Your Shadow

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by unrealnature, Nov 22, 2013.

  1. Do you ever use your own shadow in your pictures? If so, how do you think of it? As being "you"? Or as a more generic kind of outside presence? Or as simply a structural ingredient (useful darkness)? Do you think it's the same as, in a documentary film, where you hear the voice of the filmmaker (from behind the camera), or not? For example, if you look at THIS example [LINK], what does the (unintentional) shadow of the photographer's head "do" to the picture?
    Do you (I'm looking at you, Steve Gubin) think there is a prejudice against the inclusion of self-shadows in "serious" photographs? You rarely see it, with the very notable exception of Friedlander who delights in making clever use of his own shadow.
    More examples of snapshot (unintentional) inclusion of the photographer's shadow are:
    01 [LINK]
    02 [LINK]
    03 [LINK]
    04 [LINK]
    05 [LINK]
    06 [LINK]
    07 [LINK]
    [all examples from the Fraenkel Gallery's publication, The Book of Shadows]
    Do you have examples, from your own work, of serious or not-so-serious use of your own shadow in your pictures? Show us -- and, if you can, say what you think the shadow is "doing" in the picture. Or, can you think of well-known photographers who have used it in published work (I'll give some examples of Friedlander's stuff in a later post).
     
  2. For me, a difference between a shadow in a photo and a narration by a documentarian is that the former is more gestural. Usually, but not always, photographers' shadows in their photos seem gimmicky to me, as was the case when I viewed a recent Friedlander exhibit at SFMOMA. Not only his use of his own shadow, but a lot of his gestures started to feel thin during my experience of the show, though I still got a lot out of it.
    In snapshots, on the other hand, they are usually amusing. That's often because their accidental-seeming nature in snapshots can be endearing and they sometimes fall just right so they can make for interesting serendipitous juxtapositions.
    Obviously, a photographer's shadow would serve different visual and emotional and narrative purposes in different photos and situations.
    The only time I've included my shadow, and I don't love the photo so I won't include it, is a self portrait, where I was not behind the camera. The camera was on a tripod on a timed exposure and some more graphic parts of my own shadow got projected on the wall behind me because of the lighting situation. Very different from the more personal-extended nature of a shadow cast directly by the photographer behind the camera into the frame.
    I love feeling the physical presence of the photographer, but I think using one's own shadow is often, not always, a lazy way out. There are much more interesting, subtle, compositional and structural or emotional ways to get the photographer's presence into a photo.
     
  3. Yes, I do use my own shadow in photographs. Typically those are photos triggered by situations in which I notice my own shadow (a companion we too often ignore) and discover how it interacts with the surroundings (example 1) or other shadows (example 2 - example 3). In these cases I see my shadow less as an index of the photographer (nor as some 'voice of the author') but rather as a projection of myself into the scene (or world). It's probably some personal thing, exploring the interdependency of the outside world and my physical presence (example 4).
    While in my examples, probably other viewers would not immediately identify with my self-shadow, I can very easily identify with the photographers' shadow in this photo by Lee Friedlander. So, I think the role of a self-shadow can be manifold. But, until I see a counterexample, I think, the own shadow is always a very explicit, maybe even blunt, way to create a link (or index) to the physical presence of the photographer. It probably only works reasonably well, if it plays a vital (if not central) role in the composition. Therefore, I'm not too surprised, that self-shadows are seldom included in 'serious' photos.
    I agree to Fred, that there a more interesting and subtle ways to include the presence of the photographer (like reflections of the photographer in shopwindows, mirrors, etc. see e.g. Friedlander (again), Candida Höfer, Fred Goldsmith :)).
     
  4. I absolutely love quirky vernacular photographs. These are some real gems, Julie. Much more imaginative (even if unintentional) than anything I have ever come up with (I have used it, but must have thought so little of any attempts at self-shadow images that I can't even find any...no loss, believe me).
    Some of the vernacular examples are quite interesting. The first two (unnumbered and side by side in the link): the one on the left appears as if the photographer wore a cowboy hat, while the one on the right is dominated by a shadow that makes me think of Marvel Comics "The Hulk". My favorite, though, is the woman showing a bit of leg. I swear the shadow appears to be that of a cop. What a wonderful juxtaposition. Had these all been intentionally done by a single photographer, I would not think them out of place on a museum or gallery wall.
    Which leads me to believe that there is not (or need not be) a prejudice against self shadows in "serious" photography. I understand Fred's and Wolfgang's feeling that there are more creative ways of making known the photographer's presence (commonly some sort of reflection, or even more subtle and implied methods), but the shadow itself can be an interesting element.
    For example, I quite like Wolgang's use of twin shadows at the seashore. And I was actually intrigued by the shadow and the "boring landscape". There was something interesting to me in the way the shadow pierced that banal landscape. It somehow accentuated the banality, and paradoxically made it more interesting. You might want to rethink your perceived value of your shadow pictures, Wolfgang!
    The shadow as "narration" is an interesting concept. In Wolfgang's Friedlander example, I see a sort of wry commentary by the photographer, perhaps even a darker view of it as a domination if one wanted to take it that far (I don't).
     
  5. Steve wrote: " ... the shadow itself can be an interesting element." That's what I'm feeling. Still ruminating about it, poking it with a stick from a safe distance-- there's something interesting going on there. That darkness has an unruly attitude, a charge all its own ...
     
