Don't know if that's a philosophical way of putting it but it certainly couldn't be put more simply, but I think Alan's statement may have.
  13. I agree with Fred's observations on family snapshots - I'm grateful to have them, to be able to see what my ancestors looked like, and get some idea of their lives. As memory joggers, the albums on my shelf come in handy, especially as I get older. In this respect, photography has been useful to me, but I think Michael's exercise is about why I do photography rather than the importance of photographs. He asks "why is engaging in the process of photography important to you?".

    This is a loaded question because it assumes that it is important, and then asks why. I do photography for some of the same reasons that others have given. I enjoy it, and it occupies a fair amount of time, but despite that I would not call it important. If photography were taken away, my creative outlets would be drawing, painting, working in clay, gardening, architecture, poetry, music, and petroglyphs. (Not that I'm any good at these things, but no matter.) Does photography offer anything unique, something that no other activity could offer? I might miss photography, but its absence wouldn't stifle my creativity. Had I lived two hundred years ago, I wouldn't miss it at all.
  14. I don't generally view photos as freezing time. I think photos transform moments, scenes, events, and situations, often yielding narratives by visually expanding or distilling them. Freezing time, if it does describe photos, would be a man-made, human endeavor. Godliness, if it exists, is in the original movement and continuity of time. The artifice—the man-made, crafted character of all this—is in the manufacture of a photo, the making of what gets called a "frozen" moment.
  15. To communicate something meaningful, felt or loosely seen before it gets lost. Sharing is really so important this days!
    I'm with Wouter here :) hope to turn someone's day better :)
  16. Mark, I indeed asked a loaded question. It presupposes that, for a variety of reasons, most people who subscribe to PN consider engaging in the process of photography important to them. (Indeed, a subclass of these people may engage in this process simply to earn money.)
  17. If photography were taken away, my creative outlets would be drawing, painting,
    To communicate something meaningful, felt or loosely seen before it gets lost. Sharing is really so important this days!
    I'm with Wouter here :) hope to turn someone's day better :)
    I found out 36 years later the value of making someone's day and life better creating an image when I got a call last month from a 95 year old woman who had worked at our local hardware store with my mom thanking me for drawing a portrait of her son after he was killed working as a clerk at a convenience store.
    I hadn't drawn a portrait in decades and couldn't even remember doing the portrait or what it looked like. I remembered the woman and her name, though. She said it had meant so much to her all these years framed on her wall and just wanted to thank me.
    She had her son-in-law take an iPhone snap of it and emailed it to me. When I saw it, it made me realize I hadn't valued my drawing ability as much as I should've as well as understood the potential and impact of imaging in general by my own efforts on a personal and meaningful level. I remembered I worked from a photograph for obvious reasons. I don't think I'm going to forget that call from her that's for sure.
  18. Had to remove the photo in order to remove the EXIF data which has the elderly woman's longitude/latitude location of where she lives thanks to the iPhone. Here it is sans EXIF.
  19. I take photographs because images "jump out at me." in a sense. The camera allows me to capture those images. These can be faces, as in portraits, or scenes from life, wherever I am at the time. I simply enjoy this, and it is a pleasurable experience. We know now from brain science, that the brain gets an increase in dopamine when it experiences something pleasureable, especially if it is "better than expected." In other words, we are rewared with pleasure by these experiences, and so we tend to repeat them. I can't help but think that there must be some kind of evolutionary purpose for creating (art). Maybe its just the act of being creative itself that is rewarding when things turn our well or even better than expected. Makes sense because creativity is one of the engines of our humanity.
  20. I guess that in some part I photograph in order to explore and understand my environment and its relation to me and to others. Sometimes this also allows an artistic result, sometimes a fresh perception of a subject that might intrigue or touch the viewer. Either way, when that happens I feel amply rewarded. My overall intention is a wordless communication with others about something that is of value to me and possibly to them.
    Tim has captured by his fine drawing what is no doubt the essence of his subject, which in this case a mother knows and cherishes over time. A similar goal is valuable in photography.
  21. It's possible that a cherished portrait doesn't capture an essence. I think many times a good portrait to a cherished family member is one that captures a reasonably good likeness with a significant expression, one recognizable as one that could and often has emanated from the subject. Honestly, often people like pictures of their loved ones that make them look a little better than they look in real life.
  22. Yes I agree Fred. Not only better. But younger! Including me! Ahhh, nostalgia.
  23. Perhaps only Tim and the mother of the deceased know whether the image captures the essence in this case. I regret not having noted instead "a part of the essence" of the subject. One photograph or a drawing or painting rarely if ever can capture the full essence of a subject, be it animate or inanimate. The importance of the drawing to a mother 36 years after its making seems to me to mean that something important of the subject is represented by it. It is also possible that the mother's memory changes with time, that her view of her son is as subjective as it is real, and that no other portrait of her deceased son exists. In those cases, whether some of the essence is portrayed realistically or not by the drawing is I think somewhat secondary - the important thing is that it means something to the viewer (the mother). What more can we ask of our drawings or of photography?
    We may search for reality or essence in life but we have to compose with less than that, often simply an approximation or symbolic representation, in many of our activities and in many of our visual records. How close to a resolution of the question "what is the meaning of life" have you arrived at?
  24. Fred, you are quite right of course about portraits that enhance the appearance or traits of the subjects. Vanity and humility do not often go together.
  25. Arthur, someone appreciating a loved one's looking good, the case I was discussing, wouldn't be vanity. As a matter of
    fact wanting someone else to look good could be seen as being humble or having empathy. The reason this is an
    important point is because I think much that goes on with portraits is about empathy, photographer for person he's making
    the portrait of and viewer for subject of portrait, and in some cases for the photographer who's made it. Vanity is over-concern with one's own looks. someone who wants to look good in a photo might not be vain. I actually think it's quite typical and not unnatural or unexpected. Vanity, aside from a concern with one's own appearance, suggests an undue degree of it.

