Photographer/Image/Viewer

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by Hertz van Rental, Apr 8, 2007.

  1. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    Just some of my current thinking (shorn of references, quotes, big words and long-winded arguments for the sake of brevity) on one particular aspect of Photography. One or two may find it of some interest.

    There are a number of questions that arise naturally from the practice of Photography when the fundamental principles guiding the whole process of Photography are forgotten – or not understood in the first place.
    These fundamental principles have are nothing to do with the Technical processes or Aesthetics (though these aspects are inherent and subservient) but underpin the act of Photography itself.
    What is the basis of Photography? What is it all about in the purest sense?
    Photography is solely concerned with the recording and transmission of information.
    Photography is a process whereby marks are made on a surface. These marks are a record of light generated/transmitted/reflected by physical phenomena. The process is carried out in a way that allows the record (the marks) to correspond almost exactly with the original, and in a form that can be apprehended to give a visual sensation analogous to that of the original.
    In short, Photography gives a visual re-presentation of the original.
    To put it simply: a photograph looks like that which has been photographed at the time it was photographed.
    By this process information is recorded to give a direct correlation between the object and the image, and the information is available for retrieval at a later date.

    The act of Photography falls naturally into two distinct parts, each an entirely separate process but both inextricably linked by the image.
    There is the act of taking the picture and the act of viewing the picture.

    First let us look at the act of taking.
    It is important to realise that the act of taking a picture is not a random act, it is premeditated. In order to take a photograph it is necessary to have the means to do it. There is therefore the requirement to plan ahead to have the means available, and acquiring the means indicates the intention to use it.
    Carrying a camera demonstrates this intention and predisposes the photographer to actively look for things to photograph. It does not, of course, follow that the photographer must use the camera, but having a camera allows it’s use and if the photographer did not intend, even at the sub-conscious level, to use it there would not be the requirement of a camera.
    From this it follows that the notion of the photographer as a ‘detached observer’ is erroneous.
    By carrying a camera the photographer is displaying his intent to photograph. He is, therefore, actively looking for things to photograph and so observes ‘reality’ in order to identify and isolate suitable subject matter. But by observing ‘reality’ one must of necessity interact with it.
    Interaction invokes a response and inanimate subjects will respond passively, animate ones actively. The photographer for his part will respond actively and his response will include framing, focussing, selecting what to photograph and when to release the shutter. And this sequence of responses will be guided by the photographer’s Social and Cultural conditioning.
    The act of taking a picture therefore becomes a pre-meditated, selective and programmed response to a situation.
    It also pre-supposes a viewer.
    To initiate an act of Photography is to demonstrate an expectation that the image will be viewed at some point, even if it is by no one other than the photographer and for no other reason than curiosity. This is because the photographer is aware of the end product of the process and it’s function: that is to say, the production of an object whose sole purpose is to be viewed.
    If there is no intention of having the produced image viewed by someone at some point then there is no purpose in taking the picture in the first place. It becomes a redundant act.
    The act of taking a picture now becomes a pre-meditated, selective and programmed response to a situation for the benefit of a viewer.

    Let us now examine the second act, that of viewing an image.

    ‘Anything reasoned is never universal, timeless and stable. Any meaning is only provisional and relative because it is never exhaustive.’