  6. How's this:
    00cBA8-543730384.jpg
     
  7. Given the time of day and the lighting it would have been difficult for me to make this photo of a stairway at a former employer's building without also showing my shadow. I think that the shadow is important to the image in order to balance the composition, adding a suggestion of an organic presence among the severe lines of the stairs and the concrete artefacts left by the wooden forms. The negative came out very well (it makes very good silver prints) and it is one photo that didn't need any dodging and burning to recover its wide dynamic range, although the texture of the blacks has been nearly fully blocked, except for some slight detail in the upper body shadow.
    http://www.photo.net/photo/11472731
    Personal shadows taken by themselves may not divulge much of the personality of the photographer, but their placement in a scene can often do that or they can figure as an additional prop to complement or counter existing subject matter.
     
  8. I often use my own shadow, and those of others, as a primary element, often in conjunction with signs and symbols, or interesting juxtapositions of geometric forms and other shadows.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    In other photos I use it to disrupt the notion of a photograph as a detached or objective record or document.
    [​IMG]
     
  9. I like silhouette and though I've no examples on PN I've used my own silhouette together with the silhouette of my subject to get only silhouette, trying to portray form and movement.
    Otherwise I've made mistakes with shadow (lens hood on a wide angle lens using flash: nice shadow of the lens hood) or with my own shadow where with a super wide I'm unintentionally in the shot. Reminds me of an exhibit I saw at LACMA a few years ago where a photographer had a full figure portrait of a 50's Dad type in a 50's neighborhood posed in front of a tree such that the tree came out of his head: the photographer put a caption and arrow on the print "NOT LIKE THIS"
     
  10. As promised, here are some examples of Lee Friedlander's use of self-shadows. First the humorous:
    01 [LINK] >>> with an erection
    02 [LINK] >>> clearly he is imitating Steve J Murray in this one
    03 [LINK] >>> classic tree-growing-out-of-the-head
    04 [LINK] >>> pure Friedlander
    Next, the less humorous (I'm not sure any Friedlander picture is ever entirely without humor, or at least wit):
    05 [LINK]
    06 [LINK]
    07 [LINK]
    08 [LINK]
    09 [LINK]
    There are many, many more, but those are my picks for this morning.
    Out of respect for Friedlander, who can't stand theory, I will give my theoretical comments in a separate post to follow this one.
     
  11. I used to think that observing a personal shadow as an element of photographic composition offers unique opportunity to come out of so called "superiority/inferiority framework" of consideration and see the self as a essentially opaque object.
    00cBCz-543737784.jpg
     
  12. With Friedlander sequestered in the next room (I hope he can't hear us), here are my un-concluded thoughts so far on the examples I've linked, and those posted (thank you!) by others. As always, all my remarks are FOR ME and not intended as pronouncements of TRUTH:
    When there's a self-shadow, there is a sort of mental contest in my viewing between the shadow/ghost condition and that of the meat/flesh conception of the stuff in the picture -- and the ghost state seems to prevail. I find this to be true in all the examples, but look at Arthur's picture (which I think is very good, aside from this topic); how the rather harsh, geometrical content moves and sparks in a way that I don't think it would without the liberating inversion promoted by the self-shadow. Self-shadows have some powerful voodoo.
    ****
    A self-shadow inverts perspective: where the other stuff in the picture is spreading outward from the frame, side to side, and retreating away to a vanishing point(s), the shadow vectors inward and TO me out of the frame in MY direction, not to the horizon -- the inverse of everything else.
    ***
    In some cases (Lex's for example) the "touch" of the self-shadow does something tactile that I'm still pondering.
     
  13. Lex's shadows are incorporated into the suggestiveness of his photos. On the other hand, as Julie puts it when talking about self shadows in general, "the ghost state seems to prevail." For me, that's why so many of them seem self conscious and obvious. Though I usually don't like their use, Lex's are shadowy enough to be worthwhile efforts. They don't force themselves on me.
    Wolfgang, I wasn't thinking of reflections, which I often find just as obvious and uninspiring as self shadows. I was thinking more of narrative and compositional ways in which to photographically suggest one's own physical presence. Just one example, one can sometimes set up an implied triangle with other things in the photo so that the photographer becomes the implied completion of a triangle. It's a non-reflective pointing back at oneself or simple (intended or non-intended) inclusion of oneself.
     
  14. For me, that's why so many of them seem self conscious and obvious​
    I see lots of photos where the photographer has put himself as much as his subject in the creation. Those efforts are sometimes praised without calling them self-conscious. As it is for shadows, and yes, of course they are all photographed with the knowledge of the photographer (excluding overlooked cases) but that intention does not necessarily make them self conscious and obvious as if that was something that has to be avoided. I disagree. The shadow can add something to the "dialogue" of the image as Julie seems to mention. I like intentional photographs.
     
  15. "Those efforts are sometimes praised without calling them self-conscious."
    As I did when I referred to Lex's photos.
    I praise photos when I deem them praiseworthy and praise specific gestures that I like as well.
    As I said, I find most uses of self shadows self conscious and not praiseworthy, even if philosophically interesting.
    Just my opinion, not a dictum.
     
  16. Just my opinion, not a dictum.​
    "Dictum" = an observation intended or regarded as authoritative.
    Happily that has not yet intruded into the free expression of photography.
     
