Life is a miracle. We don’t exist. We have a short time on this earth. We cease to exist. We struggle to find ways to be comfortable with this. Our ego fights to protect us and give meaning to our existence. Many of us are uncomfortable with the idea that one day will no longer exist. It was our state before and must have been fine but now we have experienced existence we want to sustain it for eternity.
For my project proposal I suggest that photography is one of the ways we seek to confirm our existence. In the angst that often goes with the solitude of seeing photography is a way of showing ourselves we are on track. We are presented with evidence we can look over again. We can share and compare with others to see how we are doing. Importantly we imagine a photograph could be a way of extending our existence in some way beyond our physical presence.
The project is titled ‘Solitude and Existence.’ My hypothesis in this moment is that we take photographs and look at photographs because we believe they can help us with the problems we experience with solitude and existence. Everyone suffers with these two states. The Buddhist word Dukkha is continuously mentioned and refers to ‘the fundamental unsatisfactoriness and painfulness of mundane life,’ source. Our brains are wired to create meaning out of our existence. Although this meaning is intended to protect us from harm we want more than this. We want to know and understand the meaning of our lives.
In ‘What Photography is’ source James Elkins says for him ‘photography is essentially not about art, or representation. I find seeing is essentially solitary, and for me photography is one of the emblems of that solitude.’ Later (p38) he says ‘we all use photographs to help us think of ourselves and our world.’
We are solitary in the use of our senses and struggle to find acceptable meaning for our existence.
In the project I propose to
- research writing and bodies of work that have explored these ideas.
- produce images of people in the process of using photography to solve the problems of the solitude of seeing and the meaning of their existence.
- consider the role played by pictures we take without people in giving filling the void we have.
- form a hypothesis to test on why so many people take so many poor quality photographs and for many of them never look at them again.
- enquire in to the idea of being present as a means of handling Dukkha. why is that so difficult and how is it that photographs seem to be a better solution?
- consider the role biases of cognition play in photography’s attraction as a solution to the challenges of solitude and existence. example biases being those of confirmation, information and selection.
James Elkins provides further input (p28) with ‘Most photographs, I suppose, are snapshots, and most of those are of people familiar to the people who took the pictures. There are also the millions of photographs that give us ideal versions of our own faces and families.’
And (p47) It is easy to agree that photography’s apparent realism has been formed by the middle-class hope that photographs give us reality itself (as Bourdieu says), and it is hard to disagree that photographs are formed by a physical and mechanical interaction with the world (as a debased version of Peirce has it). By accepting both of these ideas, photography has become an activity that is both a projection of our desires about the world and an accurate record of the world. Weirdly, but characteristically, the idea that photography’s realism is wholly a matter of what we want to believe coexists with the observation that photography has a causal, physical link to reality.’