- POPULAR CULTURE
- MENTAL HEALTH
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
- APPLIED SCIENCES
- PRINT & MEDIA
One of my several collections of photographs begins in the year 1908. It is the oldest photograph I have in my family collection; it was taken in the same year that Abdul-Baha was given his liberty in Akka. This photograph was given to me by my mother before I left home in the summer of 1966 at the age of 22. My mother lived in Hamilton and I had spent my summer with her while working for the Good Humour Company as an ice-cream salesman. In early September I moved from Hamilton to Windsor to begin my teacher training.
Fifteen of the photographs in this collection of a total of 40 are friends of my mother, people I do not know and had never met. The photographs were taken in the years 1908 to 1953; there are some twenty-five photographs of my mother and her family. This small collection now provides something of a pictorial backdrop for the transition period from my grandfather’s story, his autobiography, the autobiography of A.J. Cornfield from 1872 to 1900. This autobiography of my grandfather is found in another place; I keep it in my study with a copy on a CD, a CD with the contents of his autobiography.
My own travelling-pioneering story began in 1962, but I take my story back for a preliminary account, a preamble of sorts, to 1944---the year of my birth. The precursors to my life, the chief ones, are my parents and grandparents and any photographic record of their lives that I possess of the period before 1944 is found in these forty photographs. The first photo in this collection was taken, as I say above, in 1908 when my mother was three or four; her brother, Harold, was perhaps one and her sister, Florence, six or seven. My father at this same time was 17 or 18 and most likely living in Wales, but no pictures of him from this period are available. My mother is in fifteen of the photos, and all of the others in this sub-set of twenty-five photos, are of her family. I have tried to put together something of the story of my family in the years 1900 to 1944. Readers will find my attempts in my memoirs entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs, Section X.2 Journals: Volume 1.1, sub-sections 3.A.1 and 3.A.2. I hope to provide cyberspace access to this part of my memoirs at a link in this section of my website at a future time.
The photographs for that part of my memoirs, the part devoted to photography and photographs and which is outlined in summary form in the preface and introduction to my journal volume 1.3, may serve, one day, to help provide more detail than I have been able to gather for my autobiography. I have devoted many years, or should I say many occasions during many years, to the exercise of collecting and organizing the photographs into some order, some shape and meaning. A start has been made to a process, to a period of history, of family history, which I hope I will be able to outline in much more detail in the early decades of the twenty-first century, decades in which I will be retired from FT, PT and most volunteer/casual work. During these retirement decades I will see my own life draw to its inevitable close sooner or later. Future members of my family or other interested parties, may be able to ferret-out information which I am unable to obtain. I wish such seekers well in their efforts should such an exercise be of value to some interested party. –Ron Price, 29/8/'00 to 8/7/'13.
Although these photos were taken before I was born, they are like flashes from a past that was mine but not mine all at once. I possess an awareness, not so much of a continuity in time, but rather of time simply abolished altogether. And it is this intuition of the possibility of grasping myself, something of me, independent of time that is partly a taste of immortality, partly a transcendent dimension to life which we each taste in different ways.
The vicissitudes of life are reduced to a matter of indifference as I gaze at these photographs; life’s brevity seems like an illusion, as if it contains just a simple essence, an essence that is not in me, but is me. I am no longer mediocre, mortal. I have the mystic’s certainty of immortality accompanying the transcendental intuition of time abolished. I have this sensory flashback to a time and place I did not experience. This flashback is aided by both the photograph and the written word.
The sense of the past produced is sometimes hypnotic, sometimes an at-oneness with all time, a collapse, an annihilation of the years, partly beautiful, partly awesome, partly a direct encounter with a dimension beyond human imagination, beyond continuity, timeless. One could say many things about these 40 photos. I say some of these things in my memoirs. But here I will leave these few words as part of the introductory commentary to this volume.
29/8/'00 to 8/7/'13.
All photographs are memento mori.