  17. Usually without merit and a conceptual dead end, worth trying, but self shadows bring 2d flatness and undue attention to the photographer that has to be justified by the photographic statement. As humor: mildly amusing at best.
     
  18. Just one example, one can sometimes set up an implied triangle with other things in the photo so that the photographer becomes the implied completion of a triangle. It's a non-reflective pointing back at oneself or simple (intended or non-intended) inclusion of oneself.​
    I had a feeling you weren't just talking about reflections, Fred. Which is why I added a remark about more subtle ways of the photographer projecting themself. I could not think of any examples, but the implied completion of a triangle is, to me, very clever and subtle. Not something I might normally take notice of. (As an aside --- this is one of the reasons I appreciate the POP forum. Even if I do not directly comment on someone's post, I read them all and frequently come away with knowledge, or ways of seeing, that I had not considered.)
    I have only skimmed the surface of Friedlander's work, so a lot of those shadow examples of his were new to me.
    Arthur's comment "I like intentional photographs" sends me back to some of the vernacular photographs with which Julie began this thread. I too appreciate intentional photos and I'm never quite sure what to do with, or how to categorize, vernacular photos in which I find a certain significance. Not that it is necessary to categorize, but does one accord a vernacular less "value", "significance", "artistic weight" (choose whichever words work best) on the basis of intention? Not trying to start a separate thread here. As is often the case, the observations you all make send me spinning off in other directions.
     
  19. Likewise, good silhouette is distinct enough to afford quick recognition of form, so Friedlander's examples work because his use of his own shadow affords quick recognition of his reason for using his own shadow in the photograph. If the viewer has to think too long about why the photographer's shadow is there, or even think at all: the image isn't working and no clear statement has been made by the image, the photographic statement as obscure as the photographer's shadow itself. Where's Waldo works because the viewer wants to find him. Friedlander doesn't make us work.
     
  20. I used the word intentional on my own use of self-shadow (By the way, Julie, some of Friedlander's use of shadows I think are superb and define the artistic spirit) so I should explain why. Whether it was successful or not is not for me to say.
    I wanted to add the suggestion of human presence to complete the narrative in mind. The somewhat abstracted form of the triangular leg shadow works for me, although I should have worked more to make the upper body less (apparently) personal and less « busy » (in the sense of the pose suggesting that the person is doing something and taking away from the abstract nature of the shadow, thereby detracting a bit from other aspects of the image).
    The self-shadow suggests a human entering into what turns out to be a rather closed composition. (« Closed » here in the sense of...) Where does the staircase lead us? The rail diagonal, the stairs themselves and the directional light all suggest to the viewer that the person is going somewhere, like to a landing, followed by a reverse sense downward stair component. But that is not seen or otherwise evident from the photo. Also, the light on the far wall seems to suggest an opening. However, there is no such opening, only building cement blocks. The upward reaching diagonals on the right concrete wall take us back up to the original departure point, where stands the photographer. The opening below is a false one. Where does this staircase lead the person (shadow)?
    The image need not suggest all this of course and may simply work as an aesthetic composition of lines, texture and form. Provided you grant it that much.
    We all experience the presence of our shadow in the lower parts of our images, often unwanted in late afternoon or early morning pictures in sunshine. I refer more here and in my example to the intentional use of the self-shadow, in order to give more meaning or even mystery to an environmental image, but also to a self-shadow photographer seeking some sort of quasi surrealistic statement, or one who imposes the photographer’s being on a pictured subject, as in some of Friedlander’s work, and I think Steve's photo above.
    I hope my example of intentional use of self-shadiow answers some of Julie’s very interesting questions in her OP.
     
  21. I was inclined to agree with Fred's first comments, even before I posted my own photos, that it's often gimmicky. I'm always aware of that risk and tend to be satisfied with very few of my photos with my own shadow. I'm usually more satisfied with photos of other peoples' shadows.
    But I seldom think in terms of humor or clever/ironic juxtapositions. Dunno why, since I enjoy it in other people's photography. Just doesn't occur to me often when I'm taking photos. Mostly I'm drawn to form and geometry, including temporary shapes formed by line and shadow. And perspective. I seem drawn toward receding perspective and strong diagonals. I hardly ever take flat or dead-on photos - the semaphore photo above being an exception.
    Occasionally I'm so obsessed with shadows, geometry and other stuff that I forget to photograph faces. I've actually talked with people about what I'm doing and even showed them the result on the digicam's LCD. Perfect opportunity to ask them for a portrait - and half the time I forget.

    [​IMG]
    I chattered with the fellow whose legs and shadow appear in this photo, but I completely forgot to ask if I could do a proper portrait. Sometimes I'd just too single-minded about a particular type of photo and miss other opportunities.
    "I love feeling the physical presence of the photographer, but I think using one's own shadow is often, not always, a lazy way out. There are much more interesting, subtle, compositional and structural or emotional ways to get the photographer's presence into a photo."​
    I started to write a bit more about this earlier but it was a digression from the shadow theme. Some of my photos explore disruptions of the notion of the candid/street photographer as an invisible observer or fly on the wall. It might be interesting to explore that in another discussion thread.
     
  22. Lex: in a photograph, the shadow is not the photographer. It is precisely its independence, its difference, its disconnect, its "misbehaviors," the sense of insubordination, that make it interesting. I would have thought this was too obvious to need pointing out, but apparently it is not.
    Arthur, thank you for your insightful critique.
     
