an interesting question came up on Photography during examsâ€“”does Photography aspire to reality?”.
Interesting, because of the scope of expression rather than understandingâ€“of metaphysical indulgence rather than empirical truth-finding; which i don’t think is particularly bad from time to time; as long as it doesn’t become your leitmotif.
my answer went (in short) so:
A Photograph is essentially a recording of an eventâ€“it is the “flattening” of the dimensions of space and time within a context, allowing you to remove that event/image outside its own context for preservation or dissipation. The Universe is never static, and things are constantly evolving and adaptingâ€“in short, they are changing continuously. The click of a Photograph then, records the death of one moment as it transcends to another; while simultaneously transcending the death of the event by becoming an (for all real purposes) eternal record of that deathâ€“that moment which is gone and will not come.
I have since looked at the ideas of “Photographs” and “Art” and even the post-structuralist thought that went into that answer and found it lacking in many ways. I think that the words and implications of that answer are true, and they are beautiful. But that does not help in any way understand the Photographâ€“understand the art.
Understanding implies development of empirical proofs. Proofs, which really are not readily available. Post-Structuralism in itself provides tools to attain those proofs, but often drifts into inane self-reflective discussion.
Post-Modernity itself, with its incredulity towards meta-narratives often does the same. Without an attempt to reach a consolidationâ€“an “agreement” (and agreeing to disagree isn’t one) there is no real dialogue, no discussion; and we often play with meaning and words we use, to avoid doing soâ€“making a committment/taking a stand on a particular issue.
It is perhaps true, that Art cannot be “judged” or assigned values, as the “art” itself is supposed to reveal itself in the mind of each viewer rather than collectivelyâ€“that the “reality” of an art or a photograph then lies in individual interpretation and understanding.
But that is not in itself a valid argument, and rather once again used as a shield in order to shirk the (quite tedious, I imagine,) task of coming to an agreement on any of these issues.
An art then, is developed by the collective historical and cultural influences of society and the individual, and the individual expression itself, formed along certain specific lines of syntax or thought processes, and the talent or ability or training of the individual to execute. And it’s reality is itself decoded by those same processes, relating cues to known signifiers (this is like “xxxx”) translating to their newly assigned meanings (this is therefore “xxxx”) and being relayed as spoken or written word in communications of all sorts, together with the politic and intent of the communicator and the medium of communication.
A photograph on the other hand, I believe is different. While you may assign it a visual stylistic element, and a politic that emanates from the photographer’s intent or understanding; a photograph is essentially made to be beautiful firstâ€“it is in it’s conventional sense, about visual appeal with other elements being input by the photographer, or chance. Other elements being things such as the choice of the “centre” of the image, or the importance you deliberately or inadvertently assign to objects by their placement within the photographic frame. An aspiration to reality is dependent upon the intent of the photographer; with secondary meaning being often thatâ€“secondary.
The true reality of a photograph then, is what it gives you from its intent (which therefore needs to be understood within its context, its politic. The secondary reality is the one you generate for yourselves, with the cues you pick up from a photograph; that you translate as meaning other than the intent of the photographer.
Intent, then is important in Art. Artists often say that they “leave you to interpret your own meaning into their art” and that “intent really is unimportant”. That by the logic of this argument I’ve written out cannot quite be the truth.
The intentâ€“the politic, exists whether you understand it or not, whether you accept it or not; (as Barthes said, you cannot escape meaning) and the willingness of the artist to state his intent is then perhaps a reflection of his willingness to take responsibility for his work.
Does Photography aspire to reality then?â€“Maybe, maybe notâ€¦ but it certainly should.