What is a photograph?

Much more than I previously thought. It represents various forms of beauty and truth. Within beauty it can be beautiful, sublime, banal and or mundane. Within truth it can be utilitarian or absolutist (Franklin, The Documentary Impulse, p103). Since David McAlpin opened MOMA’s photography department in 1940 it has increasingly established itself within the ‘Art’ world.

Acceptance in the art world took over one hundred years from the birth of commercial photography in 1939. As a discipline photography is still in infant form. There appear to be many battles taking place as it matures. Is it a discipline of its own or does it get absorbed within the wider disciplines of visual and media studies? Is there a solid core of robust theories that can be used to describe it or is it currently a battle between hypotheses and subjective opinion? As someone with a BSc in Mathematics and an MA in Psychology my own opinion is it is not as rigorous as the former and not yet as mature as the latter.

Whatever form a photograph takes we can say the practice of critical analysis is sophisticated and comprehensive. Paul Martin Lesters’ Visual Analysis source offers 9 preliminary steps to understand the image which are factual and observational from which there are then 6 perspectives of analysis.

Understanding

  • Inventory
  • Composition
  • Visual Cues
  • Gestalt Laws. Similarity, proximity and continuation
  • Semiotic Signs. Iconic, indexical and symbolic.
  • Semiotic Codes. Metonymy, analogy, displaced or condensed.
  • Cognitive Elements. Memory, projection, selectivity, habituation, salience, dissonance and culture.
  • Purpose of work.
  • Image Aesthetics.

Analysis

  • Personal.
  • Historical.
  • Technical.
  • Ethical.
  • Cultural.
  • Critical.

What is the Queen of Photography?

This is the playing field of photography as I now understand it after 12 weeks of study at Falmouth. Language is used to try to establish a hierarchy in photography. Carl Friedrich Gauss claimed that “Mathematics is the queen of the sciences and number theory is the queen of mathematics.” Source . Few would dispute that today and paradoxically the misleadingly simple ‘arithmetic’ is the most important and most difficult discipline in mathematics and hence its queen. So what is the Queen of photography? Is it the pleasure given to so many by beauty or the meaning created within representation of truth? Photography will not be considered the Queen of Art but could it be the Queen of visual and media studies?

So far my sense is that academically greater weight is given to a photograph that represents a ‘truth’ than that which gives pleasure in the representation of beauty. I also sense that there is a strong political drive to counteract the puppet of capitalism school of landscape photography with a socialist message seeking to represent the inequalities inherent within the beautiful landscape. I use the word ‘sense’ as that is all it is at this stage formed by impressions from reading to date. These senses form good questions for further study as I develop my understanding of what a photograph is and what I want to do with it.

I am now comfortable that my own work to date can be considered beautiful and sublime but trivial. Personally I then have to put weight on the pleasure I get and give people with the beauty I produce versus the importance I give to its triviality within the discipline of photography. Similarly there will be photographers that produce work that is banal and mundane but is considered interesting and meaningful. Such photographers will consider interesting and meaningful outweighs the stigma of banal and mundane in the same way beauty photographers can discount the stigma of trivial.

Interesting. Can’t wait to learn more.

Categories: Positions and Practice

LEN

I am a Photographer. As well as taking many photographs I am currently studying for an MA in Photography at Falmouth University. I will direct my attention through the lens of my camera for the next couple of years and see what shows up. I see a photograph as a little bit of magic capturing a moment in time. If successful it surprises and engages your emotions. It tells a story about the wonders of being alive or tells us what we need to change to make it a better world to live in. That is enough for me to get going and then like walking a 1000 miles, which I did across the UK in 2010, or walking 200 miles across Cyprus, which I did in November last year, it is one step at a time.

I was a writer. The title of my unpublished book was ‘You Would Have Done The Same.' It is about a successful guy in love with his wife who lets her die when he discovers her in the process of committing suicide. The title gives a clue as to what I think you would have done. The book is 200 pages long. I found it cathartic to write it but after two years of work and reviewing with agents decided it probably needed another 2000 hours to get the whole book up to the standard of some of the pages. Writing is great but it is a lot of sitting down so I decided to get out and walk, play tennis, play bridge, go birding, watch football at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Valencia and anywhere else if I can, meditate, cook and eat. I was a writer who has so far failed to become an author.
I was a young man who loved Mathematics and thoroughly enjoyed getting a BSc at Liverpool University. While there I went often to Anfield and the Philharmonic Hall. I was all set on doing a PhD until I went for interview practice at BP and got seduced by the excitement of an International business career. BP was a great adventure building trading teams and businesses in London, Antwerp, Cleveland Ohio and Singapore. Fabulous people and some great challenges and also very hard work, constant jet lag and lots of fun along the way. I married Karen, my stunning wife, and had the most amazing time with her and our three boys Alex, Tom and Dan. She has multiple sclerosis and we have taken on many challenges together but somehow keep creating a new normal against the horrors thrown our way. She is the love of my life.

After BP I decided to coach senior executives and quickly realized I had a lot to learn
about what makes people tick. I had a fantastic 18 months on the International Programme of the Cleveland Gestalt Institute. A great faculty and a
wonderful group of people on the programme. We studied and worked in Dingle, Singapore, Holland, Cape Town and
Lisbon. This also got me interested in the way we think and make decisions so I studied for an MSc in Psychology atUniversity College London in 2010. The
Masters was in Cognitive and Decision Sciences and I found it fascinating what
we do know but also how much we don’t know about how we think and make
decisions.

I loved coaching and making a difference. I got a number of people to hear themselves, remove some of their own chains and free up the way they thought about the world. I remain fascinated by how people react to and engage with the world. My Masters thesis was why do two people given the same information make different decisions? Put simply, it is because each of us are unique in the way we are constructed.

Since returning from Singapore I found English winters tough so moved to Spain where I now live. The people are lovely, the scenery amazing, food delicious and the sun shines all the time. Almost.

All of these experiences will feed in to my time now as a Photographer. Three motivations I am lucky to have are enthusiasm, curiosity and a continuous interest in learning. All the time I look forward to meeting old friends and making new friends and experiencing this wonderful life together.