  23. When I look at Lex's photos, not all the shadows of himself seem to represent or call to mind himself as photographer. In some cases, as he suggests, they are more graphic players. In other cases, they could be anyone's shadow. That's because of his creative use of perspective.
    Notice how so many uses of self shadows, including Friedlander's, are straight-on with the shadow clearly directly emanating from the photographer. That's what I meant by self conscious and obvious. They seem more a recording of the shadow than about incorporating the shadow without fanfare into the narrative or visual aspects of the overall photo. Most of the other examples in this thread are like portraits of a shadow. They act as protagonists. On the other hand, in most of Lex's examples, they are elements in the photo. They are not tied down. They are shadowier.
    Notice a couple of Friedlander's photos use his own shadow less as an extension of himself and more as a reflection of himself, as in the one where he's reclining with his leg resting on his knee and his toe elegantly pointing and that's all reflected on the wall. Again, Friedlander, IMO, has limited himself creatively and photographically to self extension and self reflection. Lex's shadows, by contrast, seem to be free agents.
    Which is why Lex's own statement . . .
    "Some of my photos explore disruptions of the notion of the candid/street photographer as an invisible observer or fly on the wall."
    . . . is so interesting to me. In so many of the uses we've seen of self shadows, the shadow does seem to become subject. It seems to impose itself on the scene. Most self shadows do come across, IMO, similarly to the role of observer, even when they seem to be trying to interact with their environment. The shadows are weighty (sometimes physically but as often narratively), they command a certain place and presence. In at least a couple of Lex's photos, they simply seem so interactive. Lex's shadows, IMO, are neither substantive flies on the wall nor completely invisible observers. They are like shadows, neither here nor there, both observer and observed. They are participatory and passive at the same time. They are more like echoes than clear voices, and tend to feel disembodied.
     
  24. Perhaps I should have commented about my own photo posted above. The shadow was unintentional; I was merely playing around with my new camera. As soon as I saw how dark and dramatic the shadow was when post processing, I realized it look rather creepy, as if a voyeur had sneaked up on an unsuspecting female who was sunbathing. Its made even more impersonal because her head is "cut off." So, for me there is a sort of ambivalence about the photo. I would guess to a stranger looking at it it would certainly seem like a voyeur shot. At the same time, I like that ambivalence!
     
  25. In photography, a literal medium unlike illustration or cartoon, the photographer's shadow is the photographer more profoundly than in illustration or cartoon.
     
  26. So photographer shadow may tend to feel disembodied, but they can't be, are a literal in a photograph just like everything else that is in the frame. Maybe photographer's shadow use falls into but two categories: 1. amusement; or 2. metaphor. Amusement in Steve's, metaphor in Lex's or Arthur's.
    In choosing metaphor the photographer then uses "photography as a critical tool to point things out." (Ken Schles)
    Same source, Ken Schles:
    "But more than anything, I begin to start thinking about photography as practiced in the larger world and how it is totally overwhelming our little practice of critical photography. I think a lot of what is seeping into… On the one hand we can say photography is cross-pollinating itself, but it’s also acting in ways that very much negates traditional critical practice."​
    and, same article:
    "Right, but photographs have many different functions. And I feel like a certain function it has traditionally served within the art community is being overwhelmed and eclipsed by photography’s more vernacular uses."​
    More:
    "Coming of age in the period where John Szarkowski was such a singular voice, his vocabulary about photography was the end-all. We endless [sic] discussed the work of the artists he championed: Gary Winogrand, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, William Eggleston, Atget, Evans. The whole dialogue about thinking about how information moves through an image, the use of formal devices… these are things that we all learned in school. How do you make a “good photograph?” How does it operate? Those discussions all addressed formal approaches, which had to be taught. And that language became fairly complex to describe these artist’s motives. I wonder if that language has extinguished itself to a certain degree."​
    Maybe that language was destined to be extinguished because Szarkowski led photographic art away from its critical function and into the more vernacular uses Schles ruminates today; led there partly because of that democratizing trend from Szarkowski, a precursor of all that has now placed the curator in today's reduced position (that position also described by Schles in the interview.) From one point of view (mine maybe), Szarkowski led a great leap backward into the static model of society found in the portraiture of August Sander (called 'cyclic model of society' in that linked material, though my substitution of the word 'static' better conveys Sander's social philosophy.) Naturally, in a 'Sander-static" world, meaning escapes and alienation inundates photographic art.
    But I think Schles is onto something: "I find images interesting, expressly because of the conundrum they present. They project things they are not; they allow us to see, through metaphor." And
    In the end it’s all about significance and finding meaning. That’s why it’s interesting to me that Flusser would say images are significant surfaces. That’s why this whole discussion revolving around significance is so fascinating. And that’s why my 7 year old taking a photograph is also so interesting–because he’s trying to parse significance from the world, he’s trying to find significance. Finding significance is our human nature, our drive. It is our manifest destiny to divine meaning in a meaningless universe.​
     
  27. Charles, when it comes to photographs, I'm usually at least as concerned with how things look and feel as with how they "are." How "are" they, anyway? A shadow can sometimes look more disconnected to a body than at other times. I don't have a problem with that perception. Additionally, in some of Lex's cases, I'm not even sure unless I'm told whose shadows those are. That's different from feeling certain that a shadow is coming from the photographer.
    "So photographer shadow may tend to feel disembodied, but they can't be, are a literal in a photograph."
    You don't seem to be taking your own advice here, or the advice suggested by Schles, unless I misunderstand you."They project things they are not; they allow us to see, through metaphor." How do you then turn around and tell me shadows may feel disembodied but can't be. Somehow, especially in a photo, how something looks is metaphorically more significant than what it "is." Photos can often be very much about appearance.
     
