One of the outshots of my research has been my rekindled interest in philosophy and the implications it has for photography. As I will try to explain in this thread of blogs, there are deep philosophical issues in our understanding of photography and – what is very surprising – grasping those issues actually makes a difference to our photographic practice! I have taught students over the years the epistemological and ontological bases for research. The former being about different ways of coming to ‘know’ things and the latter about how we decide what it means when we use the term ‘real’. However, as I engaged with the problems of photography and how we can become better at it, the ontology of photography took centre stage in my thinking. It has also led me to rethink some of the basic philosophical principles that I have long believed to be true. That rethinking has not led me to change my mind – I am an ‘Aristotlean’ as opposed to a ‘Platonist’ (more on that later) – but it has led me to think through the implications of my world view and how it impacts upon the way I take images.
The issue is this: if we believe that all there is to our experience of the world is what we perceive that is what we photograph – the direct objects of our experience. However, if we believe, as I do, that what is real is much more than what we perceive, then how do we photograph what is beyond the ‘doors of perception’. Is the essence of our world a figment of imagination or does it exist within the objects of our experience? Is reality simply a psychological or social construct? My answer is no, even though that has been the prevailing orthodoxy in the arts and social sciences for the last half century. I will explain my position in much greater detail in later blogs. My agenda now is to establish strategies to help photographers penetrate the ‘essence’ of the world around them, to capture in their camera that which is hidden.
To give an example: we all are aware of the issues of climate change and the threat it presents to our way of life and indeed the viability of our planet. But what is climate? We do not experience climate we experience weather. Climate is what drives the weather but we cannot see it nor measure it directly – it can be described as the ‘sum of all weathers’. So how do we capture thus hidden reality, which we all understand and believe is affecting us. So here is a challenge: take a photograph of the climate.
So, fair warning, these blogs, my research, this website is about how we can use the camera to penetrate the essence of things.