    An image has meaning to a viewer through a process of analysis, interpretation and association. And each viewer will find a different meaning, even though the differences may be very small.
    It follows that the image is capable of almost infinite interpretation, if all meanings are valid and of equal value, which renders the image essentially meaningless.
    Meaning must therefore be projected on to the image by the viewer. It resides solely in the viewer’s mind and not in the image.
    Meaning exists outside, and independent of, the image.
    The meaning ascribed by a viewer to an image will, however, be influenced by the Cultural and Sociological conditions of their Society, as well as their personal condition, at the time of viewing. That is to say, any viewer’s interpretation of an image will be rooted in their time and be of that time.
    Meaning will change with time.
    It follows that only a finite range of meanings will be possible at any particular time as the possible interpretations will be bounded and defined by the prevailing culture. Therefore at any given time only a finite range of interpretations are available to a viewer.
    The range of possible meanings is reduced further by the content of the image. What the image is of will dictate, to a large extent, the possible meanings. One cannot ascribe meaning based on what is not present as this would make the process impossible.
    Absence can have an influence, but only when what is absent is in binary opposition to something that is present. That is, when what is present only has meaning by being compared with it’s opposite. In this case what is absent has presence because it is inherent in, and implied by, it’s opposite.
    Meaning can only be ascribed to what is present, not to what is not present.
    As the act of taking a picture pre-supposes a viewer, so too does the act of viewing an image pre-suppose a photographer. Without a photographer there would be no image to view.
    If the range of possible meanings of an image is dictated, to some extent, by it’s content and this content is decided, to some extent, by the photographer then the range of possible meanings of an image must be dictated, to some extent, by the photographer.
    The process of Photography can thus be seen (in part) as a dialogue between photographer and viewer, the rules governing this dialogue being laid down by Society.
     
  2. Antarctican

    Antarctican TPF Noob!

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    Despite my newbie-ish level of photography, I did indeed find this very interesting. I can't possibly argue any of the points with you, as you would be fighting against an unarmed person. And that's just not fair. But I look forward with interest to what other, better equipped readers will contribute to the discussion.

    I certainly agree with the overall premise that photography is a dialogue between photographer and viewer. I find the last sentence of your post particularly intriguing, with its reference to "rules governing this dialogue being laid down by Society". Rules are inevitably subject to widely different interpretation. And there are a lot of different levels to society. Society being a collection of individuals to begin with...each with their own experiences, likes, dislikes etc. So what a photographer sets out to achieve/say, and what the viewer may get out of that effort/interpret, may be wildly disparate. But I guess communication/dialogue has still taken place. (I think I'm starting to ramble, so I'll stop here).

    I am one who hasn't given enough thought to 'the fundamental principles guiding the whole process'. So your post was definitely food for thought. A veritable feast, in fact.
     
  3. abraxas

    abraxas No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Great post and response.

    I'm finding the last sentence fascinating also.

    Wouldn't the rules governing this dialogue be laid down by composition?
     
  4. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    I was basically following some threads of thought to see where they led.
    It is also an argument against Barthes and his assertion that the 'author is dead'. That is to say, in ascribing meaning to a text (and I use 'text' in the Semiological sense so you can read it as 'image') the reader (viewer) creates his own meaning independent of the 'author' (photographer) and his intentions.
    In this view of Photography the photographer becomes redundant and the image is privileged over him. It is this view that dictates, to some extent, the notion that an image 'speaks for itself', where the photographer acknowledges Barthes asserion and rejects authorship thus giving authority to the viewer.
    The act of privileging is also an act of suppression: the role of the author is suppressed in order to privelege the reader. But whilst the act of reading is done independently of the author's intentions the assignation of meaning must take place within limits set down by the author. Therefore when viewing an image the viewer must acknowledge the presence of the photographer and his initial intentions for they are both present in the image.
    By the same token, when taking a picture (writing a text) the photographer (author) must acknowledge the eventual presence of a viewer (reader).
    In a very simple metaphor, when you take a photograph you have the viewer looking over your shoulder and the photographer looks over the shoulder of the viewer.

    'Rules governing this dialogue being laid down by Society' is referring to our Social conditioning. Our attitudes and perceptions are largely shaped by this.
    When we take a photograph we are, in large part, trying to act out the role of Photographer as we perceive it. And we are pushed towards taking the pictures that this role dictates. This is why people's family photo albums all look pretty much identical. We take the picture that we think we are supposed to in a given situation - it is the Viewer looking over our shoulder.
    Does this mean that Creativity and Originality are illusory? You'll have to think about that one ;)


    Abraxas: Composition is not a 'rule' but a convention and conventions are dictated by Society. For example the 'rules' governing composition in Traditional Japanese and Chinese Art are entirely different to those of Western Art. Composition is therefore subservient to the Rules of Dialogue - but it's role may be analagous to that of Grammar.
    I just haven't got that far yet :lol:
     
  5. abraxas

    abraxas No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    :thumbup:
     
  6. Kingpatzer

    Kingpatzer TPF Noob!