    "Essence," being an invariable, constant, and fundamental quality of a person or thing (if such a thing exists,
    which I would question) couldn't really come in parts. I would put what we're seeing more in terms of personality,
    expressions, gestures, mood, and character rather than in terms of essence.
  26. "Compared to painting and drawing photography has the ability to disappear and remove itself in favor of the subject depicted. It's this characteristic - also when combined with the subjectivity of the photographer and viewer - which makes photography so unique and complex as an art form"
    All Art is based on the depiction of the subject and the ability to remove themselves is a misnomer ....an impossibility unless you are a non feeling thinking machine. Photography is not unique neither is any form of Art. They are all an expression of humanities creativity none having some extra special abilities to express that Art.
  27. I would put what we're seeing more in terms of personality, expressions, gestures, mood, and character rather than in terms of essence.​
    In fact, the parts of essence include personality, specific expressions and gestures, mood and character, to name but 5 of them. That excludes "rather than".
  28. Since personality can change and since expressions and gestures do change, they are, by definition, not parts of essence. Unless you mean to change the definition of essence or you're using an unknown definition of it, it's hard to imagine how a gesture could be part of an essence. Essence is something without which a subject wouldn't be that subject (by any definition I've ever seen or known). Yet, it seems fairly obvious that a subject could be the same subject without a particular gesture caught in a photograph. Gestures are contingent as are expressions. Essences are not contingent but necessary. No gesture is necessary. No expression is necessary. An essence is necessary for the subject to be the subject. A gesture is not. An expression is not.
  29. In any case, to keep this related to photography, for me, to say that a photo captures an essence would be about as meaningful as saying a photo captures the face of god. It sounds all well and good and high falutin' but I think it's mythologizing photography, not to mention mythologizing subjects. What if we think of photos as smaller than life rather than larger than life? That might be a way to go.
  30. Andre Bazin, French film theorist, said that photography saves time from its proper corruption. To my understanding, nothing can be more spiteful than to allow an epoch to pass without credible visual references. Any deliberate apathy makes existing chronological and referential data gravely treacherous and untrustworthy. Question of reliability of modern day research since the beginning of 20th century took several exciting twists with novel insight and intriguing exploration of world cultures through the lens of a camera. This discovery of photographic evidence also unleashed a new perspective on modern history. A photograph is a substitute for seeing the real thing; so availability of images related to themes in history strengthened specificity of research. Twentieth Century academics extended reliance on what we now call ‘a culture of visual memory. It is just one aspect of why photography is so important.
  31. Fred G "The artifice—the man-made, crafted character of all this—is in the manufacture of a photo, the making of what gets called a "frozen" moment."​
    Epigram No.1
    A photograph is a conversation about a moment.

    My most notable advice came 50 years ago when I learned that the photographic print is an object best viewed in the hand. The essential, material “realness” of the printed photograph resonates best with the photographic idea. The instructors I had then were all up-to-date in contemporary trends as well as the history of photography. They taught the beauty of photographic craft but were open to alternate approaches.

