IC 3- Synder and Allen / by Chris Chucas

Notes on Snyder and Allen

After taking closer look at ‘photography, vision, and representation’ we have been asked to look at some core questions and to think about whether or not we agree or disagree with those sentiments propose in the paper.

In its introduction introduces itself as investigation into what critics and laymen believe about photography by taking a step back and looking at what photography is all about. More such magical geography in its earliest days with practitioners like Dagurre  and Emerson. And Fox Talbot interested in photography’s ability to ‘capture’ round it with a particular focus on nature. This is understandable as paintings and other art at the time focus primarily on nature with its subject matter.

 Fox ~Talbot Photogram

Fox ~Talbot Photogram

Interestingly Emerson broaches on an ethical question of the truthfulness photograph when talking about his ‘naturalistic’ representation in which he suggests that the photograph would render the same amount of detail that the human eye would would pick up. Interestingly with most of his research linking with the human eye he warned against an excessive detail arguing that in doing so would be ‘artificially false’ even though it may be ‘scientifically true’. I think is interesting practitioner dating back as far as Emerson is thinking about what is real and is not real photographically. I feel that in its earliest days it was seen more scientific tool than an artistic representation. Perhaps this is an early indication that culture and ways of understanding images is the most important factor in whether photography is either a scientific tool or a means of artistic representation. I believe it’s possible for a photograph to start its life is one thing and become many more. 

 Peter Henry Emerson

Peter Henry Emerson

Photography overcame subjectivity in a way undreamed of by painting, one which does not so much defeat the act of painting as escape it altogether: by automatism,by removing the human agent from the act of reproduction."3 Photographs are not simply different from other kinds of pictorial representation in certain detailed respects; on the contrary, photographs are not really representations at all. They are the practical realisation of the general artistic ideals of objectivity and detachment. 

-Snyder and Allen Autumn 1975 Critical Inquiry, p145

I would disagree with this point I would argue that somebody operating the camera is not the removal of human agent in the act of reproduction because there are several decisions and active choices that the photographer makes which are in substitute of the painter’s brush stroke but no less they are part of the reproduction process or process of making an image. I also agree with Arnheim’s sentiment on the peculiar nature photographs.

Photography, Vision, and Representation

In his recent article, Arnheim bases his argument squarely on the "mechanical" origin of photographic images. "All I have said derives ultimately from the fundamental peculiarity of the photographic medium: the physical objects themselves print their image by means of the optical and chemical action of light" (p. 155). Because of this fundamental peculiarity, photographs have "an authenticity from which paint- ing is barred by birth" (p. 154). In looking at photographs, "we are on vacation from artifice" (p. 157). We expect to find a certain "documen- tary" value in photographs, and toward this end we ask certain "documentary questions": "Is it authentic?" "Is it correct?" and "Is ii true?" (p. 157).

Because photography is accurate detailed rendering of the world around it much more realistic than any of the other art forms ‘especially in the early days’ its very nature forces the viewer to raise these questions over authenticity in the earlier days of the first photographs with long exposure times needed they would be closer statically to paintings and I think that helped culturally ease our way into photography. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if someone could go back with photograph taken with modern day equipment and show somebody in the 1800s, I liken it to if somebody could plug one’s consciousness into virtual reality or artificial reality today, something that is not too far away I feel.

I particularly agree with Arnheim’s thoughts on the effects of the photographer being part of the situation and thus have an effect on the environment it does have an effect on whether we like it or not photography cannot ever be truly objective and as such within my practice I acknowledge this and embrace it. Being part of what is going on around me and my personal experiences with subject matter I work with the people I work with all rolled into one when it comes to the context of my work, to try and be completely objective is impossible.

Certain ethical and stylistic consequences follow from the close connection between photography and "physical reality" or "the facts of the moment." The picture taker is on slippery ethical ground since "the photographer is part of the situation he depicts" and his picture, like the photon in atomic physics "upsets the facts on which it reports" (pp. 152, 151).

Not entirely sure if his views on the limitations of photography applied to the same degree today, with the advancement of technology and especially digital manipulation I disagree that photography “limits the creations of the mind powerful material constraints”, used to and now digital manipulation can do the job that Woods originally take huge sums of money and large amounts of materials to do but I feel like photography has never been as limitless as it is today with the practitioners creating work born of the imagination and that doesn’t exist in real world.

