Towards a Philosophy of Photography

I have been reading a book titled ‘Towards a Philosophy of Photography’ by Vilém Flusser (1983) which I found highly enjoyable and more importantly for my course quite timely in influencing my thought process for taking photographs.

I liked Flusser’s use of terminology that the photograph’s surface is a place for ‘magic’. He used this term frequently and after reading why he used such an archaic term to describe a photograph’s surface, I have to agree with him. His reasoning was that the magic of a photograph is non-linear and can recur again and again. This is in contradiction to the linear nature of the texts produced before technical images were invented.

‘images come between the world and human beings. … Instead of representing the world, they obscure it until human beings’ lives finally become a function of the images they create.’ – (Flusser, 1983). This to me seemed a lot like Jean Baudrillard’s (1981) descriptions of hyperreality in Simulacra and Simulation, although I found this description by Flusser more eloquent and easier to understand. As I understood, instead of images functioning for us, we’ve come to function for the image-world. One contributing factor for this line of thought would be the prevalence of images nowadays and the escalating volume they are produced at.

The idea that the camera can control the photographer was a thought-provoking one for me. This would occur if the photographer makes largely ‘redundant’ photographs and succumbs to the ambition of ‘only’ producing images as new variations of a theme. I had already been thinking about this during the course and kind of agreed it was present in my own photography but didn’t know how to mitigate this trend. Therefore I was intrigued to see whether Vilém Flusser could answer this burgeoning question in my head.

Thinking of photographs in terms of numbers rather than text was an interesting concept for me. I thought of it as meaning I would come up with new and exciting combinations of numbers making up each photograph’s identification. However, would I simultaneously just be helping to exhaust the well of information that the photographic universe possesses, without giving much thought to the order I gather up this information?

One explanation Flusser argued for was that instead of the photographic universe constantly being in a state of flux (as in new photographs constantly being produced), he proposes ‘a standstill situation: to find the same newspapers on our breakfast tables every day or to see the same posters on city walls for months on end.’ – (Flusser, 1983). This interested me because images seem to change so fast now. It would be refreshing to see an Instagram feed or magazine with images that stay similar or the same in a standstill situation while people continue their lives. It would be my inclination that people would take more notice of the news for instance if there was a standstill situation in the image world.

At the end of the book (in the afterword) there resides a quote by Flusser regarding what he thinks ‘freedom’ means – a key attribute to developing a philosophy of photography in his conclusion to his book. He defines being free as: ‘Not cutting off one’s ties with others but making networks out of these connections in co-operation with them. – (Flusser, 1983). I felt this was a touching quote to be left with and one that was also thought-provoking. It made me think about how photographer’s can break the chain of ‘just’ discovering new combinations for a variation on a theme by being free. Also looking forward to Assignment 3, which was to be based on my local community, this quote gave me hope of finding some freedom in my photography within connections I’d already made.

References:

Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. 2nd ed. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.

Flusser, V. (2014). Towards a Philosophy of Photography. 3rd ed. London: Reaktion Books.

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