Page 1 of 4 123 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 34

Thread: Film and “footprints”

  1. #1
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Location
    Seattle, Wash.
    Posts
    2,050

    Film and “footprints”

    Quote Originally Posted by Maris Rusis View Post
    Photography is the only way of making a picture that is directly and physically linked to subject matter.

    Cameras (light tight boxes in general) and film (light sensitive chemicals in general) are the essential components that make that link achievable. An 8x10 sheet of film actually absorbs about 10 to the minus 25 kilograms of stuff that a moment before was part of the subject matter. The penetration of this stuff, at 300,000 km/second, into a sensitive surface makes changes that enable a photograph to be revealed at the site of impact.

    Photographs, of all picture making processes, are absolute certificates for the reality of their subject matter. The relationship is truly indexical in the semiotic sense. What photographs do not offer is a reproduction of subject matter in just the same way as a foot print is not a reproduction of a foot. Also photographs do not guarantee reliable identification of subject matter. Just think of all the honest photographs of floating logs in Loch Ness that “prove” the monster really is out there.
    Yesterday, I came upon this very remarkable post. Thanks, Maris.

    Part of me applauds. Enthusiastically.

    Part of me objects. Strenuously.

    I know why I’m applauding, but I can’t quite explain why I’m objecting. That’s why I’d enjoy some input from other photographers as thoughtful as Maris. I’m not going to say I completely understand his unique post, except to say that I think it gets across a critical point about one type of photographic reality – at the unhappy expense of another type.

    The critical point it gets across, I think, is made with his strange but effective analogy between film and footprints. To paraphrase it as best I can – “film is never a transcription of reality, just as a footprint can never be a foot.” Very nice. But then the next point that should be on its way never arrives.

    First the reason why it’s missing, then what I think that point is.

    When one uses the precise language of science to show the relationship between film and reality, even as well as Maris does, one runs the risk of overlooking a more important type of reality – one that science has no business describing, and that photography has every business to capture and communicate.

    Film – if it’s not a transcription of reality, as Maris makes plain – is always, I think, an abstraction from experience. I really should say “an abstraction from human experience.” You’ll note the detour I’ve just taken from “reality.” But no need for fans of “reality” to worry. My detour from that word is only apparent…

    For I’m still thinking of a reality that falls under the heading of human experience. And this reality, I think, is the one that matters to photography – and more generally, to art. For simplicity sake, I might call it “psychological reality.” (I’m sure a better term exists, so I hope I’m being clear.) The abstraction of which the photographer might try to create on film in the field, and communicate in a print back home. Or the abstraction of which a viewer might respond to in a photograph on the wall, in a book, on the screen.

    If film or a photograph can be such a thing – an abstraction from psychological reality – then do the observations in Maris’ post still apply? That is, would film still be an “absolute certificate for the reality of its subject matter”? Or better, if film can be such a thing, might it transcend Maris’ restrictions, and do what he says film can’t – “guarantee reliable identification of subject matter”?

    -----
    And finally, would it be a good idea after all to divide the “reality” of photographic subjects into two types – the scientific kind, the psychological kind – and remember that famous remark, “Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point” [“Let’s be careful before we let reason try to describe every kind of reality”]?

  2. #2
    hacker extraordinaire
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    North Carolina
    Posts
    1,121

    Re: Film and “footprints”

    I like pretty pictures.

  3. #3
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Location
    Seattle, Wash.
    Posts
    2,050

    Re: Film and “footprints”

    Whoops, thanks BetterSense – this should be in the “On Photography” forum.

    Sorry folks, no pretty images here, just philosophy … refunds available at the counter.

    But we’ll keep the bar open.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Location
    Southland, New Zealand
    Posts
    1,654

    Re: Film and “footprints”

    Please don't make me think.

    David

  5. #5
    Maris Rusis's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Location
    Noosa, Australia.
    Posts
    521

    Re: Film and “footprints”

    Heroique is right. There is a psychological dimension.

    It is also true that photography, of all the expressive arts, is hostage to subject matter and the material limitations of lenses and light sensitive materials. And there is simply no way around the problem without ditching photography and becoming a painter or a Photoshop expert; painting by numbers in effect.