  28. Fred, I think that Charles's interesting discussion refers more to shadows as a component of an image and thus able to play a rôle giving the image in some cases a metaphorical sense, rather than his saying that the the shadows themselves are metaphors. While they demonstrate appearance, as other elements also do, they can also be disembodied when part of a metaphor.
    Just a quick reaction to the two latest postings, which may or may not "hold water" with you.
     
  29. Arthur, thanks for that clarification. If Charles were, in fact, making that point, which I'm glad you explained and is likely on target, I would simply make the point that an element of a photo, such as a shadow, can also be taken metaphorically as well as literally. I shy away from formulations such as "but they can't be" when referring to shadows or almost anything in a photo, since usually they also can be, depending on the photo, the situation, and the context.
    My main point was to say that some shadows feel more connected to the person who's causing the shadow and some shadows seem disconnected to the person who's causing it. In many self shadows, I can feel the shadow touching the feet of the photographer, as if there's a continuity between person and shadow. When a shadow is more projected, and especially emanates on more of an angle from the person, I get more of a discontinuous or what I metaphorically referred to as a disembodied feeling.
     
  30. In an earlier thread I tried to paraphrase Fred http://www.photo.net/philosophy-of-photography-forum/00c46l?start=100 and here I develop that attempt a little more:
    A photo is real, is a real object in a real world. Also, a photo is real in that it, after all, actually articulates to its subject through captured light from the objective world; yet as a capture, a photo is alienated from its subject by the fact of a photo being a mere artifact of the subject. A photo is real in that it captures something essential about a subject, but is alienated from the subject because it isn't in really the subject. And more than an artifact, artistic expression applied to a photo creates an artifice, given many contexts.
    For Schles, the artifice [noun] is created by a will, the will of the photographer, and the will of the viewer that both conceive of a photo, a photo that is a real object in the world, as a significant surface. Schles in the interview
    "If you talk to beginning photo students, you’ll often hear them say, “I don’t know what to photograph, I don’t know where to look.” They’re usually lost because they haven’t found a way to visually express something that’s significant to them.
    I’m reminded of Flusser, where in the very beginning of Towards a Philosophy of Photography he talks about significant surfaces. This, to me, resonates profoundly.
    It’s all about significance."​
    A photographic image is itself a real object existing on a wall or within a picutre frame, which gives the photographic image itself significance by virture of being on display. A photographic image is a subject on display within the borders of the photographic frame, has significance as such; and within that frame is a display of light, texture shadows, etc. On display implies a significance of subject warranting display; and within the display is the significance that can be found in the photo itself by an examination of the elements of the photograph. Interestingly, on display within the photograph are elements that alone or in combination can exceed, even supersede the subject(s) in importance. Thus, a literal subject in the photograph can simultaneously be and not be the subject in the photograph; a subject is and isn't, and emphasis can morph back and forth between competing subjects. These nuances of view can combine in their effect upon the viewer such that although there is a real (articulated light) connection between the subject and its photograph, the literalness of that connection loosens, photographed and photo becoming alienated from each other by multiple meanings, actual subject and subject as photographed becoming separate and distinct; that difference can produce an emergence where the subject that was photographed and that subject as it exists in the picutre can split into different animals, can be two things simultaneously. An instantaneous emergence by the viewer of that qualitative difference between subject as artifact and subject as artifice can be significant, even profound. Artifice carries, crystalizes, concentrates and amplifies significances. Further, Schles in the interview "In the end, while I might present an image to represent something that is of significance to me, you’re the one who’s ultimately going to say what it signifies for you. Gilles Peress talks about how half of the creation of the image is made by the viewer looking at the image and saying what it means and why it’s significant." Artifact, artifice and also a photograph exists within the larger contextual frame of its antecedents, that body of work called art.
    So if we borrow from that earlier discussion the terms artifact, artifice, significance, and art as elements of a loose conceptual framework, then let's return to the OP on photographer shadow in a photograph. Photographer shadow is light articulated into the photographic medium. That photographer shadow isn't something other than exactly what it is, it is "my shadow" or "my dang shadow" and that literalness works both for and against an effort by a photographer to wrest significance from a cretin like device that just records what 'is'. How do you create artifice from artifact, what the heck is there to take a picture of anyway, the condundrum mentioned by Schles in the interview as the bane of the photography student who, in Schles view, hasn't yet learned to project significance in his/her photography, hasn't yet learned how to create a significant space in a frame. Like a poet, the starting point for a photographer is a blank piece of paper and a photography student spends apparently an equal amount of time staring at blank paper pondering how to get something 'on there'. But, as Schles puts it "That’s why this whole discussion revolving around significance is so fascinating. And that’s why my 7 year old taking a photograph is also so interesting–because he’s trying to parse significance from the world, he’s trying to find significance."
    Then, Eureka, the shutter is tripped and "a photo of a pepper is both about a pepper; but it is also a form, a nude study in light, preceded by other forms of nude studies in photographic art, preceded by nude studies in painting, etc." A pepper becomes significant both for the technical execution of a picture and for its placement among its antecedents. An artist is born, significant space is created.
    Fred: "That's different from feeling certain that a shadow is coming from the photographer." And if that is the case as you say in some of Lex's, then his ambiguous use of photographer shadow is a 'shadowy' use, use of his own reflection or silhouette as a prop, as a stand in for something else. That's legitimate use, but how are we as the viewer able to tell whose shadow it is? That's all fine. When knowing shadow is coming from the photographer we're in unambiguous territory. A camera however isn't an illustrator's pen, it records literals, articulated light, and that connection between photographer shadow and photographer is an inescapable and restrictive starting point that is part of the uniqueness of photographic 'drawings'. Metaphor from photographer shadow thus is much harder to achieve than in pen and ink, the slight of hand used to achieve it always in full view, line of sight and light source being the tattle tale, we the viewer know it is you the photographer that cast that particular shadow, it had to be, photography unforgiving in some of its constraints.
    So if we take a look at Arthur's Self portrait 1. It is photographer shadow very literally. And it becomes metaphor when we attempt to understand the portrait as significant space. Arthur explains earlier in this thread:
    The self-shadow suggests a human entering into what turns out to be a rather closed composition. (« Closed » here in the sense of...) Where does the staircase lead us? The rail diagonal, the stairs themselves and the directional light all suggest to the viewer that the person is going somewhere, like to a landing, followed by a reverse sense downward stair component. But that is not seen or otherwise evident from the photo. Also, the light on the far wall seems to suggest an opening. However, there is no such opening, only building cement blocks. The upward reaching diagonals on the right concrete wall take us back up to the original departure point, where stands the photographer. The opening below is a false one. Where does this staircase lead the person (shadow)?​
    So if I speak metaphorically, maybe there is an opening down there at the bottom of the stairs. As Arthur points out, it does look in the photograph like there is an opening down there and if we allow for that in our interpretation, going down more would seem like the right place to go, or at least suggest to us that there would be a reason to go down further because there is an opening and to go down more wouldn't then to be trapped. At some point, we engage in an entirely metaphorical discussion as we search for and attempt to find significances within the significant space that Arthur created in his self portrait.
    The other comments from Schles I thought were interesting was his view on Cartesian/linear thinking compared to emotive, and of the emphasis he attributes to images in that regard. Particularly his view that Socrates, who hated imagery, provides us with imagery, metaphor in order to best communicate his philosophical sense of things. Linear words fail as they always do because really, we seem to live on a forest floor of imagery and merely flail around with word language, with abstractions, to be able to communicate much about where we really live at all; where imagery in communication, metaphor, may serve us better than words which we can bend to any purpose, really, while the imagery seeming more fluid, isn't all that fluid at all.
     