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    Photography is about recording light.

    Light may be interpreted as information by the photographic system in question -- but strictly speaking, photography is not about information as it pertains to information theory. It's about analog chemical reactions caused and controlled by light. Digital photography is about emulating that analog effect.

    Given that the original is a 3 dimensional object and the photograph is a 2 dimensional one, the statement that photography "allows the record to correspond almost exactly with the original" is clearly not true.

    Indeed, there are ample examples where the "correspondence" between original and photograph is strongly debatable such as double exposures, sandwiching, various visual illusory tricks, etc.

    There is, for instance, no "rule" that one must make a photograph in focus or at an appropriate f/stop to "accurately" represent the image. Many a great abstract has been created by using photography to produce an image that precisely has no recognizable correspondence to the original objects.

    Sometimes. But it's not a requirement.

    That's arguable. I have been part of projects plagued by random shutter releases on remote cameras, and I've been part of projects where the entire goal was random photographs.

    To the extent that there was film, such was premeditation. But even there, I've accidentally exposed a roll of film I didn't know was in a box before. Some of the images were actually quite interesting.

    Nope. Again, I have an image that I enjoy quite a lot that was created because I opened up a box that had film in it without knowing it was there. It was someone else's film. There was no "planning ahead" involved. Indeed, there was precisely a failure to plan ;)

    And it's rather hard to adequately describe how many important scientific discoveries have happened because someone discovered that some emulsion or another had been exposed without intent or plan.

    I've carried a randomly firing camera in my hat before. While it can be argued that in such an instance I'm aware of the camera and therefore might be trying to find interesting things, since the camera fires entirely randomly, it isn't the case that I could actually know what would happen. I was as detached as it is possible to be.


    My example above demonstrates that the second statement need not necessarily follow from the first.

    The choice to enclose the term reality in quotation marks is interesting.

    Inanimate subjects do not respond. Animate one's may or may not respond depending on the degree of interaction, it is certainly not a given that they will in fact respond at all.

    Not a given at all.

    *chuckle* Mr. Skinner? Is that you?

    Absolutely none of those are necessarily true.

    Not true.

    I've developed a film that was exposed because a cat knocked over the camera and it landed on the shutter release.

    The person who handed the film in to be developed was entirely unaware of how the film got exposed, and certainly can not be said to be the photographer.

    I'm pretty sure that police photographers, to name one obvious example, expect the object they produce to have a purpose beyond merely being viewed.

    Not redundant, but interesting. But it does give me an idea -- I can take my random shutter camera and add in random viewing . . . each image gets displayed on a remote frame to which the camera wearer has no access, and in front of which there may or may not be a viewer, and then the image gets destroyed . . .

    Given the above mind-experiment (which I'll have to figure out how to make real) I can produce a scenario where no one knows when or where a picture will be taken, and it will be displayed for only accidental viewing. While the event of picture taking would still be pre-meditated (I have to put on the camera hat after all) no specific picture is a premeditated act.

    I don't grant the existence of mind.
     
  7. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    I did not make any reference to information theory, I merely stated that Photography is about recording information.
    So a reaction 'caused and controlled by light' gives no information? Bunsen-Roscoe demonstrated that the amount of chemical change produced is proportional to the amount of light absorbed. So if the resultant chemical change is not providing information about the amount of light involved in the process I'd like to know what it is doing.

    Clearly it is true.
    I said 'almost exactly' and I said 'correspond'. But if you look again you will see that I was using these words with reference to the light coming from an object, not the objects themselves. The technical photographic process involves the recording of an optical image so if the optical image and it's recorded image bear no relation to the appearance of the original objects then Photography cannot work.

