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

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IMMANENCE

There is an immanence inherent in all things,

a constant becoming

not separate from, not outside of.

Here.

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Immanence – it’s a tricky word. It’s not the same as imminence. It is of course, the state of being immanent, which Merriam-Webster defines as indwelling or inherent, or within the limits of possible experience or knowledge.

The sense of immanence I’m getting at with these images (hopefully) is close to the concept discussed below in a Wikipedia entry about French philosopher Gilles Deleuze:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Plane of immanence (French plan d’immanence) is a founding concept in the metaphysics or ontology of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Immanence, meaning “existing or remaining within” generally offers a relative opposition to transcendence, that which is beyond or outside. Deleuze rejects the idea that life and creation are opposed to death and non-creation. He instead conceives of a plane of immanence that already includes life and death.
[Colebrook, in Deleuze: A Guide for the Perplexed states] “Deleuze refuses to see deviations, redundancies, destructions, cruelties or contingency as accidents that befall or lie outside life; life and death were aspects of desire or the plane of immanence.” This plane is a pure immanence, an unqualified immersion or embeddedness, an immanence which denies transcendence as a real distinction, Cartesian or otherwise. Pure immanence is thus often referred to as a pure plane, an infinite field or smooth space without substantial or constitutive division.
[Deleuze states] “We will say of pure immanence that it is A LIFE, and nothing else.”   This is not some abstract, mystical notion of life but a life, a specific yet impersonal, indefinite life discovered in the real singularity of events and virtuality of moments. A life is subjectless, neutral, and preceding all individuation and stratification, is present in all things, and thus always immanent to itself.

An ethics of immanence will disavow its reference to judgments of good and evil, right and wrong, as according to a transcendent model, rule or law. Rather the diversity of living things and particularity of events will demand the concrete methods of immanent evaluation (ethics) and immanent experimentation (creativity).

Lest you think I’ve gone off the rails, let’s just say that Deleuze’s ideas as presented above and in this link resonate with me now, as I look at these photos. I might also describe the quality I’m thinking about as a roving, ever-present sense of possibility and becoming, equally inherent in and permeating all things – the rain chain, the running boy, the shadow, your own eyes.

Photos:

  1. A rain chain at Seattle’s Washington Arboretum Japanese Garden. Rain chains make the movement of water from roof to ground a delight to hear and see.
  2. A bamboo pole fastens the old wooden doors at the Japanese Garden.
  3. A Madrone tree at Washington Park on Fidalgo Island. The peeling bark reveals wonderful colors, the branches curve and contort in pleasing ways.
  4. Dead limbs on an old juniper tree at Washington Park. Junipers normally don’t like the Pacific northwest but these trees, Juniperus maritima, have adapted to our islands in Puget Sound and a few spots on the Olympic Peninsula and coastal British Columbia. This species was “discovered,” i.e. recognized as genetically and reproductively distinct from the Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), only ten years ago.
  5. A Ginkgo leaf on its way to the ground, stopped by a twig at the Japanese Garden.
  6. Late afternoon at the conservatory in Volunteer Park, Seattle.
  7. Espresso with a glass of water, and Christmas lights in the background; Pelican Bay Books, Anacortes, Washington.
  8. A boy leaving a cafe in Seattle. Dad let us have cookies!
  9. Looking out to the street while feeling warm and cozy inside at Pelican Bay Books.
  10. Shadow play on a wall at home.
  11. & 12. Sunset over Lake Washington, from Juanita Beach in Kirkland. Photos taken with my phone.

SIGNS and INSTRUCTIONS

 

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SIGNS and INSTRUCTIONS

A RR Crossing sign…

the yellow rectangle in the sidewalk…

in New York City, a tree stump might be dangerous…

in Washington state, tree cutting is serious business…

a ferry’s emergency evacuation slide…

DO NOT ENTER THE WATER…and other ideas….

a weathered sign…

the Un-sign…

chalked instructions on the street.

 

Thinking About Signs:

From Buddhism and Postmodernity, by Jin Y. Park:

Language itself is…”an arbitrary sign system, and the “signifier cannot claim anything about the nature of the signified. Language functions on a tentative agreement between the signifier and the signified. That this agreement is tentative, however is frequently forgotten: in the naming process the signifier is identified with the essence of the signified, and this essence is further reified, paving the way to create a fixed Truth, which in turn assumes a central role in one’s understanding of the world and of being.”

