what is this thing called photography
Painting, Photography, Film
Brandeis Spring 2015
Professor Andreas Teuber
PAPER TOPIC ONE
What Is This Thing
Drawing on the reading and your own considered view and good judgment, how well
do any of the claims on the following pages hold up? Select one or more of the
quotations and set it or them against several of the photographs. What does a
particular quotation reveal, how much does it obscure what is going on within the
pictorial spaces of the photographs you have chosen to examine. Do your best to tie
the success or failure of a specific claim as closely and precisely as you’re able to
particular features within the photographs themselves.
What is it about, say, this or that photograph that makes a given claim especially apt and, more
significantly perhaps, what it about this or that photograph that makes a claim seem inapplicable
or less appropriate?
Many, if not all claims about the medium of photography, about what it can and cannot do, about
its accomplishments and limitations, its unique take on the world as well as the differences
between it and painting always seem to be more true of some photographs than others.
It is thought provoking to notice the gradations of truth in a general claim, to notice the ways it is
more true of some photographs and less true of others as if the person who offered the
generalization in the first place had some but not all photographs in mind or only a somewhat
circumscribed and narrowly defined sample.
In exploring why a given claim is, say, more true (more apt) of one or more photographs but less
true (less apt) of another, it is possible to make discoveries, for it is usual (and perhaps only) in
the space between the more or less true that real insights are to be had.
Make a case for the appropriateness and perhaps, more significantly, the inappropriateness of
one or more of the quotations about photography on the following pages in relation to the
photographs you’ve chosen, think of one or more objections that might be made to your case
and respond to it or them.
In thinking of objections to your view, think of the best possible objections that someone on the
other side might be able to come up with, i. e., give yourself a hard time. If you can respond to a
contrary view at its strongest rather than its weakest point, that can only help to strengthen your
own view and make it that much more persuasive.
Papers should be between 5 and 7 pages (double-spaced) or longer if you believe it is absolutely
necessary and have some good knock-down reason for its being longer. Please number pages.
We would like to have two copies, marked COPY ONE and COPY TWO.
Papers should be stapled, not held together by a paper clip, glue or gum or with
spit or origami fold, no matter how adept you are in making origami.
Papers are due a week and a half after the end of Winter Break on Friday, March the
6th at the start of class.
Painting Photography & Film
(1) A photograph does not present us with a likeness of a thing; it presents us with the thing
itself. In a photograph the original is still as present as it ever was. But while the reality in a
photograph is present to me, I am not present to it, although the reality I see before me is, in
actuality, not before me since it is past.
(2) In looking at photographs we are on vacation from artifice.
(3) Photography is linked with the Egyptian sarcophagus most immediately and definitively by
the social practice of keeping photographs (souvenirs, keepsakes) in memory of loved ones,
who have passed away. But even when the person is still living, when he or she is
photographed and the print produced, the moment in the photograph has passed away,
vanished forever. Strictly speaking then the moment in the person’s life captured by the
photograph is dead, dead for having been shot.
(4) All photographs are ambiguous. All photographs have been taken out of a continuity. If the event is
a public event, this continuity is history; if it is personal, the continuity which is broken is a life story.
Even a pure landscape breaks continuity: that of the light and the weather.
(5) Photography . . . suppresses from its own appearance the primary marks of “livingness,” while
simultaneously preserving a convincing reproduction of the object: a past presence.
(6) To look at a photograph beyond a certain period of time is to court a frustration; the image
which on first looking gave a pleasure has by degrees become a veil behind which we now
desire to see. If we spend a long time with a photograph, it is often because the photograph has
acted as a catalyst — exciting mental activity which exceeds that which the photograph itself is
able to provide.
(7) To remain long with a single image is to risk the loss of our imaginary command of the look,
to relinquish it to that absent other to whom it belongs by right — the camera. The image then
no longer receives our look, reassuring us of our founding centrality, it rather avoids our gaze,
confirming its allegiance to the other.
(8) The world can be seen through photographs. With the assistance of the camera, I am able,
quite literally, to see long deceased relatives. So I can say: my great-grandfather died before I
was born. He never saw me. But I occasionally see him, when I look at photographs of him.
They are not great photographs by any means, but like most photographs they are transparent.
The viewer of the photograph sees, literally, the scene that was photographed. We see through
photographs. Why do photographs, even poorly exposed and focused ones, seem more of an
invasion of privacy than do paintings or drawings of the same subject? Surely it is because the
former are transparent whereas the latter are not.
(9) Like dreams in Freud’s analysis, all photographs are typically laconic.
(10) Photographs beg for interpretation and words usually supply it. Photographs, irrefutable as
evidence but weak in meaning, are given a meaning, more often than not, by an accompanying text
and, if not, seem to crave to be underwritten by at least a title of some kind.
(11) An instant photographed can only acquire meaning only insofar as the viewer can read into
it a duration extending beyond itself. When we find a photograph meaningful, we are lending it
a past and a future.
(12) Photography preserves moments like flies in amber.
(13) Looking at a photograph is a substitute for looking at the thing itself.
(14) Photography has an outspoken affinity for un-staged reality.
(15) All photographs are impregnated with melancholy.
(16) A photograph is transparent to its subject, and if it holds our interest, it does so because it
acts as a surrogate for the represented thing. Thus if one finds a photograph beautiful, it is
because one finds something beautiful in its subject. The aesthetic or emotional qualities of a
photograph tend to derive directly from the qualities of what it represents: if the photograph is
sad, it is usually because its subject is sad; if it is touching, it is because its subject is touching,
and so on.
Photographer – Title – Year
(Numbers 1 – 16)
1. HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON, Rue Mouffetard, 1954
2. ROBERT FRANK, Political Rally, Chicago, 1956
3. DIANE ARBUS, Identical Twins, 1966
4. ALBERT RENGER-PATZSCH, Zierlen, 1955
5. ROBERT DOISNEAU, Fox Terrier, 1953
6. HAROLD EDGERTON, Milk Drop Coronet, 1957
7. WEEGEE, Brooklyn Schoolchildren See Gambler Murdered in the Street, 1941
8. BRETT WESTON, Broken Window, San Francisco, 1937
9. EDWARD WESTON, Squash, 1936
10. ROBERT CAPA, Collaborator, Chartres, 1944
11. ROBERT DOISNEAU, At the Cafe Chez Fraysse, Rue de Seine, Paris, 1958
12. FREDERICK H. EVANS, A Sea of Steps, 1903
13. HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON, Jean Paul Sartre, 1946
14. ANDRE KERTESZ, Mondrian’s Glasses and Pipe, 1926
15. HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON, The Decisive Moment, 1952
16. WRIGHT MORRIS, Barber Pole and Hydrant, 1938.
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