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  #11  
Old 11-17-2004, 05:35 AM
cgrindahl cgrindahl is offline
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Default Re: Photography & reality

The following discourse is attributed to the Chinese Zen master Ch'ing yuan Wei-hsin of the T'ang Dynasty and provides a window into the understanding of Zen:

Thirty years ago, before I began the study of Zen, I said, 'Mountains are mountains, waters are waters.' After I got insight into the truth of Zen through the instructions of a good master, I said, 'Mountains are not mountains, waters are not waters.' But now, having attained the abode of final rest, (that is, Enlightenment) I say, 'Mountains are really mountains, waters are really waters.'


All Things Zen

Or as Long Chen Pa said:

Since everything is but an apparition, perfect in being what it is, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one may well burst out in laughter.

Leave it to western materialists to grapple with such a question with the blunt tools of philosophical analysis, even as those in the East explore the question within themselves using the far more sophisticated tools of meditation. Those in the west came close when Werner Heisenberg articulated his Uncertainty Principle and threw the world of quantum physics into a spin that seems only to move faster as time goes by. If you wish to explore some interesting conversations on the subject you may wish to read the conversations between David Bohm, the quantum physicist and Krishnamurti. David Bohm's rather dense but evocative book Wholeness and the Implicate Order is also interesting reading on this subject of what is real.

With that perspective as backdrop, I'll say simply that a photograph can never be more than a subjective interepretation of a slice of reality. If the photographer is deeply enough in tune with human verities, then what is presented will surely touch a chord in viewers, much in the same way that we are touched by a Bach cantata or Beethoven string quartet. Although reality is elusive as an idea, it exists within and around each of us. Humans share fundamental qualities that permit deep meeting and profound sharing. Sometimes, a photographer can take us to such places with his or her work.

One man's opinion... ;-)
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  #12  
Old 11-17-2004, 04:05 PM
RGatward RGatward is offline
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Default Re: Photography & reality II

Hi Gal, just come across this little poser you set us. I always thought you were a philosopher at heart, maybe you should title this little collection on notes 'The Philosophy of Photography', or, to paraphrase Marx on Proudhon, 'The Photography of Philosophy'.

I think this is the most interesting of your three questions, and the one that's had the least response.

Personally I think that ideally there should be only a blurred distinction between photography and other forms of two dimentional art. To some extent every photograph is a view of the world filtered through the mind of the photographer, and can only be regarded as a view of reality from this very subjective stance. The techniques we have available these days to post modify what we acutally see through the viewfinder mean that an arbitrary viewer of any photograph can have no confidence in it's acurate representation of an objective reality, and I think this is fine. It makes much more obvious what has always been the case.
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  #13  
Old 11-17-2004, 07:36 PM
RandomCameraGuy RandomCameraGuy is offline
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Default Re: Photography & reality II

Hmmmm, good one Gal. I admire your attempt to break us out of the usual "Hey Nice Colours!" routine. Cheers to that! BTW I haven't read the other posts past this yet, so I may be repeating things.

So to "reality."

I take the view that reality is conditioned by our pasts, by thought, memories, and ideas imparted to us by our parents, teachers, friends, and society at large. What is "reality?" Well it's what's in your head.

There is an objective tree for example, but what you see, how you react, and the emotions it brings up is dependent on your conditioning. And whether or not you actually "see" the tree in the first place depends on you conditioning (for example I will often stop and look at something, with cam or not, and my friends will wonder what I'm looking at, even after I point it out they just don't care).

"Reality" is composed of signs and symbols (I believe the study of this is called semiotics). We learn the meanings to the diff signs and symbols in our childhood and that's were we get our reality from. Look at the meaning of nudity for diff cultures (there's a bizarre thread on nudity in the TL General forum) as an example.

So how does it affect my photography? Well, I think personality comes out very clearly with how one shoots, what one shoots, and especially what one doesn't shoot. And it changes depending on the "reality" of the moment (opinions do change with time).

Anyway, I don't know if this is clear. But those are my 2 cents.

alex
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  #14  
Old 11-18-2004, 06:54 PM
RandomCameraGuy RandomCameraGuy is offline
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Default Re: Photography & reality III

No.

And Yes.

