Photography The Shape Shifter

My granddaughter Ella, aged 8, asked me over Xmas how the universe started. She is bright so I asked her why it had to start. Everything has to start she says. Does it? I asked. This conversation is hopefully going to go on for a life time. Photography is similarly troubled by the question is the image presented a true representation of reality? What is reality I ask? Let us consider.

The above two images are of my wife, Karen. The one on the left was taken in 1959 when she was five years old. It is what we call an analogue image taken by her father Robert on a Leica. A view is this is a reliable representation of a moment that occurred. Light bounced off her, through a lens on to light sensitive film which when developed produced a negative and then a print. It is a true representation of reality at that moment.

The image on the right was taken last year when Karen was 64 years old. I took the image on a digital Canon camera. Much is now written that this is a far less reliable representation of a moment that occurred. Light bounced off her, through a lens on to a light sensitive sensor which is then coded in to digital ones and zeroes. It is coded via algorithms that decide where the ones and zeroes should go. The image that is then printed goes through further algorithmic manipulation to produce the image we see. A view is that this is a far less reliable representation of a moment that occurred.

It all depends where we stand. For me personally I did not know Karen when she was five but this image is one of the most real representations of her for me. It captures her in the way Barthes found his mother. I also saw her when I took the image of her last year and again to my eye it is a fair representation of what I saw. The trouble is that however hard I try to explain this to you your response will be my opinion is too subjective.

I will come back to the ski slopes of the theory of photography shortly but for a moment will return to the conversation with Ella. The human brain cannot deal with entirety all at once. It has to break things down in to manageable chunks. It invented language to help it do this. It then forgot that it had to break things down in to manageable chunks as it struggles to put the chunks together in a meaningful whole. We invent the word ‘real’ and then go to great lengths debating if something is a representation of that reality. I will explore this further in my project but set out here that there was no beginning, there will be no end, I am not separate from the world other than linguistically and ontologically.

This is important to me because the photographic image has become one of the best chunking devices to produce evidence that we existed and continue to do so. Ironically it doesn’t confirm we do exist as every photograph is telling us something about something that might have happened. It is always something from the past.

It is debatable whether the analogue image above is a more reliable representation of reality than the digital image. Isn’t the choice of chemicals and surfaces a form of algorithmic intervention between the subject and the print?

Rossack (2011:23) argues the digital image has broken the ‘causal relationship between storage and display’ suggesting that ‘the digital image cannot be fully understood through the premises of indexicality and ocular-centrism as its final appearance is the result of computation rather than the direct agency of light.’

I would argue against this and suggest that the choice of material to capture an analogue image and then the choices of chemicals to fix the image is as infinite as the algorithms that can be constructed to manipulate the digital code. I illustrate this by reference to Matthew Brandt’s process in which he captures an image in an analogue way and then uses material from the subject as part of his processing. For example he takes an image of waterfalls and uses water from those falls to fix the image. This can take from minutes to months for the chemicals to have their effect. The effect is usually stunningly beautiful as the chemicals from the location do their work. Nobody would suggest this is a true representation of what he saw when he took the shot but equally others could suggest it is a fair representation of what is there at the location

Bazin references photography’s ‘transference of reality from the thing to its representation.’ (Bazin 2004:13-14) and Rubinstein and Sluis suggest the view he is offering cements ‘the rational human agent as the sole author of the image’. They then refer to the ‘algorithmic image’ which they suggest is ‘malleable and non indexical as it became computational and programmable.’ Further they argue ‘photography’s diffusion in to general computing is that it is no longer clear ‘where’ the image is’. If this logic is to be applied the same question must be asked of the image in the analogue process.

Continuing their line of thought Rubinstein and Sluis suggest ‘the networked image is undecidable, as opposed to immaterial or indeterminate because the latter implies nothingness and absence, while the former names the incomplete and unresolved.’ If this logic is sound it is equally applicable to the analogue image and all the choices made of materials and chemicals to capture the image.

As with the conversation with my granddaughter we are well in to linguistic, definitional and ontological constructs as we seek to link photographs and photography to ‘reality.’ It is important because we want to understand the level of meaning we are bringing to what we are doing with our work.

I do agree with Rubinstein and Sluis that ‘it is not the subject who masters technology, but technology that produces the cultural and linguistic forms that construct subjectivity.’ The debate on what best represents reality will go on and on.

In my own work I want to explore all forms of representation that arise from my own existence and intention. As Colberg (2014) says ‘(I photograph, therefore I am) photographs are intimately tied to authorship: photographs are essentially reconfirming their maker’s (author’s) presence one picture at a time…..the existence of a photograph provides proof that someone felt the need to reconfirm her or his presence.’ So I will be the author of my work and create a narrative with an intent that it be of interest to other people and make a difference.

For my project this means breaking reality down in to forms that I experience and putting them back together in the form of an image. I will do this by exploring me, me and other and me and the world and seek the real goal of everything in reality being connected. There is no separation other than the uses that word is applied to.

References

Rossack, E.(2011). Algorithmic Culture:Beyond the photofilm divide, in Between Stillness and Motion: Film, photography, Algorithm. Amsterdam. Amsterdam University Press.

Rubinstein, D & Sluis, K Algorithmic Photography and the crisis of representation in The Digital Image in Photographic Culture.

Bazin, A. (2004) What is Cinema. Trans. H.Gray. Berkely. CA:Universty of California Press.

Categories: Coursework IC, Informing Contexts

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.