    I believe that of all creatures, humans are the only ones who are self-aware. This ability demands to be expressed in some way. We are compelled to affirm our personal realness. Photography allows expressions on every level of human experience.

    For this reason art is more essential to our species success than all other activities. Fingerprints left in clay a million years ago or images of the furthest regions of our universe today are evidence of our realness.
  32. Fred, essence can be defined in rather practical everyday terms or as a subject of philosophy. One practical definition is:
    "Essence is defined as the core nature or most important qualities of a person or thing.
    An example of essence is what is captured of someone’s personality in a good photograph."
    Your negation of the possibility of the existence of elements of essence by "Since personality can change and since expressions and gestures do change, they are, by definition, not parts of essence", would seem to suggest that you feel it is impossible to define an invariant aspect of an individual through something the photograph reveals. Do you thus refuse to accept what is captured of someone’s personality in a good photograph as being an element of that invariant characteristic of an individual. If so, are you not saying that no portrait photograph can capture what may be unique (essence) of a person? As we are not unique structures like individual snowflakes such uniqueness may not exist in a more universal context but only in relation to a more limited group that may be defined by one's contacts, a particular region or community, or other. If your essence is replicated in someone unknown to you or to your circle or other "region", does that make your essence any less so?
  33. Arthur, all I'm saying is that if you're trying or succeeding in capturing some personality trait or traits of a subject (which I have done myself) why not just call it what it is . . . capturing personality traits. Or if you're capturing significant gestures that people who know the subject would recognize why not call it capturing important identifying and expressive gestures. You mention practical everyday terms and I find that "essence" is being used to convey a grander idea than all of those things you're talking about, which can be put in the practical everyday terms you are suggesting. Essence makes it sound like the portrait photographer has gone to some next level, which I don't think he has because I don't think it exists in the person. Personality, expressive gestures, mood, smiles or sorrowful looks, are all quite enough to give me a sense of what the photo is telling me. Think about posting a portrait you have seen that you think accomplishes getting to someone's core or essence. Then state what the core nature of that person is and how that's been conveyed by the photo. What would be the difference between that and leaving out the word essence and just describing the traits you see or feel?
  34. I agree with Fred that it's very hard to capture someone's essence. This came up during one of our photo-of-the-weeks when Yousuf Karsh's portraits were discussed. Fred said then too that he didn;t see the essence that Karsh claimed were there. Maybe we can only capture one of a person's essence at a time. The Churchill portrait does show a somewhat "bulldog" attitude. But I'm sure Churchill had a soft side.
    Certainly advertisers select people who photograph attitudes and demeanor that represent the image they wish to project about their products. Of course, that might not be the real people. Reminds me of when the "talkies" started. Many famous silent screen stars couldn't make the transition sucessfully as their voices didn't match how their bodies filmed.
  35. I have taken mostly informal style “publicity” portraits. I try and please people with my impression of them. We can only “know” a person in-so-far-as the limits of our recollections of them. Capturing a person’s essence in a single picture or a dozen is futile.

    We all have practiced public faces. We depict our family and intimates as we would want them to appear to the public. It is surprising how soon infants seem to know this and put on a big, toothless grin for the camera.
    Certain people’s appearance sets them apart. Pictures of “types” or in some mannerist style is an interesting challenge. I’ve doing a very long-term portrait project. The subjects are asked to think of it as their “book jacket” picture. People who get the project use it to explore some aspect of themselves. The last frame of the shoot is often the “What the hell, lets do it” attempt that turns out best.
  36. There are a couple ways I circumscribe essence that leave me feeling more connected to things.
    Yousuf Karsh: http://www.karsh.org/#/the_work/portraits/carl_jung
    Except of the text on that page:
    The Swiss psychiatrist, in his library in Zurich, agreed with the title of James Thurber’s book, Let Your Mind Alone. “But,” he remarked, “unfortunately, your mind is not discreet enough to leave you alone.”​
    I am whatever it is that my mind won't let alone. That's me.
    About 7 minutes into this Ted Talk by the natural sounds expert Bernie Krause.
    After a brief set up, Krause plays a recording made of a sea anemone making a sound of disappointed disgust. The sea anemone was disgusted by discovering that a microphone wasn't food.
    We don't know if that sea anemone "vocalization" was a display of its "practiced public face" or if it was a display of its essence. But probably it isn't self aware enough to have become self-conscious in public.

Share This Page