It depends on if the photographer has the ability to convey in clear "photographic language." And it depends on if the viewer is photographically "literate." Now this is not an easy thing. Take for example Medieval paintings, it used to be that even common people could read the symbolism inherent within, today we just see an angel here, or some wierd demon thing there. Both creator and viewer must come from the same culture and have similar educations to understand.

So yes, to an extent, pic can convey abstract meaning, but only to an extent. And no, pics can't convey them 100% of the time, esp across cultures (take for example the way the Buddha's hand is positioned in statues and paintings, Westerners take no note of this, but to Buddhists each "mudra" is a teaching).
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  #15  
Old 11-23-2004, 12:13 AM
Luko Luko is offline
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Default A few semiotics, if you please... (I)

This here is I think an interesting tool to analyze the different relationships some photoschools had between their own photo language and reality.

It might recall to the more classic philosophers of you (Bryan? Mikkels?) Aristote's Organon on which this theory is based and adapted to photography.
On my own I have been introduced to it by my best friend, also my old photo partner (you may find him in some of the captions I wrote, sometimes going through wooden platforms...) who's, mind you, PhD in "Travel litterature and photography" (yes, this sounds like dream studies but it really exists) through a brilliant thesis he chose to call "Re-enchanting the world" and a once pro photographer too...I sometimes tried to pull him inside TE with no success so far...

The semiotics square says a photo can be either :

1 referential : or interpretational, aiming to let the world "speak for itself". The photographer then believes there's a situation and a story that was "written" naturally and at prior of taking the shot, the photography is aiming to catch the situation or the story. I feel that McCurry can illustrate the category with a denial of photo artefacts (hence, Maciek if you read me, why he wouldn't be a headcropper guy, providing that headcropping is a kind of photo artefact is not helpful to recompose reality, it is a mythical tool, see below).

2 substantial : naked truth and pure glimpses of reality, with no photographer interaction or consciousness about a story. Photo construction (ie. the photographer signature) is totally denied, to be compared with the french novelists' "level Zero in writing"). I feel this is more a theoritical point of view and cannot actually be achieved or perhaps through random experiments, this is why I'm convinced that photography cannot in any way be reality.

to be ctd...
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  #16  
Old 11-23-2004, 12:14 AM
Luko Luko is offline
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Default A few semiotics, if you please... (II)

continued...

3 mythical : or poetical construction, the photo tries to gather sense from materials. This is clearly a lie to reality, the photographer re-arranges the "truth" to let the photo tell his own story. The opposite of "susbstantial" category. Many shots of Cartier Bresson were into that category because his pictures would tell imaginated stories only from his skills of re-arranging geometry. I can see some of you arguing that HCB's material was real : let me explain this point. Let's have a look at this famous St Lazare shot see the things lying in the bottom left, if we simply look at reality they're abandoned things soaking in a puddle, the genius of HCB let some part of our brain wander and imagine they're a sort of bicyle that would help the guy go faster!... see the poetry there... how the photographers lies to us and invents a new reality.

4 diagonal : the only aim is to input a shift between reality and photo through playful constructions. You then guess this is the opposite of "referential" photo. Some of Parr's work might be in that category

As in every theory an image cannot be totally pigeonholed into a category, it can both have a part of referential and substantial (postcards like) but it cannot obviously be both referential and diagonal or substantial and mythical.

You understood it is called a suare because extremes such as referential and diagonal are opposed : it can take some time to get it but I think this is a very powerful analysis tool, IMHO. Hope this feeds your thinking.
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  #17  
Old 11-23-2004, 10:51 AM
cgrindahl cgrindahl is offline
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Default Re: A few semiotics, if you please... (II)

Or, as a professor was fond of calling them..."cookies for the mind." But cookies for the mind, which may feed thinking, are really not very nourishing.

You demonstrate Luko the fact that we are capable as human beings of slicing and dicing experience a thousand and one ways, which surely semiotics and all other current versions of philosophy in the west do with a vengeance. It is a wonderful game, even more delightful than a Gameboy for mature minds with nothing better to do. I understand it is possible for otherwise sensible people to receive doctorates for mastering these arcane constructions laid over the simple reality we all experience from time to time. I'm sure you've sat transfixed before a sunset at some time in your life, or before a beautiful child simply smiling at you.

I love the quote from H.W.L. Poonja, "You are a lion, and where a lion goes it cuts its own path."

