STILL PHOTOGRAPHY?

The other day I saw an ad in The New York Review of Books for a book called Theory of the Earth by philosopher Thomas Nail. The title caught my eye, and, as so often happens in the age of the internet, that led me to more books, articles and interviews. Nail writes about human migration, borders, and the philosophy of movement. As someone who has moved house many times and generally enjoys being on the move, I think about movement from time to time, so Nail’s project to reconfigure philosophy from the point of view of movement intrigued me.

If I understand correctly, Nail sees phenomena as matter in motion and time as a process or effect of matter in motion. We live in a universe of change. Our world is not a closed set of discrete things and dates, but rather one of open processes. Humans are not external to life, observing it from afar. Space and time are not “things” as many of us were taught to construe them. Nail claims that not only is matter always in motion, but there is no separate force enacting this continuous flux. Rather, reality simply IS motion: it’s all patterns of interactions.

I’ll admit that a deep dive into Nail’s writing can leave me gasping and confused. Yet, I find inspiration there. In my view, philosophy can touch on every part of our existence, including our enjoyment of images. Thinking philosophically stretches the mind and encourages us to think critically, a practice that promotes creativity, curiosity, and clarity.

Looking at a painting isn’t the passive activity you might suppose. Even the heat emanating from your body transforms the painting, which vibrates waves of photons as it decays in a constant feedback loop with the environment. There is a “vast iceberg of material consequences” to everything we do, including the seemingly passive activity of aesthetic appreciation.

We may call photographs still pictures, but in fact, they are motion itself: the motion of a body acting in space, gathering impressions, and operating a camera; the motion of the camera, the subject being photographed, and a brain thinking, sensing, feeling. A digital photograph involves the motion of a computer as images are modified and light bounces around the screen – and the room! Photographs are light moving through the air, through the camera, on the screen, inside our eyes. Far from being separate, stable objects or mere copies of phenomena, photographs involve fluidity and complexity – more than we imagine.

Doesn’t a photograph also involve the motion of your brain, your breath, your heart? Yes. Mine too.

There is a group of photographs below. They’re here because I chose to bring them together and you are choosing to look. It’s an interactive process. There’s nothing static about it.

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Pure motion and transformation,

there is nothing still

about still photography. It is material,

real, and

constantly becoming:

Such a delight, this very world

in motion.

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1. Bullwhip kelp afloat on an incoming tide.
2. Rotating the polarizing filter, I shifted the view. Motion = transformation.

3. Shadows and reflections. Far more than a static representation or an artifact of time, the image is in your brain and you are interacting with it.
4. It can be hard to free oneself from the idea that an image is a fixed thing.
5.
6. The patterns in this rock appear to shimmer but the rock doesn’t have to shimmer to be in motion. There is probably mechanical, chemical and thermal movement even in the seemingly solid rock. And there’s motion in the photograph.
7. Moving the camera as I press the shutter may make it easier to think of a photograph as pure motion.
8.

9.
10. Intentional camera movement again, expressing something poignant in the dynamics of the flower-filled swamp.

11.
12.
13.

14.

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FORWARD!

The Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge topic is “Forward”.

You don’t have to be

to know that forward motion can be

To get going,  you may need to be very,

You may face unexpected roadblocks.

Overcoming them could require a leap of faith,

And concerted effort,

Not to mention perfectly carefully calibrated speed.

Your “progress” may come at a cost,

And some days, you may need to shine a light on those cobwebs to make any progress at all,

But the best thing is when someone has your back – then you can move forward with ease.

WE’VE  GOT YOUR BACK, an outreach campaign created in 2009 by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and Saatchi & Saatchi, supports veterans by encouraging them to communicate with other veterans, who have their back and can help them move forward.

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This post is in honor of my son, a Marine deployed once each to Iraq and  Afghanistan, and home since July 3, 2011. I hope he knows I’ve got his back.  And in honor of this little boy from Helmand Province, whose photo was taken by my son. I hope he can move forward with his life into some kind of peace, whatever it might look like.

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More Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge entries can be found here.

Photographs taken in (from top) Edison, WA, Seattle, WA (boats), Mount Rainier, WA, Chua Dia Tang Monastery, Lynnwood, WA,  Snoqualmie National Forest, WA, on the Seattle-Bremerton Ferry, WA, New York City, NY, St. Edwards Park, Kirkland, WA, the Plaza Hotel Fountain, New York City, NY, and somewhere in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.