“Of course, compared with painting, photographs suffer from the same deficiencies that "physical reality" or "the world" itself does. They lack the "formal precision" and "expressive freedom" which the "private visions" of the painter possess. Photographs are tied to the world which is "irrational" and "incompletely defined." By its very nature, photography "limits the creations of the mind by powerful material constraints" (p. 160).
But regrettable as these constraints may be "from the point of view of the painter, the composer, or the poet," they are "an enviable privilege" when we consider photography's "function in human society" (p. 160). “

 

I think that photography is one of the newest mediums in artistic expression has disrupted a our views on art whether off r not photography has placed within it. It seems to be a lot of traditionalists that don’t see or didn’t see photography as a creative means of expression and I agree with Snyder and  Allen on their criticism on Arnheim’s argument un the fundamental flaw that he believes  that if the physical objects themselves print their image"  

I also agree with Snyder and Allen’s comments on how peculiar photography is and how complicated it is to deconstruct it with out in-depth knowledge various aspects.

 

Arnheim describes himself as a "media analyst," not a critic, but despite this disclaimer, we must point out that he makes criticism of photographs difficult if not impossible. And since his views are held by critics and their audience as well, it is not surprising that there is very little intelligent criticism of photography. We are told that when we look at a photograph we are on "a vacation from artifice"-but should we be on vacation? We are told that a photograph is a "coproduction of nature and man"-but is this coproduction along the lines of Michelangelo and a piece of marble, or a geneticist and breeds of corn, or some other sort of coproduction altogether? We are told that it is wrong to look at a photograph as though it were "made and controlled by man"-but what might we discover if we did look at photographs in just that way? In addition, we might ask whether Arnheim's "acknowledged fact" that "the physical objects themselves print their image" is really a fact at all, and whether the photographic process itself really guarantees much of anything about the relation between image and imaged. It is odd that modern critics who believe that the photographic process should be the starting point for criticism have had very little to say about what the process is, how it works, and what it does and doesn't guarantee. Aside from the simple notion of automatism, two models of how photography works have been used, or at least assumed. One of these, which we will call the "visual"model, stresses the supposed similarity between the camera and the eye as optical systems, and posits that a photograph shows us (or ought to show us) "what we would have seen if we had been there ourselves." The other version of how photography works we will call the "mechanical" model. It stresses the necessary and mechanical connections which exist between what we see in a photograph and what was in front of the camera. According to this model, a photograph may not show us a scene as we ourselves would have seen it, but it is a reliable index of what was. Writers on photography have often treated these models as though they were identical, or as though one were contained within the other, but this is not the case, and such assumptions gloss over the basic challenge to any theory which attempts to find the meaning of photographic images by referring to their origins the challenge of extracting pictorial meaning from the operation of natural laws. p148-149

Like I mentioned earlier the photographer makes several choices or ‘characterisations ‘as Snyder and Alan label it, these choices or characterisations being the choice of lenses choice of environments 1 Would Pl themselves in time-of-day to undertake the photography angle of the camera there are many many steps decisions taking into account which renders Arnheims  statement “the physical objects themselves print their image” seems unfair. 

 

The position of the camera effects further characterisations; once again, this holds true whether the position of the camera is carefully planned by the photographer, or whether the camera goes off by accident when dropped, or whether the camera is built into a booth and goes off automatically when people feed coins into a slot. The camera position will determine whether one of two objects within the camera's field of view will be to the right or the left, in front of or behind, another object. Together with the choice of lens, the camera position will deter- mine the size and location of individual objects both in relation to the total image area and to each other. Thus, given a man standing in a room, the photographer can characterise the scene so that the man appears to dominate his environment or to be dominated by it. With these kinds of characterisations in mind, Arnheim's notion that "the physical objects themselves print their image" seems more like a fanciful metaphor than an "acknowledged fact.' p151

 

I find interesting and I agree with Snyder and Allan’s comments that the visual and mechanical models to deconstruct photography do little more than break give a basic overview of the process by likening it to our biological means of seeing.

 

Photography, Vision, and Representation

What we have called the "visual"model of the photographic process is another way of trying to flesh out the bare bones of photography's alleged "intimate involvement" with "physical reality." No doubt this model originated in, and retains its plausibility because of, the supposed resemblance of the human eye with its lens and retina to the camera with its lens and film. But once this resemblance has been stated, the model fails to establish anything further. 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. A photograph shows us "what we would have seen" at a certain moment in time, from a certain vantage point if we kept our head immobile and closed one eye and if we saw with the equivalent of a 150-mm or 24-mm lens and if we saw things in Agfacolor or in Tri-X developed in D-76 and printed on Kodabromide #3 paper. 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. The camera-eye analogy is no more helpful for people investigating human vision than it is for the investigator of photographs. p151

