BA Phot

Subjectivity and gun theory


This page was prompted by a discussion of Postmodernism in C&N Part 2 [1, p.54] which happened to coincide with my beginning to read Bright & van Erp's Photography Decoded (2019) [2].

I noted that,

It is possible that postmodernism, particularly as regards photography, was a rather patronising intellectual conceit because (as I have been banging on about since early EyV - see EyV Part 1) the viewer's reaction to a photograph is as much (and possibly more) conditioned and mediated by their personal subjective reality than what the photographer intended to depict.C&N Part 2
Portrait (Stoya), 1986<br>
Thomas Ruff
Box A
Portrait (Stoya), 1986
Thomas Ruff

In the introduction to Bright & van Erp, an image by Thomas Ruff , Portrait (Stoya), 1986 [2, pp.7-8] (fig. A1). The authors note that there are few visual clues available on the nature of the subject, only what the viewer can surmise based on his clothing and haircut,

The way we skim these superficial details will be based on our experiences, grounded in our gender, background and other factors that affect how and what we see. This approach can easily lead to erroneous thought and indulgence of prejudices, but we all do it anyway … [2, p.8]

They go on to say that photography was originally dismissed by some because it only depicted 'reality', involved no creativity and therefore could not be considered an art. They reject this simplistic view, saying,

it is not a camera that takes a picture but a human being, and so the medium is only a tool of expression. [2, p.8]

This reminded me of the cliché often used by gun manufacturers when under criticism, that 'it's people who kill and wound, not the guns'.

So, while a camera will capture whatever is in front of it and is capable of doing so accurately, photographers, through their choices, are fashioning a personal version of that reality and then viewers are interpreting it through a variety of personal filters.

There was a subjectivist photography movement (see below), and they articulated, embraced and emphasized this approach on the photographer's side, but this is only part of the whole equation. Sitting neatly between the two parties is an idea that Sue Sontag stated and that I have already deployed several times on this course,

photographs do not seem strongly bound by the intention of the photographer Sontag, On Photography, quoted in La Grange, Basic critical theory for photographers, [3, p.37]

To be continued.

Logo v.2


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text cite


This was a response to the Nazi approach to photography during WW2 (brutal, stark and realist). The Subjectivist movement, led by Otto Steinert and including Peter Keetman, Siegfried Lauterwasser, Wolfgang Reisewitz, Toni Schneiders and Ludwig Windstosser [4, pp.82-3], founded the Fotoform group in 1949 with the intention of reintroducing experimentation and artistry to photography. 'Rather than use the camera to record external realities faithfully, they employed it to articulate a highly personal vision by abstracting the appearance of the world around them' [5, p.330]

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1. Boothroyd, S (2017) Context and narrative. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

2. Bright, S. & Van Erp, H. (2019) Photography Decoded. London: Ilex.

3. La Grange, A. (2005) Basic critical theory for photographers. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

4. Lewis, E. (2017) ...isms: understanding photography. Brighton: Iqon editions.

5. Hacking, J (ed.) (2012) Photography, the whole story. New York: Prestel Publishing.

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n. author (year) title [online]. website. Available from url [Accessed nn January 2020].

n. author (year) title [online]. website. Available from url [Accessed nn January 2020].

Page created 01-Feb-2020 | Page updated 27-Apr-2021