  31. So if I continue with Arthur's example, and not taking myself too seriously: the appearance of things in his self portrait is two fold. On the one hand, the descent into the depths seems pointless because it by reason and abstraction indicates that there is no way out of that descent. Yet the photographic image, in some suggestive synchronicity, says that to the left at the bottom there is a way out although Arthur in his assessment 'knows' there isn't. Something is scintillating at the bottom of the stairs, at least as the camera sees it: but which view is the truth, is the descent worth it or not? The camera suggests that it is by its admission of a non-literal, an added meaning not present in the intent of the photographer, but there nevertheless. It I as if the camera developed a will of its own when purely metaphorical interpretation is used to assess the significance of Arthur's photograph.
     
  32. I'm just looking and not thinking too much. When I look at a lot of the self shadows shown in this thread and elsewhere, I see a continuation from photographer to shadow, which may feel a little more literal, I suppose. In these instances, the shadow seems very attached to the photographer. When I look at a couple of Lex's, they are more detached, as I said, due to perspective and composition, how and where they are being projected. When there's a question as to whose shadow it is and when it seems more disconnected from the photographer's body, it feels more metaphorical and less "self" conscious, more a player in the photo than an extension of the observing photographer.
     
  33. « On display within the photograph are elements that alone or in combination can exceed, even supersede the subject(s) in importance. Thus, a literal subject in the photograph can simultaneously be and not be the subject in the photograph. »
    « (The) difference between subject as artifact and subject as artifice can be significant, even profound. Artifice carries, crystallizes, concentrates and amplifies significances. »
    « "My dang shadow" and that literalness works both for and against an effort by a photographer to wrest significance from a cretin like device that just records what 'is'. How do you create artifice from artifact (and a significant space within a photograph) »​
    These three thoughts (with a few added parenthetic additions) of Charles take on for me not just the question of using an artifact like a personal shadow in a constructed or perceived image, but represent much of the essence of an artistic approach in photography, which is less concerned with what the subject is and more concerned with what it can become as an artifice and porter of significances. I appreciate that Charles discussed subjects and the approach to them in that way.
    The fact that the shadow is attached or not to the photographer becomes for me quite secondary to how that shadow becomes an element of the overall scène, how it or the scene becomes an artifice rather than a simple artifact. I understand nevertheless why Fred and others might find the photographer's connection to his shadow self conscious, but does not that create limitations by treating the shadow as a simple artifact and not something that can create significances within the context of the whole image.
     
  34. Fred quoting me: "So photographer shadow may tend to feel disembodied, but they can't be, are a literal in a photograph."
    That quote is of me being too emphatic and close ended. It's difficult to find the language to use when dissecting a photograph into manifest content and sign/symbol/allegory/interpretive content. Still, Ken Schles' interview has been a kind of eye opener for me.
     