 

Charles Sanders Pierce’s theory of signs, from the Stanford University online encyclopaedia of philosophy:

Basic Sign Structure

I define a sign as anything which is so determined by something else, called its Object, and so determines an effect upon a person, which effect I call its interpretant, that the later is thereby mediately determined by the former. (EP2, 478)

What we see here is Peirce’s basic claim that signs consist of three inter-related parts: a sign, an object, and an interpretant. For the sake of simplicity, we can think of the sign as the signifier, for example, a written word, an utterance, smoke as a sign for fire etc. The object, on the other hand, is best thought of as whatever is signified, for example, the object to which the written or uttered word attaches, or the fire signified by the smoke. The interpretant, the most innovative and distinctive feature of Peirce’s account, is best thought of as the understanding that we have of the sign/object relation. The importance of the interpretant for Peirce is that signification is not a simple dyadic relationship between sign and object: a sign signifies only in being interpreted. This makes the interpretant central to the content of the sign, in that, the meaning of a sign is manifest in the interpretation that it generates in sign users. Things are, however, slightly more complex than this and we shall look at these three elements in more detail.

 

 

 

PATTERNS

This week’s Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge  is Pattern.  It’s everywhere.

Ponder this:

Does the key to the ubiquity of patterns in our world lie within our perceiving brain, or outside of us? Both? Is there any way to know?

And this:

“How is it that a man made, artificial, technological system is behaving like a natural system?  The more efficient it becomes, the more it looks like nature…”  From a video by Jason Silva called, TO UNDERSTAND IS TO PERCEIVE PATTERNS.

Watch it – it’s only 105 seconds long, and it will set your brain spinning.

Read about Jason Silva, who’s been called and “Idea DJ” whose short videos are “shots of philosophical espresso.”  Hey, no wonder I liked that video!

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Patterns have always motivated artists. Whether you locate them inside your perceiving brain, or outside in “nature”  (however you define that), they’re ubiquitous.   I need to narrow down this vast subject, so I’ve chosen patterns in leaves and branches, because they have interested me as long as I can remember.  I’ve abstracted these photographs in Photoshop, mostly using the Posterize and Cutout filters. It’s clear that the patterns I perceived here are at least partly inside my head.  I suspect some will resonate with patterns in your head, too.

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More PATTERNS await discovery at the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge.

To spin your mind harder, try googling “Pattern perception brain” and then add “Philosophy.”  The two links below look interesting, but it’s warm and sunny out, it’s spring, and I think my brain’s telling me it’s had enough of the computer screen. For now.

http://nivea.psycho.univ-paris5.fr/Synthese/MyinFinal.html

http://www.newdualism.org/papers/J.Smythies/Perception_1-1.htm

Celebration, Wonder and Not Knowing

Celebration…is self-restraint,

is attentiveness,

is questioning,

is meditating,

is awaiting,

is the step over into the more wakeful glimpse of the wonder—

the wonder

that a world is worlding around us at all,

that there are beings rather than nothing, that things are

and we ourselves are in their midst,

 that we ourselves are

and yet barely

know who we are, and barely know

that we do not

know this.”

 

– Martin Heidegger

“For Heidegger, human reality is both primary and irreducible. Instead of being ‘something’ in the world and thus open to scientific explanation Heidegger views human experience as the basis upon which the world shows up at all. He talks about human being as a ‘clearing’ in which the world is revealed. As such, it is beyond the easy grasp of human science which is, itself, a product of that clearing. This is not to say that we cannot, should not, seek to illuminate the nature of this clearing. The point is that this illumination can only be at best an interpretation, it is a mistake to present it as a form of scientific explanation. In addition, the fact that this clearing exists at all is a source of wonder for Heidegger. It is, simply, a mystery.

The American psychologist Louis Sass relates these Heideggarian themes to the experience of madness. He points out that many aspects of psychotic experience can be understood as a concern with the fact that human existence is not just ‘something’ in the world but rather provides the framework through which the world can be revealed. In the course of everyday life we are not aware of this framework, not aware that our reality is constructed and shaped in a particular way. Madness involves a confrontation with this framework. This confrontation is experienced by all involved: patients, relatives and professionals. Sass argues against understanding madness as a deficit state and instead suggests that it often involves a hyperalertness and a ‘hyper-realisation’ that the coherence and meaningfullness of reality are dependent on the ‘clearing’ of lived human experience. He suggests that many of the concerns which become apparent in the course of psychosis resonate with the preoccupations of contemporary artists and writers. These concerns often relate to the constructed, and thus contingent, nature of selfhood and reality.”

…from an article by Pat Bracken and Phil Thomas titled “Science, Psychiatry and the Mystery of Madness” posted at:

http://www.criticalpsychiatry.co.uk/

As a social worker, artist, nature lover, questioner and a being-in-the-world, the Heidegger quote and this article excerpt really speak to me.  I thought it would be interesting to throw some of my photographs into the mix. I hope you find inspiration here.