    A photograph, if it is aimed at doing more than reminding us what something looks like, if it is intended to reward intense looking, needs to have deeper levels of meaning. These deeper levels are carried by visual metaphors and similes. That's where psychology comes in. For example if you want to express "drama" then a photograph of a gothic castle at night during a thunder storm will do fine; for "beauty" try a sunny landscape with rocks, flowers, trees, clouds, waves, and so on.

    It is the hardest thing to find subject matter so that your photograph will say what you want it to say. Plus it's doubly hard to have camera and film on hand at all times just in case the subject matter decides, just for a moment, to deliver. Mainly it's a litany of disappointment with rare flashes of fulfilment.

    When things do work out well one could say, semiotically speaking, a photograph instantiates subject matter and also illustrates what the subject matter means. To borrow Minor White's concept a photograph can show not only what things are but also make us think what else they are.
    Photography:first utterance. Sir John Herschel, 14 March 1839 at the Royal Society. "...Photography or the application of the Chemical rays of light to the purpose of pictorial representation,..".

  6. #6
    Moderator
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    Northern Virginia
    Posts
    4,320

    Re: Film and “footprints”

    Quote Originally Posted by Maris Rusis View Post
    When things do work out well one could say, semiotically speaking, a photograph instantiates subject matter and also illustrates what the subject matter means. To borrow Minor White's concept a photograph can show not only what things are but also make us think what else they are.
    Does it illustrate what the subject matter means, or what the photographer means by his perspective of the subject?

    I like the footprint analogy, but I prefer a different analogy that means the same thing. A photograph is a projection of a subject. More often it's a projection of the relationship between subjects to each other. Move a bit and the relationship changes, along with the projection of it. We manipulate that projection in a variety of ways, including throwing parts of it in and out of focus, allowing it to move during the exposure, and profoundly changing the subject relationships through camera position and framing. None of these choices upsets the indexical relationship between the photographer and the scene, but it does alter the relationship between the actual scene and our representation of it.

    The fact is that two people don't see the same scene in the same way even if they are standing next to each other looking right at it. Each will sift the elements of the scene through the filter of their experience. Each will respond to different focal points. The images in our minds are already profoundly different. As models of those mind images, the photographs are one further step removed from reality. I've made photographs with others, and afterward both of us wondered if we were in the same place as the other person.

    The uniqueness of photography is the indexical relationship with the scene, but that does not mean that it represents truth or fact. When we look at the night sky, we see patterns of stars and give them names, as if that pattern represents one entity in our minds. We draw pictures of the things those names invoke, using the stars to define the important points. Different people with different experiences draw different pictures around different groupings.

    But each pattern is a projection, two-dimensional in our perspective, of four-dimensional space. Parts of each of many of these patterns are vastly greater distances from us than other parts, and viewed from another perspective in space (or another time) an entirely different pattern would emerge. If we photograph a piece of the night sky, that is reality, but it would be unrecognizable reality to someone viewing our image from another part of the galaxy. Without undermining our indexical relationship with the subject, we still only see a faint projection of what it really is, and each of us perceives it differently.

    Coming back to earth, and to the discussions that led to Maris's first post, we have the notion that a photograph is an "absolute certificate" for the reality of their subject matter. Maris qualified that statement to point out that viewers may not perceive the reality being portrayed accurately. But I want to consider those two words, absolute and certificate. It seems to me that despite the indexical connection between subject and photograph, there is an obscuring process that goes well beyond the effects of removing dimensions. We try to reconstruct those dimensions through our choices. Selective focus is a means, for example, of separating a subject from its background. Even if we perceive the background sharply with our eyes, our stereoscopic vision and incredible image-processing capability makes it possible to separate that subject without rendering the background as a soft blur. That blurry background is perhaps an indexical summary of the background, but I think it would challenge the notion of an absolute representation.

    (Would a sufficiently defocused image of any given scene represent reality if all we see is an 18% gray rectangle? The indexical relationship would be there. But does it do any good?)