  35. Arthur - "I appreciate that Charles discussed subjects and the approach to them in that way."
    Thank you Arthur for your kind words. I also want to emphasize that much of the core language in my comments above on subjects come from conceptualizations originally offered by Fred in an earlier thread.
     
  36. Charles, for me, one of the things I'm most conscious of in using language is to try to avoid strong dichotomies. In that way, as you have quoted and stated yourself, what is "manifest content" can be viewed as sign/symbol/interpretive content and what is sign and symbol can be viewed as manifest content. When I talk about a disembodied shadow, that only takes on meaning, sort of, because shadows obviously emanate from bodies of some sort. So, the disembodiment is the trick of the mind or the trick of the cameraman. It can add mystery, enigma.
    But lest the idea of disembodied shadows get overly dramatized, I try to remember that the reason I've emphasized it in this thread is because of your challenge to it when you said that though they may feel disembodied they are a literal. It was a wise and fruitful challenge but the fact that we then spent some time on it and all the subsequent considerations it led to shouldn't con us or anyone else into thinking that whether a shadow feels disembodied or not is the only aspect of shadow use that matters. Surely, I recognize, as I'm quite sure you do, the difference between a particular aspect of self shadows needing to be addressed in such detail and that same aspect of self shadows being the one dimension of them to be considered when assessing a photo. Restricting oneself to the latter would, of course, be extremely close-minded. As I re-read my own posts, I do see that I made several other points about why, in general, I find self shadow use often gimmicky and self conscious, and particularly non-varied in visual approach.
    _________________________________________________
    I tried to explain why I found Lex's use of shadows more interesting than most. If that reasoning, for my specific interest in and appreciation of Lex's photos over others, is going to be generalized to Fred's restrictions about self shadows in photography, so be it. Such rule finding would not be of my doing or making.
     
  37. The enigma of a photo often lies in the visual and photographic possibilities it offers as much if not more than the narrative interpretations or meanings to be followed or found.
    The possibilities in Arthur's photo are, to me, more graphic than "meaning"-oriented. We have a long downward staircase very graphically handled in stark black and white tones, little if any detail in the blacks and white of the stairs. The downward movement of the stairs is stark, not gradated. The graphics and tonalities of the staircase are solid. We have a banister along the wall that has the only suggestion of visual gradation, as the highlight widens and strengthens toward the bottom of the staircase. The light of the doorway is overall consistent, without much gradation and the very effectively-textured wall is consistently lit without much gradation. So an otherwise deep scene, looking down a staircase, is considerably flattened by a lack of tonal gradation. Then a fairly graphic black shadow covers the scene. It is like a puzzle piece, another graphic element sitting atop the staircase, blocking rather than showing or following the contours of the stairs, another flattening aspect.
    The possibilities to me, here, are visual as much as narrative or personal (and, to avoid dichotomy I remind myself that the visual is to some extent narrative and vice versa). I often find that zeroing in on and feeling my way through the visual aspects will allow the interpretive "meanings" to fall into place, often more enigmatically than specifically or clearly. The visual will never be a substitute for the written word or distinct idea. Photographic enigma will often have to do with a unique and intimate relationship to that visual that actually creates the interpretive or at least moves it forward. It tends toward more enigmatic and less literal visualizations.
     
  38. "Yet the photographic image, in some suggestive synchronicity, says that to the left at the bottom there is a way out although Arthur in his assessment 'knows' there isn't."
    Charles, thanks for this. You've articulated something extremely important.
    Intent, though it sometimes seems to be, is not control. Knowledge of what something "really" is in a photo cannot control what the photo shows. Photographers are often prejudiced (not referring to Arthur here and to use a word, not negatively but descriptively from another recent thread) by what they know. A photograph doesn't necessarily show that knowledge. It shows, as I said above, an appearance of the original reality rather than a knowledge of or exact representation of the original reality. It's what makes photos so interesting. They often can transform, especially by privileging a perspective but by many other means as well, the literal reality we know they photograph.
     
  39. One new thought on the so-called "escape hatch" at the bottom left of Arthur's photo. What may be contributing to your perception, Charles, is that the lighting emanating from the side there is one of the only non-graphic, softer-edged and tonally subtle areas of the photo. That, in itself, provides a contrast to the rest of the more graphic rendering, which would have a strong influence on how it seems to operate interpretively in the photo.
    It's not just a matter of content and its literalness that determines how things appear and how we interpret them. It's how all the photographic qualities and gestures we make interact with that content.
     