—Susan Sontag, On Photography
THE HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY
The history of photography can be studied in many ways, one of which is a study of journals dealing with photography. Since its invention in 1839 in Europe, so goes one history, photography has evolved to assume its near hegemonic ubiquity throughout the world, permeating media in general. Gaining insight into the history of photography as a disciplinary formation and as a specialization requires disciplinary issues beyond the confines of art history. Photography has been identified traditionally as a sub-field of art history. To identify global and overarching characteristics of the literature on photography, Historical Abstracts can be consulted in order to collect and classify articles in the following five periods of time: 1961–1970, 1971–1980, 1981–1990, 1991–2000, and 2001–2010.
Further analysis of the data on the history of photography revealed major characteristics of that history which appeared in a spectrum of journals beyond the purview of art history journals. Selected subjects were used to further articulate the complex nature of the history of photography, bringing into focus general disciplinary and intellectual currents animating these findings. The history of photography commenced with the invention and development of the camera and the creation of permanent images starting with Thomas Wedgwood in 1790 and culminating in the work of the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826. For more on the history of photography go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_photography
Memento mori is a Latin phrase translated as "Remember your mortality", "Remember you must die" or "Remember you will die". It names a genre of artistic work which varies widely. However one translates this Latin phrase, they all share the same purpose: to remind people of their own mortality. The phrase is given to a tradition in art that dates back to antiquity. In ancient Rome, the words are believed to have been used on the occasions when a Roman general was parading through the streets during a victory triumph. Standing behind the victorious general was his slave, whose function, among others, was to remind the general that, though his highness was at his peak today, tomorrow he could fall or, more likely, be brought down. The servant conveyed this by telling the general that he should remember, "Memento mori."
It is also possible, though we don't know for sure, that the servant also said. "Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!": "Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you'll die!" We learn of this from Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian(160-225 AD). Tertullian was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. We find these words of Tertullian in his Apologeticus.
The Puritans in Colonial America saw art as a large number of memento mori images. The Puritan community in 17th-century North America looked down upon art, because they believed it drew the faithful away from God and, if away from God, then it could only lead to the devil. However, portraits were considered historical records, and as such they were allowed. Thomas Smith, a 17th-century Puritan, fought in many naval battles and also painted. In his self-portrait, we see a typical puritan memento mori with a skull, suggesting his imminent death. The poem under the skull emphasizes Smith's acceptance of death. Go to this link for more on this theme of momento mori: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/jan/11/memoirs-of-the-artist/
Photography is the art, science and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film, or electronically by means of an image sensor. Typically, a lens is used to focus the light reflected or emitted from objects into a real image on the light-sensitive surface inside a camera during a timed exposure. The result in an electronic image sensor is an electrical charge at each pixel, which is electronically processed and stored in a digital image file for subsequent display or processing. The result in a photographic emulsion is an invisible latent image, which is later chemically developed into a visible image, either negative or positive depending on the purpose of the photographic material and the method of processing. A negative image on film is traditionally used to photographically create a positive image on a paper base, known as a print, either by using an enlarger or by contact printing. Photography has many uses for business, science, manufacturing, art, and recreational purposes. For a more detailed discussion of photography go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photography
WHAT DO I DO WITH A LIFETIME OF PHOTOGRAPHS?
If Time magazine's nine New York-based photo editors can sift through some 15,000 pictures a week, selecting about 125 for each issue, as they did until recently,(1) surely I can sift through a lifetime of several hundred photos and select a few for autobiographical use? This task of being the photo-editor of my own life, would not be that difficult, but I question the relevance of the process and that is what I discuss here in this brief essay. My task would be partly to distance myself from my own love of photographs in order to reflect accurately on the images.(2) This business of reflection is critical. "Photography is a way for me to preserve the part of me that is only me," wrote Tipper Gore(1948- ) in her new book Picture This: A Visual Diary.(3) Tipper is an author, photographer, former second lady of the United States, Yes, Tipper, but these photos may only be me; they may only be a small part of me; they may only be a somewhat elusive part.
