Two Levels to Subjectivity?

Perhaps I have been confusing for the same thing what I perceive as the two ways a photograph can be subjective…

  • the method the subject is approached with
  • how the subject is photographed
I’ll start with the way the subject is approached. For a long time up until recently, I have simply photographed the first thing that has captured my attention. If I liked the resultant photograph I have kept that subject or type of subject in my mind for later reference. In retrospect this type of shooting does seem fairly mindless, although not if I was to produce a visual diary. A visual diary is one idea that has sprung to mind when looking back at my original approach. Another idea is basically the opposite in my mind where I have started to develop a preconceived plan of what I would like to photograph and how. This lends itself to landscape photography in particular I feel (where the photography is much more deliberate) although I have had a feeling that it could be applied to documentary too. These kind of approaches (maps or other systematic forays into the world around us with a camera) are usually biased in some way but peculiarly for me are less biased than wandering around photographing the first thing we see with a camera. I would feel this is the case because of the way our minds work (subconsciously) where with simply wandering there is always a start point and our minds are inevitably affected by aesthetic tastes as we walk around. By approaching the way the subject is photographed in a more biased way beforehand this is less true in my experience as your hand is forced somewhat, so to speak, as to what type of photographs you take. As a consequence the photographs result in being less biased and more room is left for the photographer to be subjective. This is both in the manner you see fit to instigate the photographing process and then the actual photographing process.
This leads me onto the next level of subjectivity – how the subject is photographed. For me this is the more obvious of the two. It includes photography’s history with objectivity (essentially the opposite to subjectivity) where the photograph is taken as literally as possible and how photographers and indeed viewers started to move away from this concept. This was due to the realisation that however the photograph was taken, it would invariably be subjective because it is after all an interpretation of a given scene from which the photographer has selected a framing. Subjectivity consists of any clue or marking that points to the photograph being taken by that individual. Some examples include intentional subject movement, use of shallow depth of field, low camera angles, tight framing and intimate lighting. It is possible to cancel out a lot of these subjective cues through objective, repetitive framing from a central, level viewpoint with inanimate lighting. However, the frame still remains chosen by the photographer and could be seen as an indication of a collective frame of mind by a movement of photographers instead. Therefore on the one hand there are the individual photographers who work subjectively (from which various subjective groups have been formed) to another subjective group of photographers; namely those who photograph objectively.
From these assertions I could observe four alternative ways in which I could potentially move forwards with my photography. These consisted of:
  • producing an (subjective) visual diary with a subjective way of photographing
  • producing an (subjective) visual diary with the viewpoint of the objective way of photographing
  • producing a more systematic (and therefore objective) methodology for producing work with a subjective way of photographing
  • producing a more systematic (and therefore objective) methodology for producing work with the viewpoint of the objective way of photographing
Instead of ‘just’ photographing the first thing I saw, I could produce a more objective methodology, possibly where I made an effort to start more systematically photographing a project or a place. As well as this I could start to produce a visual diary. However, whether I chose to photograph these with objective tendencies or subjectively is another matter (one that is entirely subjective!).
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