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Capturing the moment or thinking you are?

A Nunes , May 02, 2009; 10:31 p.m.

"To reach the limit that not even mathematics can explain and trying to freeze time and capture a moment of eternity - that's what photography means to me and this is the reason I'm always trying to see things as unstable as they are."

This is how I present myself in my website (www. anunesphotography.com), and I'll explain why and propose a debate around this thought.

Any photographer knows that when you press your finger to take a "photo" you are actually commanding the shutter aperture which will be opened for a while and capture a reflection of your subject during that time. It may be just a small fraction of time (say 1/1000 sec) or even minutes, depending on the type of picture you are aiming at.
Even though the time may vary what we will capture is NOT a single moment, it is actually a kind of a short movie or the sequence of infinite moments that our eyes and thoughts cannot reach! What we see when we look at a photograph is simply the occurence of several events in a row, never a single frame!
What does that mean? Maybe with photographs we are facing an example of what some philosophers treated as the limits of our senses, or the limit of what is actually real.
Is a photograph a copy of a real subject or is it a copy of a representation?
Let's debate!

A. Nunes


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Phylo Dayrin , May 03, 2009; 01:18 a.m.

Time does not exist, not outside the framework that the mind applies for it. So a photograph can't freeze time, but it can evoke a concept ( eternity ? ) of our concept of a human construct that we call time, and to which we come by through the measurement of change in events and motion, marking the differential between states of energy relative to each other. A camera can record any such state of energy or movement subsequent to the next and produce a photograph that is measureable of being representative of one particular event of energy in space, not time....Uhm, I think....

Felix Grant , May 03, 2009; 03:42 a.m.

Agreed that a photograph is a "mini-movie", a continuous stretch of time and not a frozen instant.
But to the question "Is a photograph a copy of a real subject or is it a copy of a representation?" I'd have to say: neither. It is an artefact which is related to the original subject in the mind of the photographer but evokes other signifieds in the mind of the viewer – different for each viewer – and that fact is not changed by the instant/duration question?

Alain Attal , May 03, 2009; 04:37 a.m.

Wow, that's deep. I think I hurt my head. It reminds of not long ago when everyone was up in a tiffy because someone discovered that Pluto isn't a planet. There were all kinds of debates and people were freaking out. In the end, whether Pluto is a planet or not, it's still there, floating millions of miles away not caring in the least of our existence.

So whether a photograph is a copy of a real subject or a copy of a representation, or simply just a photograph, how does it change anything?

In the end, you look through the viewfinder, adjust your settings, snap an "image", and either sell it or show it to your friends.

There's a lot of peace in simplicity :)

~ Alain

Fred G. , May 03, 2009; 04:51 a.m.

I like what Felix has added to the notion that a photograph is some sort of copy (which can certainly be one way of making and seeing photographs). The word "evoke" is very helpful, and I think the subject can evoke as much in the photographer as in the eventual viewer. I'd like to add that a photograph can also be a creation, whereby the photographer uses the world -- the original subject -- as the raw materials from which to build a vision, sometimes of that very same world, allowing it to make itself apparent in a more timeless way, freed, perhaps, from its original context and re-energized by the four edges which the lens provides.

Alexandre, I appreciate very much how you've expressed the idea that photography can put us up against traditional philosophical limits. There's a sense in which I view certain types of photographs as transcendent, precisely because they do edge us away from the more unnoticed use of our senses and can make us see a little differently and in a more focused way than we saw before. That infinity you talk about may ironically be felt more because of the "limits" of the lens's framing.

Felix Grant , May 03, 2009; 06:35 a.m.

> ...a photograph can also be a creation...
Can I change the words "can also be" to "is"?
Whether we intend it or not, the acto f photographing does, consciously or unconsciously, for the reasons and through the mechanisms you mention, create something new, "build a vision ... freed ... from its original context".

A Nunes , May 03, 2009; 08:35 a.m.

I agree with your "there's a lot of peace in simplicity" statement, but I have to put another perspective to the rest of your thoughts. Although we can opt to forget about all philosophical aspects of our lives and simply enjoy it (including photography) I believe things and life can gain some more meaning and, at least, more excitement if we just not stop questioning and reflecting about it. Isn't philosophy all about it?

Larry Cooper , May 03, 2009; 10:01 a.m.

If a painter like Alex Coleville creates one of his "realistic" images, it takes him a long time. How much difference is there between an image created by a painter over a month, or a photograph taken over 1/1000 second? Why does the time involved in the creation of the piece mean anything at all when it comes to viewing the piece, and its significance or meaning? Is a painter's portrait any more or less related to reality than a photographer's?

Isn't it the image that is important, not the shutter speed? An image gets its significance more from its content than from the technology used to create it. A movie is really just an illusion created by a rapidly viewed collection of stills. Almost everything that happens to a viewer of an image happens because of what goes on inside the viewer when he looks at it, so how much does the specific act of the creation of the image matter to that internal process?

I also think it is important to understand that time does exist. Einstein would not be happy if we tried to say it was just our imagination.

James Dainis , May 03, 2009; 10:54 a.m.

Lord Louis Mountbatten once told his nephew, Prince Philip, "When you are introduced to a lady wearing a low cut gown, do not glance down, even for a split second. If someone were to snap a photo in that split second, it would like like you were staring at her breasts."

In that example the photo is not a copy of a representation. Quite the opposite. I would say it is a misrepresentation. Is it a copy of a real subject? Again I would say no, unless Philip really were a lecherous young (now old) man.

So what is it? I would say it is good for a few thousand quid to the tabloids, but not much else philosophically.

Fred G. , May 03, 2009; 12:47 p.m.

Felix, Thanks. I understand why you would change it to "is," though I'd probably leave it as "can be." On one level, yes, the act of photographing does create something new, a photograph . . . and a new context. But I think the creation aspect can be seen less physically and objectively than that. Some photos, though they do, technically speaking, "create" something new, are really meant to be copies of something or at least are not intended as creations, per se. I photograph the things in my house to document them for my insurance carrier. Though I am creating a photograph, that's not the kind of creation I'm really referring to when distinguishing the type of photograph that copies or represents from the type of photograph that creates. For me, the more significant sense of creation comes in with the desire, intent, and overall approach of the photographer, although creation does, as you suggest, sometimes take place very unintentionally. Some photographers want to capture a sunset and have no real designs on creation, and many of those photographs don't create in the sense I'm thinking of. Some want to create something more personal with their sunsets. Don, a contributor to these forums, has talked about his desire to allow the subject of his photographs to speak or present itself to the viewer and tends not to want to create in the way I meant it and his photos seem to bear that out. Some photographers clearly want to take an original subject or scene and use it simply as raw material to create something very much different from that original subject. Especially in these forums, which I am trying to approach a little differently in order to get more out of them, I am going to shy away from making statements like "photography is . . . ," though I certainly have no problem with your doing it and completely understand where you are coming from.

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