    And one thing all certificates include is the authority of its issuer, otherwise it isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Somebody has to be certifying something. Thus, the truth of a photograph is not inherent in its being a photograph--that only ensures an indexical relationship. Truth, or even fact, can only be stated about a photograph, not by a photograph. Nobody should believe a photograph; they should believe (or not) what the photographer/printer says about the photograph.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maris
    When things do work out well one could say, semiotically speaking, a photograph instantiates subject matter and also illustrates what the subject matter means. To borrow Minor White's concept a photograph can show not only what things are but also make us think what else they are.
    Rick "with Minor White on this one" Denney

  7. #7
    Maris Rusis's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Location
    Noosa, Australia.
    Posts
    521

    Re: Film and “footprints”

    Maybe all of this should be in On Photography but Rick Denny's insights are profound and thoroughly worthy of reply even if things get downright abstract and long winded.

    Does it illustrate what the subject matter means, or what the photographer means by his perspective of the subject?
    I like the footprint analogy, but I prefer a different analogy that means the same thing. A photograph is a projection of a subject. More often it's a projection of the relationship between subjects to each other. Move a bit and the relationship changes, along with the projection of it. We manipulate that projection in a variety of ways, including throwing parts of it in and out of focus, allowing it to move during the exposure, and profoundly changing the subject relationships through camera position and framing.
    The idea of "projection" raises a deep question that has not been explored adequately in the philosophy of photography: what is subject matter? My own experiments suggest a surprising answer. Here is what I did some years ago.

    Me and a pal were in the Australian desert photographing during our Duane Michaels sequential photographs phase. I walked toward his Leica while holding a #25 red filter while he fired off frames. Eventually I screwed the filter to his lens and walked away with the camera still clicking regularly. Is the red filter subject matter while it is some distance from the camera but not when it is mounted on the lens? What if the red filter was mounted on the rear element of the lens inside the camera. Would it be subject matter then?

    The only consistent and coherent answer to this and similar questions is that photographic subject matter, in its most fundamental sense, is actually no more and no less than the real optical image at the focal plane of the camera. Everything else, objects in the real world, lenses, filters, flashguns, and so on are merely the ingredients whereby we summon up this real optical image. Nevertheless indexicality still holds good. A tree for example "makes" and image and the image "makes" the photograph; no mistakes, no fudging.

    None of these choices upsets the indexical relationship between the photographer and the scene, but it does alter the relationship between the actual scene and our representation of it.
    I plead that the relationship between the photographer and the scene is not indexical but rather it is discretionary.