Photography is quite simple when unencumbered with all the historical precedents and obfuscatory rhetoric. We take a tool into the day, our eyes scanning the surrounding territory, minds alert to possibilities. The process is completely subjective, like the lion stalking through the weeds. When a subject strikes our fancy we use our skills with the tool, whether advanced or not, to capture the image. Of course, we know that the mind of humans is a wonderful/terrible thing. Someone's ideas about the semiotic square intrudes on our reverie, or the rule of three, or what Fred who will see our pictures some time soon said about the last batch we shot... pretty soon we're tied up in knots trying to be a "good" photographer making "good" photographs that someone else will tell us meets the standard. And maybe they'll invite us to join their club and teach us their secret handshake.

Resistance to the rules is to be as bound by them as to slavishly adhere to them. The middle road is simply to do what moves you. All the rest is just another version of Gameboy... ;-)
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  #18  
Old 11-23-2004, 11:42 AM
RGatward RGatward is offline
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Default Re: A few semiotics, if you please... (II)

I think you may have missed Luko's point here (really, only think, I may have got you both wrong). I read Luko's semiotic analysis as descriptive rather than prescriptive. Since (unless we accidentally trigger the shutter) every photograph we take is for a purpose, it makes sense to try and categorise what the range of purposes are, and I think 4 presented by Luko provide a pretty reasonable deconstruction. This is not to say that we necessarily ought to be aware of this analysis when we are operating as photographs, merely that we roughly conform it in some way by virtue of the act of taking pictures.
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  #19  
Old 11-23-2004, 02:38 PM
Luko Luko is offline
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Default Re: A few semiotics, if you please... (II)

Hi all,

Richard, we might have both got Curtis wrong, however I can tell you didn't get me wrong as far as I read you : this is only an analysis tool I gave, it is simply descriptive, imagine it measures two "angles" at the same time, one with reality, the other with the photographers subjectivity.

Curtis, even though you don't seem to see any use of it or see it as an old kid toy, I feel this is pretty close to Gal's opening thread... I would like to think that "photography is simple", unfortunately, I'm not a believer in any ways, even oriental philosophy and incense smell wouldn't convince me further.. it sometimes happens that ways of communicating appear naked simple such as haiku poetry but that in fact they're bound to multiple rules and constraints.

On the other side, I agree with you that better photographies can be made by overriding the rules, something we can see everyday in TE... Sun Tzu might have said "know your enemy and know yourself", the first thing is then to take a look at what the "rules" are to know how you can bypass them... there were no better rules specialists than revolutioners...

Cheers
L.
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  #20  
Old 11-23-2004, 05:08 PM
Galeota Galeota is offline
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Default Re: A few semiotics, if you please... (II)

Good afternoon to you

Curtis,

I guess the discussion is getting slightly out of subject because since your answer to Luko, we池e debating on the pertinence of the analysis tool rather than on the object of our analysis. That痴 fine with me.

I知 afraid I知 not in symbiosis with your thoughts on the matter Curtis. It seems rather excessive to me when you describe the tools of philosophical analysis as blunt and far less sophisticated than the tools of meditation, which as far as I understand you, would be a privilege of the Eastern cultures. I知 not pessimistic to the point of thinking that you can resume 2500 years of Western philosophy into a materialistic self centred view on the world. I知 also not sure about the opposition you want to articulate between a logical interpretation of our environment, and a so-called Zen enlightenment strictly related to a principle of belief and faith. One of the premises for mind opening, is to be aware of the way you may be touched by a Bach cantata (to quote your reference), but also to be able to interpret the relationships and the links between a thinking human being and the universe, in its multiple interactions with the other living structures. Quantum physics are as useful as your favourite Long Chen Pa quote, for that purpose.

We have to remember that what we observe is not real in itself but reality exposed to our method of questioning. Asking questions about the World in the language that we possess and trying to get an answer from experiment by the means that are at our disposal, can hardly be described as 田ookies for the mind. That is rather silly from you Curtis (with all due respect ;o) ).

Analysing our environment, be it with semiotic tools or quantum physics or a philosophical deconstructive approach, leads us to the old wisdom that when searching for harmony in life one must never forget that in the drama of existence we are ourselves both players and spectators. We 殿lso have a scientific relation to nature and our own activity becomes very important when we have to deal with parts of nature into which we can penetrate only by using the most elaborate tools. I知 not sure that Zen meditation only would be enough to cover the whole topic

----->tbc
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