Wrestling with the concept of "Straight" Photography

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by Sandy Vongries, Jun 9, 2017.

  1. David, the quote says, "the objects must be isolated from their context and freed from all association." This can't happen, I believe. As I said, objects may be freed from their ORIGINAL context but they will always be seen within a context of some kind. And they will never be free of association, IMO, period. So, for instance, in the exhibition that quote goes on to talk about, the objects in the photographs are seen in the context of many other similar photographs which very heavily influences their viewing. That's part of the so-called project. The project, at least in substantive part, is to create such a context, which seems to me both repetitive and monotonous, therefore the headache mentioned.

    I wasn't at all thinking about the difference between the photographer maintaining the original context and the viewer not having access to it. I mostly set that aside. Because, to me, the PHOTO is what's important, what I've framed, more important than what I may remember of the original moment when it was taken. Important photos of mine that aren't family mementos don't have much to do with their original context. I rarely try to memorialize my emotions or capture what the moment feels like to me, as much as project and create something I think the photo can be apart from the reality of the situation.

    Any photo of a supposedly isolated-from-context object you take is surely not isolated from the part of its context which was that it was the object of your camera at the time. As a matter of fact, that may be the MOST important part of its context at the time you took the picture, and that, the viewer IS getting to see.

    Also, when I made the statement, I was thinking about real or imagined context, which is important in photography and, unless it's a documentary or journalistic photo can be given equal weight. If I see parts of a ship in a photo without greater context, whether I imagine it in the water or on land, with people on it or not doesn't really matter, because we're not talking about ACCURATE context here. At least, I'm not. I'd question whether we can imagine "part of ship" without either knowing a factual or conjuring up an imaginary context, and that was what I was thinking. Objects, as I said when I talked about the Golden Gate Bridge, occupy a space, whether in the world or in a photo, and that space will always be the context, often suggesting a narrative to fill that space, again, whether real or imagined.

  2. Pictorial content (material and formal) carries/retains its varied meanings via symbolism. Things "mean" what they do from one context to another because of their symbolic meaning, on which pictures rely for communication.
  3. The Bechers and the New Objectivity they came from (which in photography could be seen as the European equivalent of Straight Photography in America) were interested in literal description and not symbolic meaning. That everything that can be literally described can consequently also have a symbolic meaning is besides the point of the context the work of the Bechers was made in and must be seen in.

  4. What is that? Describe for me the "literal" content that you see in one of their pictures.
  5. From interviews with the Bechers:

    Hilla Becher: There was a particular moment [in making a book] when we placed several cooling towers alongside each other and something happened.
    Bernd Becher: A kind of music. You only see the differences between objects when they are close together, because they are sometimes very subtle. All the objects in one family resemble each other, they are similar. But they also have a special individuality. And this individuality can only be shown if they are comparable.

    The comparison with music is an interesting one.

    HB: Each building has a particular sound. Putting a sequence of photographs together makes a sound. You have to be very attentive to questions of tone and scale and rhythm.

    You prefer the word "sound" rather than "music"?

    HB: Music is something that is already composed and sound is the raw material. But the main point is that it has a grammar, a vocabulary, which is different to, and parallel to, spoken or written language.

    Could you compare your arrangements to a particular kind of music, a music based on variations?

    HB: Probably Bach rather than Brahms — although sometimes it's interesting to see if Brahms might be an appropriate parallel too.

    [ ... ]

    So the photographs represent the mentality of the industrial age?

    HB: It can be compared to portraiture. You have to show the skin and the structure.

    [ ... ]

    HB: ... the more precisely it depicts objects the stronger its magical effect on the observer.
    Bernd Becher: I should also mention that I was always interested in telling stories. And for this reason too I could not have worked with anything other than this form of photography nestled somewhere between art and literature — like August Sander and Eugene Atget. What we are ultimately doing is telling stories by presenting people or things that tell their own stories.

    [ ... ]

    HB: We also very quickly agreed on a fundamental conviction, namely that technology does not need to be interpreted, it interprets itself. One just has to select the right objects and fit them into the picture precisely, then they tell their own story all by themselves.​


    The Bechers felt that the objects in their pictures were already symbolic (carrying meaning); they didn't need to have it imposed by the photographer.
  6. With literal description I mean the description made by the camera and nothing that can be described in words. Perception and the act of looking itself is the content.

  7. That's everything visible. Seeing. What's not covered by that?
  8. When Hilla Becher is talking about how each building has a sound rather than music because sound is the raw material and music is something already composed, what's not covered would be a description that's more music than sound. Though she's still talking about the sequences also as sound and not music, when different sounds are put together that's when a rhythm is created, a composition. The grids invite a more contemplative way of looking (searching for the music in all the subtlely different sounds) than when the images are seen individually and large scale which is how they've also presented them.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2017
  9. To isolate the subject in order to capture the form of the object is a recurring tenet in Straight Photography. Stieglitz too when driven into modernism and away from pictorialism became more aware about photography as an increasingly selective process ("There is nothing in my pictures that isn't there—that doesn't come straight from the object photographed" - Stieglitz).