    The fact is that two people don't see the same scene in the same way even if they are standing next to each other looking right at it. Each will sift the elements of the scene through the filter of their experience. Each will respond to different focal points. The images in our minds are already profoundly different. As models of those mind images, the photographs are one further step removed from reality. I've made photographs with others, and afterward both of us wondered if we were in the same place as the other person.
    Yes this is true! We see with our minds not with our eyes. Our vision is the result of mental processing that stitches momentary eye images, memories, expectations, perhaps delusions, and then gives everything the HDR treatment before presenting it to our consciousness. And we cannot voluntarily turn any of this off. Just think, until photography was invented nobody saw what the world looked like without HDR!
    The uniqueness of photography is the indexical relationship with the scene, but that does not mean that it represents truth or fact. When we look at the night sky, we see patterns of stars and give them names, as if that pattern represents one entity in our minds. We draw pictures of the things those names invoke, using the stars to define the important points. Different people with different experiences draw different pictures around different groupings.
    Truth is a slippery concept particularly for people who have not made a formal study of philosophy. Even for professional philosophers truth is a subject of ongoing headaches in epistemology. Writing about truth tends to involve difficult to write, difficult to read verbiage. In general terms truth refers to propositions of the form "if A then B". Should it be the case that A is necessarily and sufficiently causally linked to B then the identity "if A then B" is true. Some robustly convincing truths can be discovered by observation. These are usually called facts. Facts are pretty reliable but they fall short of absolute certainty. One can conceivably be mistaken.
    Another kind of truth is an a priori truth. This is a proposition that is always the case whether one makes any observations or not. A priori "truths" are always true. For example, that a triangle has three sides is an a priori truth. It is a nice question if there are any a priori truths about photographs in particular. The answer is yes. Using the IF/THEN form of proposition we can say with a priori certainty IF we have a photograph THEN some real world subject matter must correspond to it.
    But each pattern is a projection, two-dimensional in our perspective, of four-dimensional space. Parts of each of many of these patterns are vastly greater distances from us than other parts, and viewed from another perspective in space (or another time) an entirely different pattern would emerge. If we photograph a piece of the night sky, that is reality, but it would be unrecognizable reality to someone viewing our image from another part of the galaxy. Without undermining our indexical relationship with the subject, we still only see a faint projection of what it really is, and each of us perceives it differently.
    Exactly so.
    Coming back to earth, and to the discussions that led to Maris's first post, we have the notion that a photograph is an "absolute certificate" for the reality of their subject matter. Maris qualified that statement to point out that viewers may not perceive the reality being portrayed accurately. But I want to consider those two words, absolute and certificate. It seems to me that despite the indexical connection between subject and photograph, there is an obscuring process that goes well beyond the effects of removing dimensions. We try to reconstruct those dimensions through our choices.
    Yes, there is an obscuring process because a photograph is not a replica of the subject. A human foot print, for example, absolutely certifies the existence of a foot but not how tall the person was who left it.
    Selective focus is a means, for example, of separating a subject from its background. Even if we perceive the background sharply with our eyes, our stereoscopic vision and incredible image-processing capability makes it possible to separate that subject without rendering the background as a soft blur. That blurry background is perhaps an indexical summary of the background, but I think it would challenge the notion of an absolute representation.

    (Would a sufficiently defocused image of any given scene represent reality if all we see is an 18% gray rectangle? The indexical relationship would be there. But does it do any good?)
    Our perceptions are non-indexical and indeed so called "digital photography" is non-indexical too. Here's a recent experiment. I take a snapshot of a small piece of clear blue sky with my Canon 350D camera. In Photoshop I notice that all pixels have the same value. One pixel will do just as well as several million. Further investigation indicates the pixel value corresponds to Pantone #291. I go to my Pantone swatch book and cut a small square of #291 and stick it on a white mount board. The result is reminiscent of what I saw and identical to what a digital system could produce. But it is not indexical. A Kodachrome, even a thoroughly out of focus one, would be.

    And one thing all certificates include is the authority of its issuer, otherwise it isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Somebody has to be certifying something. Thus, the truth of a photograph is not inherent in its being a photograph--that only ensures an indexical relationship. Truth, or even fact, can only be stated about a photograph, not by a photograph. Nobody should believe a photograph; they should believe (or not) what the photographer/printer says about the photograph.
    I say otherwise. A photograph is inherently physical evidence; everything else is merely testimony no better than the credibility of the person offering it.

    Rick "with Minor White on this one" Denney
    I wish I had a general purpose witty signature line like this.
    Photography:first utterance. Sir John Herschel, 14 March 1839 at the Royal Society. "...Photography or the application of the Chemical rays of light to the purpose of pictorial representation,..".

  8. #8
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Location
    Seattle, Wash.
    Posts
    2,050

    Re: Film and “footprints”

    Below is “The Night Café” (Van Gogh, 1888) – so the thread doesn’t feel all alone in an “Image Sharing” forum, and because I thought it might expand on our comments about the “realisitic” connection between images and the subjects they portray.

    It’s one of his first “disturbing” paintings, certainly disturbing for the artist, if we believe what he wrote about it.

    But is it “disturbing”?

    If you’re Maris (and this were a photograph), it sounds like the answer depends on the literal, physical “subject matter, so that your photograph will say what you want it to say,” he says. In other words, on the literal pool hall, if the artist can find it, then compose it, to his intentions. I find a lot of truth in this. And if you’re Rick, it sounds like the answer principally depends on whether the viewer and artist look at it “through the filter of their experience” – presumably an emotionally similar one. I find a lot of truth in this, too. Taken together, these two approaches seem to explain a lot. (Note: I just saw Maris’ post #7 arrive as I write this, and a quick glance seems to bring his thoughts a little closer to Rick’s.)