 

The camera-eye analogy is no more helpful for people investigating human vision than it is for the investigator of photographs. The problem is that all such theories presuppose some standard or baseline of retinal correctness from which "artistic" or "good" photography either ought or ought not to depart-but that standard or baseline does not exist. P153

 

Schneider and Alan make some interesting points on a simpler level on our relationship with this camera I analogy, for at first it seems rather complex and unrelated to photography but looking into it further I think they have a point that people who use it to form a basis of a deconstruction of what photography is by using this analogy the basis for the argument or opinion is flawed in principle as the way in which we view things has perhaps been oversimplified even on a biological level, I think it further argues against Anheim ’s notion of a ‘Objects print themselves’.  Photography is so peculiar in this way it’s detailed lifelike reproduction of what we see causes what problems when talking about its process. As Snyder and Alan discuss we have to go further back again the most fundamental level seeing to question it.

 

The camera-eye analogy is no more helpful for people investigating human vision than it is for the investigator of photographs. The more the supposed analogy is investigated, the more convincing becomes the conclusion that we do not possess, receive, or even "make" an image of things when we see-that there is nothing corresponding to a photo- graphic image formed in one place which is then inspected or interpreted. Images are indeed formed on the retina of the eye, but they do not answer functionally to the image at the film plane of a camera. In the living, active eye, there is nothing that can be identified as the retinal image, meaning by that a persisting image that is resolved on one definite topographical portion of the retina. Rather, the image is kept in constant involuntary motion: the eyeball moves, the image drifts away from the fovea and is "flicked" back, while the drifting movement itself vibrates at up to 150 cycles per second.10 Amidst all this motion, is there one privileged image to set beside a photograph for comparison? At the material level (the level at which arguments about photography are usually pitched), the two processes are simply incommensurate. We might, of course, identify the end result of vision-"what we see"-as the image. But unless the camera-eye analogy works at some simpler level, why should we call what we see an "image" at all? P152

 

Interestingly on these new lines of what is it we see? Can we guarantee that what one person views looks the same to somebody else if neither one can have the experience of the other? Leading into more conceptual artists whose work is born out of imagination that Arnheim states photography ‘limits the creations of the mind by powerful material constraints.”
“ Of course, compared with painting, photographs suffer from the same deficiencies that "physical reality" or "the world" itself does. They lack the "formal precision" and "expressive freedom" which the "private visions" of the painter possess. Photographs are tied to the world which is "irrational" and "incompletely defined." By its very nature, photography "limits the creations of the mind by powerful material constraints" (p. 160)
thoughts on the mechanical model of how photography works;  and is it an objective way to see if we don’t ‘naturally see that way anyway?

 

The other version of how photography works we will call the "mechanical" model. It stresses the necessary and mechanical connections which exist between what we see in a photo- graph and what was in front of the camera. According to this model, a photograph may not show us a scene as we ourselves would have seen it, but it is a reliable index of what was. Writers on photography have often treated these models as though they were identical, or as though one were contained within the other, but this is not the case, and such as assumptions gloss over the basic challenge to any theory which attempts to find the meaning of photographic images by referring to their origins the challenge of extracting pictorial meaning from the operation of natural laws.  p199

 

I agree with Snyder and Alan with the sentiment on this this mechanical model to deconstruct the process of photography doesn’t work on the basis that we don’t see motion in the way the camera captures it.

 

But we don't see motion in any of these ways; we see things move. When Eadweard Muybridge succeeded in "freezing" rapid motion-to settle a bet as to how horses galloped his results were met with dismay by artists, photographers, and the general public alike as being "unnatural" and "untrue." This was not an expression of doubt in the veracity of Muybridge's results but, instead, a perception that the results lay outside of common visual experience, and outside of the conventions of representation that obtained at the time. People believed that horses might indeed gallop as Muybridge had photographed them, but the proposition could only be confirmed by other photographs, not by direct observation. p156