    The resultant single negative/image is a compound image made up of two or more exposures, but each exposure still corresponds to the original.
    Again, sandwiching is using two or more images, but each image used corresponds etc.
    'Illusory' tricks likewise. Although in this case you may well be creating an optical illusion. But then you are only fooling the viewer, making them see that which isn't really there.

    There is still a direct correlation, but in this instance the information has been distorted on purpose. That is to say, the photographer has interfered with the 'pure' technical photographic process.
    One could raise numerous other examples like leaving the lens cap on or moving the camera during exposure. But I would have thought it was obvious that I was talking about the process of Photography in the 'pure' or 'ideal' sense, not in specifics.

    Again, I was discussing Photography in the pure/idealised sense. The basic process was initially intended to produce an image that corresponded to the original.

    And accidental exposure of film stock is just that - an accident. The fact that you have provided yourself with the means to take a picture in the first place shows pre-meditation. The film and cameras did not magically appear out of thin air. An accident interfering with your intentions does not erase the fact of pre-meditation.

    Again, accidents happen. This does not show a lack of pre-meditation. If I go out to buy some cigarettes and find the shop is shut I may end up with no cigarettes but the intention was still there.

    At the risk of repeating myself...
    But if you would like to list even one important scientific discovery that has been made by exposing an emulsion by accident I would be interested to hear about it.

    Not only are you aware of the camera, you chose to carry it with you with the intention of taking pictures. And even though it was designed to be randomly firing you intended that it should, at some point, take at least one picture.
    Look up the meaning of 'premeditated' in a dictionary.

    This is just wishful thinking on your part.
    You provided yourself with a camera with the intention of taking pictures. Because you chose to make 'random' exposures the aim of the game was to see what you got at the end of the day so subject matter was not the main focus of what you were doing. But again I was talking about Photography in it's 'pure' sense...
    (PS A bunch of us did the random photography game when we were at College in the late 70's. And no matter how hard you try you still find yourself looking for interesting things and thinking that it would be cool if the camera went off right now...)

    Why?

    Inanimate subjects respond by being passive - that is, they do nothing.
    Animate subjects respond actively - that is, by doing something. Even if the something is doing nothing (other than activities associated with living).

    Isn't it?
    If you are going somewhere with the intention of taking a picture then it is probable that you will go through the motions at least once. Even not taking a picture when you have a camera is an active choice.

    So what shapes your attitude and behaviour?

    And by the same token none of these are necessarily false either.

    Accidents happen... and they don't negate my assertion.
    Apart from the fur and whiskers, what is the difference between a cat tripping the shutter and a random device doing the same?

    The sole purpose of the image is indeed to be viewed - you are getting confused between viewing the image and utilising the information acquired by viewing the image. There is a clear difference there... but doesn't that illustrate Photography as being a means of recording and transmitting information?

    But you would know that at some point an image would be taken and the image would still be taken for display to a viewer. The fact that a viewer might not be there is immaterial. You would be setting up a system that takes pictures which could potentialy be viewed.
    If you set it up so that the image was destroyed after being taken without the possibility of it being viewed then the act would be pointless in photographic terms - although it would be valid as performance Art

    I'll make an exception in your case and agree with you.
     
  8. RMThompson

    RMThompson the TPF moderators rock my world!

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    Interesting post, but some of it is too deep to really delve into. Surely the act of photography is a premeditated one, but your post almost refers to it as an intrusionary one, saying even inanimate objects respond to their photo benig taken is pushing it.

    Recording light, as it were, is (to me) the act of seeing something and sharing it with others. When I take portraits of women, I see something that maybe they don't see, and using techniques I have, I can show that to them, by getting rid of distractions for instance, or focusing on something I find interesting (note: not always something pretty or beautiful).

    Taking wedding shots or event shots of any nature is premeditated for one reason only, record of the day. When a GOOD photography takes the pictures versus Aunt Mabel with her disposable camera, we then get into the idea of making a picture more interesting or appealing by using different techniques.
     
  9. Antarctican

    Antarctican TPF Noob!