    Albert Renger-Patzsch is also a photographer to look at in this context and who was influential to the Bechers' way of working (ultimately it can all be traced back to Atget as the Bechers and everyone who followed in their footsteps would agree. But what makes Atget unique is how his work seems to equally belong to and exist in both worlds and methods of working: the objective and subjective).

    Albert Renger-Patzsch (German, 1897 - 1966) (Getty Museum)
  10. Somewhat parallel to the Bechers' documenting now long gone structures (all the same but different) is Wilson Bentley's pioneering snowflake photography:

    "Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind." - Wilson Bentley

  11. Another means of comparing the subjectively expressionistic vs. the objectively methodical is in the Brazil vs. Germany Fifa World Cup game which Germany won with 7 goals against 1. Two contrasting aesthetics. All of the Brazilian flamboyance couldn't compete with Germany's clean understated effectiveness (in another instance the roles might as well have been reversed). The Germans didn't even cheered and celebrated that much when they scored one goal after the other which made the deepening disillusionment on the Brazilian side even more palpable. If sport can be an art then the German team was effortlessly making a masterpiece. You don't really want to like it but you cannot not like it. Of course Germany's identity can't be separated from its past and which adds a kinda unspoken uncomfortable layer to it all.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2017
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  12. You can also look at this as Germans being the meticulous craftsmen, while the Brazilians being the unkempt bohemians. Bring in the Italians, and you have a complete drama group. :p
  13. The Italians aren't what they used to be. The Belgian team more recently is full of talent but seems to always lack the exuberance when it really matters. In the World Cups I always loved watching the U.S. team too. What was lacking in individual talent was always made up in sheer drive as a team. In 5-10 years the U.S. will be at the same level as the top European and South-American teams.
  14. Ha ha ... I still remember Zidane head butting Materazzi in the World cup final, after he shouted 'nasty stuff'. Every team has its waxing and waning periods. Sometimes, teams improve dramatically with new coaches or players The issue is, we have so much excitement here with other sports, football, baseball, basketball, that soccer doesn't receive the front row treatment. I hope, once the US team has scored some hits, there will be added interest in soccer.
  15. The Italians are masters at playing mind games. Zidane should have known better. Watching Zidane play is like pure art though, like a chess master seeing several steps ahead.
  16. My very first college Philosophy paper was called Sports As Art. My preferred sport is baseball. It can be, as can many other sports, looked at like one would watch a ballet. That requires a bit of ABSTRACTION, often an important characteristic of artworks, even very literal ones. Score takes on less importance in looking at a sport as art. So does winning. Body movement gets singled out for its beauty even as it still relates to the task at hand, which remains important. Performance is at play. Orchestration of teammates is evident. There are harmonies and counterpoints, as the pitcher is in sync with the catcher and the 2nd baseman, often right in line with them is jigging around to keep the runner as off balance as possible. There are strokes of the bat and a good pitcher paints the corner of the plate. These art metaphors take hold for a reason. For a sport to become art in addition to sport, IMO, requires a way of looking more than it does a way of feeling. That's by no means the case for all things that can be art. I don't think this elevates sports or suggests it's more significant because it can be seen this way. I just think it alters its intangible "molecular" structure.
    Norman 202 likes this.
  17. Alistair Cook, a deeply English Englishman who was the BBC's correspondent in the US for many years attempted to explain American football to Britishers. He likened it to a game of chess, in which each piece is assigned a specific, limited movement and role, but which together orchestrate a consolidated strategy. (AC later became a US citizen, and authored a book, Alistair Cook's America, which also became the basis for a PBS documentary series.) I also like to wonder at the very vague boundary between athleticism and art that one sees in ballet (or other dance). Dancers are, without question, extraordinary athletes. Yet they are also, at least the best of them, artists, or at least exponents of the art of dance. These examples and others are interesting considerations when examining the lines of separation between the arts and other disciplines and crafts. So consider: Is a major league pitcher a craftsman, an artist, just an athlete, or an amalgam of all these? Whatever the answer, then why?, and how does one differentiate?
  18. I think most people aren't limited to one category of identification. For ease, I'd say a pitcher is an athlete. That seems reasonable to say in most contexts. That I can view sports as art doesn't necessarily entail categorizing each athlete as an artist. But all this stuff is just classification. And I'm pretty loose about how we label people, in different contexts or kinds of discussions. The important thing is that we understand each other when we talk about different ways we see baseball, football, and dance.
  19. That is what is wrong with how the human brain thinks. We have to isolate the elements and give them concise definitions. We deconstruct nature by setting up laboratory conditions with only one variable. We are not well set up to integrate.
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  20. Sorry to go back to the beginning. Could someone give me a working definition of straight photography. I do not want to say something g that is completely off subject. I am sure that what ever answers I get there will be those that disagree but at least I will be able to base some comments on some one in the know.

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