  40. Fred, I am glad you spoke to the high contrast or truncated tonal range in the photo. The negative was quite well balanced in terms of tonal range, although the subject matter was grey concrete with little color (the railing was probably wooden and the only source of color). Beyond those properties of the subject matter, unlike multiple toned images of vegetation or human or animal presence, I chose to make a print (from which this digital photo has as subject) with high contrast, with only the uniform grey of the right wall and minimum shadow texture (perhaps lost to a limited degree in the photo of the photo process) departing from the white-black chiaroscuro like lighting.
    That prompts two points: The first is that we often see graphic elements in an image when it is one with extremes of luminance between black and white. The lack of grey tonality in the stairs renders them somewhat as stark as black and white piano keys, the simple linearlity of which contrast with the other diagonal lines and forms. However, graphic elements can also play very predominant roles in images of very continuous tonality and sometimes even of very compressed (short range) tonality. They are harder to see, perhaps, and that may be why we look first for other pictorial elements than the simple graphic ones, whether or not they are there. Not always, but sometimes I believe, the presence of strong tonal contrasts and evident graphical elements leads us to categorize the image as principally that. My photo may not have much more to say to the viewer (and you may well be quite right in such a critique), but the presence of strong graphic elements should be only part of the question.
    Point two is the fact that my "intention" in making the photo was consciously the play of light and shadow and amusement or intrigue at how the personal shadow appeared somewhat strangely in the composition. The interpretation by one viewer (me) that I mentioned above, is consciously and mainly post exposure. I think I saw something enigmatic in that composition, but I would be amiss in this case to say it was fully conscious at the time of exposure. I have made other photographs with much more analysis, perception and intent, even moving things around (or myself) to get the image desired, but in this case things were much less thought out than that.
     
  41. Fred - "The visual will never be a substitute for the written word or distinct idea."
    I suppose not. There's some interesting commentary from Schles generally about significance and language in his interview:
    Recent studies have shown that without emotion we cannot arrive at values. And it’s primarily our values that allow us to arrive at something of import, to surmise significance. On the one hand, it may seem that we’re moving in an irrational direction, when in fact, our emotive reactions are allowing us to assign value to our assessments. Our “irrationality” feeds the source of our rational decision-making processes.​
    Here Schles confuses emotion with value assignment and by his confusion mistakenly identifies the operation of Jung's feeling function with emotion, affect, mistakenly terming the feeling function's assignment of value an irrationality. Affect is an irrationality, but value assignment is rational; but just because the feeling function is rational doesn't make it thinking. Thought doesn't assign value, thought is cold logic and the feeling function will make of cold reason's rationality what it will. So for clarity let me paraphrase Schles thusly although by doing so I recognize I break the link to the studies he refers to:
    Paraphrase of Schles by me: Recent studies suggest to Charles W. that without the feeling function we cannot arrive at values. And it’s primarily our process of assigning values, the operation of our feeling function, that allow us to arrive at something of import, to surmise significance. On the one hand, it may seem that we’re moving in an irrational direction because the feeling function is often denigrated as 'pure emotion'; in fact, our feeling function operates to rationally assign value in our consideration of significances. That oft termed “irrationality” is a value based decision-making processes operating according the rules of reason, but isn't reason, isn't the reasoned cold logic of thought.​
    So if an image 'speaks' to me, the feeling function as a value based evaluative and assignment function, isn't necessarily speaking to me with words, ideas, proper language. The value exists as a blip or clog in the field of consciousness, or as a bolder or a nit to be perceived and its a wrestling sort of process out of which we are in a sense commanded to produce language in order to fully comprehend. Schles roots that feeling process by calling it a drive, and here I am quoting Schles, not paraphrasing: "Finding significance is our human nature, our drive." Significance, values, Schles has properly taken the feeling function out of the dungeon of the irrational and set it at the side of the thinking function in its pantheon. Interesting that he would do so based on 'studies', would do so by citing 'studies', cold logic, previously the sole occupant of a throne. Schles, emphasis added: "The traditional Cartesian way of looking at the world, where logic and emotion exist antithetically to one other, has been found to be false." Well thank you cold logic for validating the authority of mine own heart.
    So as much as I value the information content in an image, I agree that without language to fully assess image, without word and distinct idea, the image can't fully speak to us. The chatoyance is present, but in itself isn't enough: the chatoyance itself seems to command that we speak to it in our own way with our own voice.
     
  42. Charles, yes, well explained.
    When I said "The visual will never be a substitute for the written word or distinct idea" it followed "I often find that zeroing in on and feeling my way through the visual aspects will allow the interpretive 'meanings' to fall into place, often more enigmatically than specifically or clearly." For example, when making a photo, I might think very specifically about an idea I have in advance or in the moment, but then the visual also kicks in and the literal and verbal ends will become a little fuzzier as the visual also guides me. I find that often leads to the most challenging photos, the ones that leave some questions unanswered, some literal statements incomplete.
    When looking at or making a photo, I rarely find myself only considering content. Style, texture, contrast, color, etc. will all help guide whatever "meaning" I am going to give to the photo. Yet those things don't often come to me in the form of as clear and distinct ideas as content may. A shadow of the photographer set within an array of other elements doesn't get its photographic meaning simply by my combining and assessing all the elements as matters of content. Just like spoken words don't just get their meaning from the entirety of the sentence. Spoken words may be accompanied by certain gestures or facial expressions or intonations that will severely impact their meaning in a sentence, beyond what the other words will offer. Those accompanying gestures, expressions, and intonations are somewhat like photographic qualities of color, stylization, contrast, etc.
    While I understand your point that the image can't fully speak to us without word and distinct idea, I am saying that the image can't fully speak to me without the photographic equivalents of intonation, facial expressions, and bodily gestures. For me, while those sorts of things help complete the picture, they never fully do. Artistic communication, expression, and interpretation is an imprecise "science" and I always leave room for doubt. I think it's a more open-ended sort of experience and I'm not sure the image has ever fully spoken to me. It's why I go back to photos so many times, just like paintings, over the years. Each time they speak a little more.
     
  43. Open ended then, I can grow to like that. And I do like that we are communicating. Thanks for making your points so clearly.
     

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