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    I guess I always have a tendency to play 'devil's advocate'*, and pick out parts of posts that I don't understand/agree with, or that I want to debate further. The sentence quoted above made me wonder about photographers who were ahead of their time, or out of synch with the societal 'norms' of their time. They seemingly weren't governed by the then-prevailing societal 'rules' in their work. Or else they took great pleasure in bending/breaking the rules and having an 'in your face' dialogue (screaming match?) with viewers. Like, for example, Mapplethorpe (and I'm sure you can think of many more examples of photographers whose work was reviled by many in the society of their time, but are now more widely accepted). How would you categorize the sort of dialogue between photographer and viewer in his case, and how does your phrase "the rules governing this dialogue being laid down by Society" apply in a situation such as that? Is it simply a case of 'he was pushing/breaking the rules'?




    (*btw, being the devil's advocate isn't lucrative...the retainer is usually charred, and contracts have to be signed in blood, which gets the authorities all riled. But I digress)
     
  10. Kingpatzer

    Kingpatzer TPF Noob!

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    The amount of light absorbed does not necessarily refer to the photographic act, but to the entire handling process of the film. Moreover, without reference material to know original chemical makeup, you have no information.

    A name and address randomly pulled out of the phone book is not information except in particular contexts. The same with the chemical reactions happening on film.

    It is not about information recording.

    For all the high philosophical intent, you are missing the point that words mean things.

    If you want to talk about the "What is it all about in the purest sense?" then any counter-example is entirely destructive to your thesis.

    Someone else buying film, and having that film exposed by an accident involving another person does not show "intentionality" with regard to the picture in question. The act of buying the film may show intentionality to make a photograph - but it could also show intentionality to use some blank film to decorate a stage set. To the extent that it shows intentionality with regard to some picture, it does not show any intentionality with regard to the actual picture taken.

    Therefore, intentionality is not essential to the act of photography.

    Ever use a kaleidescope as a lens? I have. Randomly placed reflective surfaces do not a correspondence to an original make.

    When I was at the DOE we did a fun experiment involving random quantum "lenses" and single photons. Correspondence is not a requirement to record light.

    You aren't recording information. You're recording light.


    That is precisely what I think you're trying to talk about. Which is why I think you are wrong. None of your "requirements" are essential for the act of recording light on a photo-reactive medium to transpire.

    That really depends on your view of when photography started. Clearly that was the intent of guys like Wedgwood, but people were doing experiments with silver nitrate for hundreds of years prior to that point.


    There is no premeditation to the act of the specific picture. Moreover, again, camera and film can exist as props or for purposes other than picture taking when such exposures happen.

    Schulze's discovery that certain chemicals darken when exposed to light occurred because of an accidental exposure of some chemicals to light. That gave him the idea to cover up some areas and expose others, allowing for the transfer of images onto the emulsion -- the first contact photographs (although there was no way to fix the image, so they were not permanent).

    Both of those are easily solvable problems. It is possible to create a situation where I would not know if I am carrying a camera or not.

    Right. Which means they aren't about what photography is in the "pure" sense.

    *chuckle* cute snipe.

    But if you require the assumption of the existence of a mind, then you whole theory rests on the presumption of the existence of something not proven to exist.
     
  11. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    Of course the act of Photography is an intrusion. How could it not be? Normally light dies a natural death (just a metaphor there) but when you use a camera you trap some of that light by photochemical processes and take it away with you as an image. You have put yourself between two natural events (the origination of light and the 'death' of light) and altered the process. That sounds like an intrusive act to me.
    It follows that an inanimate object must respond passively to this intrusion because it can do nothing to stop you.
     
  12. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    But Society set up the situation that allowed Mapplethorpe to be who he was and do what he did. Society is a constant process of inclusion and exclusion - it creates the 'normal' as well as the 'not normal'. This sets up the situation whereby 'normal' society can be outraged and shocked when confronted by things outside it's accepted codes and conventions by those in the margins.
    Hitler was every bit as much a product of his Society as Ghandi was of his.
     

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