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Synaestheticism--How Does It Affect Your Photography?

Oliver S. , Jun 20, 2001; 09:31 a.m.

In case my insufficient knowledge of English has made me type it incorrectly into the 'search' window this will certainly end in the Unmoderated Forum, but in case it really hasn't been dealt with here I hope it survives:

Most of you will have heard of synaestheticism, i.e. the phenomenon that input into one organ evokes a response from another one. For instance, to many people a certain instrument does not only sound, let's say, orange, they actually see that colour. Others taste shapes or colours ("sweet is blue, what else?"), or feel tastes.

I have found this phenomenon is rather widespread among musicians, and am still wondering how this affects other photographers. To me, letters and numbers are coloured; I don't find colours to them, they come in colours, and I can't do anything about it. English, German, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Spanish come with different sets of colours, to make it more interesting. (E.g., an English /a/ has a different shade of grey from a German one.)

This means that certain titles simply don't work with certain images for me because they jump at me as glaringly odd or destroying the balance. And after wondering why I never managed to take a photograph that I liked of certain motifs, it dawned on me that I simply couldn't because the colours of the object's name and of the object clashed; so I can't shoot nature in colour, except desierto.

I do not want to learn which colour belongs to which letter, or note, or ..., for you; but, how do you deal with your synaesthetie mental representation of the world? Does it affect your imaging? I am certainly not alone among the Photo.netters!


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Pete Andrews , Jun 20, 2001; 10:40 a.m.

Goodness, what a strange world you must live in! The left side of my brain thinks in words and numbers, and the right side thinks in pictures.<br>Everyone else's head must be wired wrong.

Steven Hupp , Jun 20, 2001; 10:49 a.m.

I find that too many of my photos smell bad. I mean stink. I mean...

Roberto Lins , Jun 20, 2001; 11:21 a.m.

It depends. In principle I'd say that it does not affect my photography. I only feel synaesthesia when it cames to aromas and smell. I know some people have visual responses, but it's probably not the majority of us. The human kind developed a visual sense through evolution that plays a stronger role in the brain than any other specie. That said, the visual impact of a scene tends to dominate the overall sensations. When I see a photo (or I'm taking a photo), I'm only able to feel emotions, i.e., abstract feelings (sadness, excitement, despair, ...)

I'd like to add that's it's important to note that, as far I understand, synaestheticism (or synestheticism) is produced by one type of stimulation that evokes the SENSATION of another. So, in this case, one of your definitions wouldn't be precise enough for a complete understanding of the phenomenon giving marging to some confusion:

...the phenomenon that input into one organ evokes a response from another one.

The statement above could be taken as a muscular synergism, for example, what would lead to a different kind of conceptual interpretation, in my opinion...

However, if you consider that a visual stimuli changing somebody's state-of-mind as synaesthetie, then I'd say it affects everybody's photography... but I don't think you meant that... (did you?)

Andy Kidd , Jun 20, 2001; 11:22 a.m.

LOL... Steven, you really just busted my gut...anyhow, Oliver, a problem like that sounds to my like you have a severe mineral deficiency. Have you ever tried colloidal mineral supplements? If not, try those and stay away from fried foods, over-cooked meat, sugar, carbonated and alcoholic beverages [especially the alcoholic ones!] and for god's sake- buy your dammed mushrooms IN THE STORE for crying outloud... stop gathering them wild- you obviously can't tell the edible ones from the hallucinogenic variety!

J M , Jun 20, 2001; 12:01 p.m.

I heard an National Public Radio (NPR) documentary of a doctor/PhD that describes her studies of synaesthesia. Most notable was that no two people attribute the same color to the same letter, object, picture, or sound. Also, most people that have it would not like a pill to make it go away. Though, there is no such pill. She surveyed over 200 people. This study was done within the past few years and until recently the condition was not recognized.

It affects my interpretation of photos. If the colors clash, even in a black and white photo, I usually don't like the picture. When I look at a black and white picture, I never see just black and white. I will attribute some other color to it.

Now that you mention it, though, I think I might start taking a series of photographs that all belong (to me) one set of colors. Hopefully those pictures will have the colors that I perceive when I view a good picture.

In my case I get the colors with everything - pictures, letters, numbers, objects and sounds.

r s , Jun 20, 2001; 01:03 p.m.

I do not have much knowledge of synaestheticism per se, but what you mention about different languages having different colours sounds familiar. I know that the Gaelic word for "blue" encapsulates a different range of tones than it does in English. This is a phenomena of culture.

Since one can only think in a language, ie, English or Gaelic, when one thinks of a colour for example, the idea of it is shaped by that person's language and culture. I think that photography pretends to show the artist's perception of a subject as a universal perception, even though everyone agrees it is a subjective practice. What i mean is that though the photographer might have chosen a telephoto to compress over a wide angle to widen (bad verb that), what is in the photo that is taken for granted as objective - red is red and hot, white is pure and good, black is dark and ominous, may have different effects on people from different cultures and who speak different languages as signs and symbols vary from culture to culture.

What i am getting at (in a long winded way now) is that to some extent everyone feels that clash between title and image, colour and object, at some time. Don't worry about how your photographs are interpreted vis a vis the title and colour as much as how it fits your perception of the subject. And if you still feel that clash of feeling when looking at a print, maybe you should try another art to describe it - music or poetry perhaps.

PS Glad to see some intelligent, meaningful discussion other than "crap is not art" or the usual which lens is the sharpest...

PPS People who tell you to take a pill for your "condition", i have a feeling, don't appreciate the fact that you think like a real artist.

Chuck Dowling , Jun 20, 2001; 01:13 p.m.

I think it depends on what type of LSD you took back in the 60s. You know, Purple Haze, Orange Sunshine, etc. This would no doubt influence the flashbacks you are having.

r s , Jun 20, 2001; 01:16 p.m.

Yikes that answer might have been a little off topic. What I was trying to say was - if it feels right to you, keep it. If it feels wrong, ditch it.

I used to play music before i started taking pictures. Most musicians i know think like that, lots of talk about the colour of the track. Painters i know talk about how their compositions sound - mmmmmmmm floaty or zing zing zing. But their concern is only for the image or track, why do photographers always take it too far?

Leonard Richmond , Jun 20, 2001; 01:46 p.m.

No, Oliver, you're not alone among the Photo.netters. When I was younger (up through college age), I had aural to visual synaestheticism. It made listening to music much more enjoyable. It wasn't until college that I realized everyone else did NOT experience the same thing. I felt a little sorry for them.

As you can see from the responses here, it's like trying to describe color to a blind man. Ignore the responses of everyone who doesn't have it - they simply do not understand.

I heard about it in a graduate level psychology class in 1976. The thinking then was that some of the visual signal from the optic nerves, which gets passed to several areas in your brain for different types of processing, gets passed (mistakenly) to an auditory processing region. It does its best to process the information the only way it knows how - as sound. Sometimes this stops happening as you grow older - the brain figures out that this doesn't correspond to any objective reality. It diminished and disappeared as I got older.

So just enjoy your personal view of the world. Realize that it's like a soup that's been spiced up especially for you. You can discuss everything else about the soup with others, but they won't understand when you talk about that special spice that was added to your serving of it!

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