    More broadly, what about the work’s “realism”?

    Here’s just one of many ways to address the question: To many who have enjoyed only solid mental health, “The Night Café” may not look realistic at all. In fact, the oil painting may simply remind them how Velvia-50 saturated the colors of one of their landscape shots, or how a wide-angle lens distorted the lines. Others who haven’t always enjoyed solid mental health – and let’s add to this group those whose empathetic talents allow them to imagine the unhappy experience, Van Gogh perhaps among them – may look at this painting and recognize just how realistic it is, especially when comparing their reaction to Van Gogh’s own horror-filled comments about the work…
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails The night cafe.jpg  

  9. #9
    Format Omnivore Brian C. Miller's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 1999
    Location
    Everett, WA
    Posts
    2,820

    Re: Film and “footprints”

    Quote Originally Posted by Maris Rusis View Post
    It is the hardest thing to find subject matter so that your photograph will say what you want it to say. Plus it's doubly hard to have camera and film on hand at all times just in case the subject matter decides, just for a moment, to deliver. Mainly it's a litany of disappointment with rare flashes of fulfilment.
    Photographs do not "speak." The written word "speaks." The written word says what I want it to say, when I want to say it, when I've taken a bit of time to think it through. I think it is the photographer's personal misdirection to seek a subject to fill a photographic concept. That is more the realm of the motion picture, to create based on a play or other theater. I think it is better to see what is, and photograph it for its maximum portrayal, as it is, in its own moment. If I do not see it then, perhaps I will see it later. I like the Buddhist philosophy, to live without delusion.

    The photograph is visual. It invokes an image, out of context from its moment of creation. The subject delivers nothing. It exists on its own outside of our expectations. The film is impressed with light, but not like a footprint in the sand. There is no footprint in the sand that invokes passions as does a photograph.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maris Rusis View Post
    When things do work out well one could say, semiotically speaking, a photograph instantiates subject matter and also illustrates what the subject matter means. To borrow Minor White's concept a photograph can show not only what things are but also make us think what else they are.
    Up to a point, Lord Copper, up to a point. What else is a photograph of the Hindenburg, burning? What else is a photograph of President Kennedy's assasination? What else is a photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald's assasination? What else is a photograph of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan summarily executing Vietcong operative Nguyen Van Lem? What else is a photograph of a 1930s New York mobster, lying face down in a pool of his own blood? What else is a photograph of the death of a Spanish militiaman?

    When we view those photographs, do we really pause to think about what else they could mean? Or are we caught in the moment that they recreate?

    I agree with you that the photograph recreates a symbol representing something. However, I think that a photograph that doesn't deliver its concept in a way to rivet our attention is, to some degree, a failure. It becomes something which is truly meant to cover the cracks on the wall behind it, or to fill empty space because we choose to loathe the emptyness. Nature does not abhore a vaccuum; space is full of it, and it is also full of beauty.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Location
    Southland, New Zealand
    Posts
    1,654

    Re: Film and “footprints”

    Reality? What reality?

    It feels real because what you see in that painting is a performance of his subconscious. A dream. We all have a subconscious and we dream, we are familiar with many of the symbols in his painting from our own dreams, perhaps only subconsciously.

    I know nothing about him or his painting but my interpretation is that is the shadow, a subconscious facet of his self, next to the snooker table. He is surrounded by heavy drinkers and stands alone. On the counter is a vase of flowers and on the wall a clock is ticking. The only other sober looking figure is a woman at a distant table with someone, male or female, I am shure he knew. The unknown woman, an important symbol in male dreams, represents the feminine, our mothers, sisters, lovers, wives, girlfriends, nannies etc. He stands at the table alone, with no one to play. The painting must have been made at a crossroads in his life. Did he join the heavy drinkers, did he come to terms with his anima dreams, did he pick up the the snooker stick thingy and sink a ball. What happened to the white ball?

    Damn good painting.

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •