Photographer

Informing Contexts: Week 2 Reflection

The ideal photograph, as I mentioned earlier, stands in a causal relation to its subject and "represents" its subject by reproducing its appearance. In understanding something as an ideal photograph, we understand it as exemplifying this causal process, a process which originates in the subject "represented" and which has as its end point the production of a copy of an appearance. By a "copy" of an appearance I mean an object such that what is seen in it by a man with normal eyes and understanding (the intentional object of sight) resembles as nearly as possible what is seen when such a man observes the subject itself from a certain angle at a certain point in its history. A person studying an ideal photograph is given a very good idea of how something looked. The result is that, from studying a photograph, he may come to know how something looked in the same way he might know it if he had actually seen it. With an ideal photograph it is neither necessary nor even possible that the photographer's intention should enter as a serious factor in determining how the picture is seen. It is recognized at once for what it is-not as an interpretation of reality but as a presentation of how something looked. In some sense looking at a photograph is a substitute for looking at the thing itself”

Roger Scruton, 1981

 

“With these kinds of characterizations in mind, Arnheim's notion that "the physical objects themselves print their image" seems more like a fanciful metaphor than an "acknowledged fact." It is the light reflected by the objects and refracted by the lens which is the agent in the process, not "the physical objects themselves." These "physical objects" do not have a single "image"-"their image"-but, rather, the camera can manipulate the reflected light to create an infinite number of images. An image is simply not a property which things naturally possess in addition to possessing size and weight. The image is a crafted, not a natural, thing. It is created out of natural material (light), and it is crafted in accordance with, or at least not in contravention of, "natural" laws. This is not surprising. Nor is it surprising that something in the camera's field will be represented in the image; but how it will be represented is neither natural nor necessary.

Joel Snyder and Neil Walsh Allen, 1975

 

“The notion that a photograph shows us "what we would have seen had we been there ourselves" has to be qualified to the point of absurdity…By the time all the conditions are added up, the original position has been reversed: instead of saying that the camera shows us what our eyes would see, we are now positing the rather unilluminating proposition that, if our vision worked like photography, then we would see things the way a camera does.”

Joel Snyder and Neil Walsh Allen, 1975

 

 

The work this week explored the idea of authenticity in photography, how an image relates to its subject and whether there is a different relationship between the ‘truth’ of a photographic image and its subject and that of, for example, a painting and its subject. The terms ‘authentication’ and ‘representation’ were introduced and we were asked to consider how we might define these terms and how they relate to photographic images in general and the images we each produce individually.

The quotes above exemplify for me the conflict between opposing positions in this argument. On one hand, commentators state that photographs have an inescapable property of being able to prove the existence of something in the world and act almost as a surrogate for vision. Other commentators would argue that a photograph should be no more expected to reflect ‘reality’ than a painting or a motion picture is.

One of the associated issues in this argument is the idea of photographic intention. Those who propose an indexical link between subject and image are possibly denuding the photograph (and the photographer) of the autonomy of intention and the idea that the image-maker has significant agency over the way the subject is captured and the output the camera produces. Again, the counter argument to this would be that the image cannot be anything other than the index of the subject, and thus it is up to the subject chosen to communicate different messages, as the link between camera and subject can never be altered. Of course, the decision as to which subject is chosen will remain, largely, with the photographer.

To speak of my own perspective, I cannot subscribe to the idea that photography offers an incontrovertible truth. I think the truth of an image very much depends on the perspective of the photographer and the experiences and biases of the viewer. The relationship between the image and the viewer is also influenced by the intent behind the image and the context in which it is viewed. Additionally, the ongoing development of photographic technology and practice further weakens the directly indexical relationship between the subject and the image as it is incredibly easy for even the novice to add, amend or remove elements of the image that was originally captured. This facility must challenge the blind faith in the inherent truth of a photograph in my opinion, we must be wary of attributing veracity to images when it is so easy for details to be changed.

All photographs are a construction of some kind to a greater or lesser extent. The choices made by the photographer of light, location, camera and lens, as well as the functions of the tools used to capture the image, all impose conditions on an image.

In my own practice, the concept of ‘truth’ is more of an internal consideration, with the imperative being to try and reflect my truth rather than represent an external truth as such. This is partly for all the reasons outlined above. There seems to me to be a certain arrogance in presuming that my image can claim to be ‘the truth’ to someone else, when everyone has a different view of the world.

As Bate (2016) wrote:

“Reality is what we believe exists, whereas ‘realism’ is the mode of representation that supports that reality…The realism of an image corresponds to a preconception of reality. A photograph showing ‘aliens abducting soldiers’ no matter how realistic or believable as a photograph, is unbelievable (except possibly to UFO ‘experts’ and other alien-believers) simply because we do not believe aliens exist. The point is that any picture is usually tested against pre-existing suppositions and knowledge about the world.”

p. 31, Photography: The Key Concepts

My feeling then, is that there is no absolute reality and there is certainly no way that a photograph can be blindly accepted as truthful or providing authentication, without further consideration of the elements that comprise the photograph and its creation. The distance between a physical fact and the visual perception of that fact in our occipital cortices leaves too much space for us to be dogmatic about ‘truth’ and ‘authenticity’.

 

References:

SCRUTON, Roger. 1981. ‘Photography and Representation’. Critical Inquiry Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 577-603, [online]. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343119 [accessed 6 February 2018].

SNYDER, Joel and ALLEN, Neil Walsh. 1975. ‘Photography, Vision and Representation’. Critical Inquiry Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 143-169, [online]. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1342806 [accessed 5 February 2018].

BATE, David. 2016. Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.

 

Sustainable Prospects: Week 3 Reflection

This week, the focus has been on the challenges and opportunities afforded by the ever-increasing importance of digital image capture and image distribution platforms. We were set the task of devising a targeted social media strategy to increase our Instagram following by 30 or more followers over the week. This challenge felt particularly uncomfortable for me, as it requires me to explicitly acknowledge the fact that I have a desire and obligation to engage with my audience and thus to strategise the best way to achieve this. This feels instinctively inauthentic and contrived, which is not how I ever envisaged my photographic practice and not how I would wish to view myself. 

My Instagram homepage

My Instagram homepage

Since the start of this module I have been wrestling with this idea of professionalism and what that actually means, in practical and tangible terms. What does it mean for me to call myself a ‘professional photographer’? What behaviours and qualities do I have to demonstrate to be worthy of that title and to be able to meet the expectations of others who might engage me on a professional basis?

A lot of this conflict comes, I think, from a self-image that possibly doesn’t allow me to properly accept that I might be good at something or that I might wish to become good at it. It seems almost too boastful to call myself a ‘professional photographer’ and somewhat presumptuous to conduct myself as if I were one. There’s an inherent contradiction of course in that last statement, in that I am in the middle of an MA in photography so have already attained a certain level of competence and to progress from where I am now requires, actually probably demands, that I embrace the idea of professional practice and decide how best to operate within this new unfamiliar world. There is also the contradiction of shying away from the idea of professional or outward-facing practice while maintaining a website and social media presence that essentially only makes sense in the context of engaging with others and providing me a means to show my work to the world. Lauren Cornell’s (2015) words certainly cut right to the heart of this conflict:

“But social media, in its omnipresence and ubiquitous use, has become a main site for the contestation of identity and the self—a new arena that repeats and extends previous eras’ questions of visibility and self-definition, and begs for artistic challenge.

Hardy said she took the portraits only for herself without caring who might see them. “Only for me” now seems an outmoded or rare sentiment in a culture in which personal archives accumulate in public, not in bedrooms or on dusty hard drives.

When we take photographs today, we always care about who, besides us, might see them.”

Lauren Cornell, 2015

The final sentence there really hit home. It seemed almost impossible to run from this fact, that we always care about who might see our photos. This being the case, it then seems ridiculous to avoid an honest and thoughtful look at how we connect with our audience and who we believe, or would like, our audience to be. The next step from there is, inevitably, to decide on a strategy to achieve this audience connection in the best way possible.

So I’m back where I started.

Having accepted this reality but not yet being comfortable with it, I decided to instead update my website. This is something I have been meaning to do for some time, but had been avoiding for various reasons. 