Reality in Science/mechanical images

In an interesting example Snyder and Allen look at how a scientific approach to using photography and in particular the photo finish method used at horse races is used as a means indexing and proving what was actually there at a particular time but the optical result is completely different what we would ‘naturally’ see with our eyes. It’s interesting that of course, once we know how a photofinish picture is made, it upsets us. We are accustomed, when we see five horses occupying five different positions in a photograph to think that we are looking at a picture of five horses that were all in different places at the same time. In a photofinish, we see five horses that were at the same place at different times. The most scientific images are the most bizarre looking and unnatural looking to the laymen. The picture seems "realistic" or "natural" or to display "the manifest presence of authentic physical reality" in spite of the way in which it was made, in spite of the fact that what the photograph actually manifests is far from what we normally take "physical reality" to be. The mechanical relations which guarantee the validity of the photograph as an index of a certain kind of truth have been almost completely severed from the creation of visual likeness. It might be objected that the photofinish is a special case, or a "trick" photograph. This invites the question why people who bet on horseraces should consent to have their bets settled by trickery. Nor is the photofinish a special case; many kinds of "scientific" photographs dis- play a similar divorce of pictorial content and "the facts of the mo- ment." In infra-red and ultra-violet color photography, visible colors are arbitrarily assigned to invisible bands of the spectrum. In color Schlieren photography used to analyze motions in gases and liquids, colors are arbitrarily assigned to directions, and no surgeon expects to find anything resembling an X-ray when he opens up a body. In all these cases, the picture is valuable as an index of truth only to the extent that the process by which it was made is stated explicitly, and the pictures can be interpreted accurately only by people who have learned how to inter- pret them. To the uninstructed viewer, red and purple potato plants look equally bizarre; only the expert interpreter, who knows how color infra-red film works, who knows what filter was placed over the lens, and who knows something about potato plants can confidently equate red with health and purple with disease. Even when a scientist uses “conventional" kinds of photography, he is likely to rely on the inclusion of stopwatches or yardsticks or reference patches in the image, rather than on the photographic process pure and simple, to produce pictures which are a reliable guide to the truth. p162

 

When dealing with photography and it’s relationship with reality within the constrains of science and measurements it’s universally agreed that although the images may seem unnatural ( at least to what we see with our human eyes)  they show us more and it could be argued they are more truthful. All of this is on the universal understanding that the scientists looking at the images have been specifically trained and have set parameters in which to analyse the images with. Do we not apply this rational to the non scientific world of photography. Also where is the line between photography as a scientific record and a photography as a creative? Context? I would say that the line is constantly moving and shifting. It’s possible for one photograph to be both. A photograph can be a record of an object but can also be the object in itself and it can prove that said object existed but it is also questionable whenther it ever existed at all. Paramount to the process ( which I still can’t wholly subscribe to any theory) intention and reading and both of which subjective in their very nature can constantly shift and evolve. 

Trying to find out what photography is by establishing what it is not is a peculiar theme that re occurs within photography. 

 

If automatism" and both the visual and mechanical models of photography explain so little of how photography works, why are they advanced? At least one reason seems to be that they are not intended as serious descriptions of the photographic process in the first place and are only put forward as "negative" definitions in order to establish what is peculiarly photographic about photography by way of contrast with what is peculiarly "artistic"about art. Thus what is truly significant about a photograph of a horse is not really that the horse himself printed his image, or that the photograph shows us the horse as we ourselves would (or wouldn't) have seen him, or that it establishes something in the way of scientific truth about this horse. What is significant (it seems to be alleged) is that this horse wasn't invented by some artist: this is a picture of a real horse. This sort of thing is usually more hinted at than stated explicitly, and it seems to encompass a number of different beliefs, some about photography and some about art, some mainly ontological and some mainly aesthetic. p163

 

Ontological

As far as principles of aesthetics go, John Szarkowski has gone further than many other writers by stating explicitly the theory of art that separates photography from "handmade" representations: "most of the literature of art history is based on the assumption that the subject exists independent of, and prior to, the picture. This notion suggests that the artist begins with his subject and then does something to it -deforms it somehow, according to some personal sense of style. "in the very next sentence, Szarkowski adds that this theory probably doesn't account for the work of any artist in any medium, which makes his assertion that "it is especially irrelevant in the case of photography" somewhat less than definitive. P164

 

 

The poverty of photographic criticism is well known. It stands out against the richness of photographic production and invention, the widespread use and enjoyment of photographs, and even the popularity of photography as a hobby. To end this poverty we do not need more philosophizing about photographs and reality, or yet another (this time definitive)definition of "photographic seeing," or yet another distillation of photography's essence or nature. The tools for making sense of photographs lie at hand, and we can invent more if and when we really need them. p169

Geoffrey Batchen (2002: 139) notes: 'In the mere act of transcribing world into picture, three dimensions into two, photographers necessarily manufacture the image they make. Artifice of one kind or another is therefore an inescapable part of photographic life’. I agree with this but the deeper question for me is ' is this the nature of photography, is it inherent to it's very being?' I think it's impossible to be completely objective with any human choices being made.