Old website homepage

Old website homepage

I set about drafting an outline of what I wanted my new website to look like and searched around for an appropriate template that would fit my requirements. Once I started down this route, I faced a number of other technical and philosophical questions about website provider, domain names, how much I felt it was worth investing in getting a website that looked good and functioned well and what I was really trying to achieve with my website – did I just want a nice looking portfolio, did I want to represent myself in a professional manner to potential paying clients etc.

While it’s not necessary to articulate those decisions here, the act of thinking these things through has helped me understand what I’m trying to achieve with my work, what I thus need to try and get out of my MA studies and where I might want to go next. I have also accepted that I need to generate at least a rudimentary social media strategy and will thus get on to this as my next task now that the website is complete. 

New website homepage

New website homepage

For me, the key thing to reconcile is the desire to take photographs simply for my own pleasure, which is what drove me initially, with the present need to progress through my MA and to position myself for a post-MA world in which I hope to be able to practice as a photographer in some way or another.

“Once the world has been photographed it is never again the same. (This is where Eve and the Apple come in.)

Once the images begin to replace the world, photography loses much of its reason for being.

Into the vortex, then, comes the digital.”

Fred Ritchin, 2010, p23

I don’t want to lose sight of the world with all its complexity, nuance and beauty in the rush to create a well-strategised digital façade, however I concede that I must engage honestly with the digital world and its possibilities and will aim to do this in a more thoughtfully structured manner going forward.

References:

  • CORNELL, Lauren. 2015. ‘Self-Portraiture in the First-Person Age’. Aperture, Winter 2015, Issue 221, p34-41.
  • RITCHIN, Fred. 2010. After Photography. London, New York: W. W. Norton.

Positions and Practice: Week 4 Reflection

Week 4 focused on how the photography profession is perceived by non-photographers and the influence on the medium of the ever-advancing development of photographic technology. It was interesting to hear the reflections of my classmates, particular those who are working professionally as photographers. The general sense is that the profession is poorly-understood with sometimes only limited knowledge about what a photographer's job actually entails and what it should therefore be worth. There was also a feeling that people see photographers as having an easy life, doing something that any person could do and that this can even feed into the shoddy way that some photographers go about their work. I feel myself somewhat unqualified to offer opinions about this, as I largely identify as being in the 'non-photographer' camp, or at least I did before commencing this course.

My instinct is that photographers are maybe at least partially to blame for how they are perceived by the public. As we've already discussed, imagery is everywhere, the majority of which was created by photographers. As such, their contribution to daily life is vast, and massively under-recognised. It would not be unreasonable to expect the profession to be more forward in highlighting this important role and seeking to receive appropriate consideration accordingly. Maybe part of the problem is the disparate nature of the profession, with there being so many different types of photographers, as well as it being an often solitary practice. These facts don't lend themselves to presenting a united and powerful professional voice, that is capable of making the point that image makers should be valued for the important work that they do.

In my own practice I’ve certainly felt unable to fully own the title of 'photographer'. This may be a result of my other professional role which dominates a large part of my time and thoughts, but is also due to never quite feeling that it was credible for me to claim to be a photographer without devoting all my energies to it full-time. I think it's important to conduct oneself in as professional a manner as possible regardless of where on the photographer's spectrum you may be placed and maybe the fact that there are some people who operate in a less than professional manner partly explains why the profession is so poorly regarded.

With regards to the relentless advance of photographic technology, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the equipment choices available and lose sight of what you're actually trying to achieve, ending up simply consumed by the pursuit of the next piece of equipment that will supposedly help to elevate your work. This is a position I found myself in early in my photography journey, but it’s a false position to my mind, and it’s better to concentrate on honing the craft and using the technology as a tool, rather than seeing the latest camera as an end in itself.

Also this week, following on from the collaborative focus of week 3, I was delighted to produce a small piece of work with a classmate Chris Chucas. It was a rewarding experience that I’ll write about in a separate post.
 
The research for my project continues, but as I have been admonished this week, I need to 'stop thinking and go shoot!'