I have a 12 volume or, more accurately, I have 12 files and albums of photographic images beginning in 1908. As I say above, at that time my mother was 4 and my father 18. The photos in these 12 collections are arranged in various visual categories associated with the various towns and cities I've lived in since my birth. These categories also extend into the lives of my parents and grandparents. I can place myself with the images in a sort of photographic archive. The photographs which flood my world as I gaze at this collection, and which I now can view with ease and convenience in my study, provide me with a reality that, for the most part, I can no longer touch. There is a certain magic I experience as I look at these pictures in their quiet place on the bookshelf. They are, not so much a place of images as they are a place of thoughts or, perhaps better, a place of mnemonic devices. Their highest merit is their suggestiveness of a beauty, a character, a place, which the photo itself does not reveal but, as I say, suggests. It is as if a camera was nervously clicking over the surface of my life, the lives of my parents and the three familes at the centre of my life: my consanguineal and two affinal families.
My job now, it could be said, is to piece together, to paint, to translate from feeling to meaning and find some overall pattern in this kalaedoscope of images. The existing pattern is, as I say, a pattern connected to place, to the locations in my life where I've lived for a short time--with 14 years the longest time, my present home in Tasmania Australia. It is as if, while the camera caught fresh moments of my life, my task now is to keep a freshness of vision as I write amidst a vast, a pervasive and immense incoherence, with impressions always outstripping my capacity to analyse the data. I need to possess a similar degree of sensitivity as the plates possess, and the developing equipment that photography requires, to record my own impressions of life in various genres of literature, of my personal writing.-Ron Price with thanks to: (1) Caroline Howard, "Photographers at Work: Picking Shots," Columbia Journalism Review, July/August, 2002; (2) Jim Roberts, "Introduction: Imagistic Information," Enculturation, Vol. 2, No. 1, Fall 1998; (3) Tipper Gore, Picture This: A Visual Diary, Broadway Books, 2004.
MY FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM
What I write below about the photo in a family album has implications for photo-journalism. In this 3rd millennium there has come into society both an image-glut and a print-glut. Each of us has to deal with this reality in our own way. In 2013 I arrived at the age of 69 and my last particular photo album was becoming filled to its maximum intake. People in my world had begun, early in this 21st century, to send me digital photos enough to fill this and future photograph albums to overflowing. Those who could afford it, and who had the interest, in the first years of this new millennium, had begun to make videos of their family and their personal lives; still others had telephones with visual images of the person they were talking to. My wife had skype.
The devices which function as phones with live-pictures of those using the phones are called iPhones. They can function as a video camera, a camera phone, a portable media player, and an Internet client with email and web browsing capabilities. Its user can send texts and receive visual voicemail. The user interface is built around the device's multi-touch screen, including a virtual keyboard rather than a physical one. These web applications can be accessed by users over a network such as the Internet. They have diverse functions including: games, reference, GPS navigation, social networking, security, and advertising for television shows, films, and celebrities. As of autumn in Australia, April 2013, and as I write these words, I have not felt a need for such a device. For more details go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPhone
There are now large screen TVs, computer monitors, CDs, mini-discs, ipods and ipads, iphones and cell phones, indeed, a cornucopia of new technology that was making the old world of the photograph in an album, the idea of keeping even the digital photo in an album, somewhat passe even declasse. One rarely sees this word, declasse--acute accent on the last e--in literature these days, but it seems applicable here; it means lowered in social significance, relevance and standing, at least for many.
Time would tell just how I would respond to this change, this diversification, this amplification, in the technology of photography that had insensibly altered the rationale for the very existence of my old photo albums. Photo albums had been delighting the eye, had been part of my memorabilia, for over 60 years. As I write these words, three months before my 69th birthday, I have decided to continue to put digital photos in future albums on the same basis as those photos from cameras that I and my family have been doing since early in the 20th century. But I did not exercise this practice with much diligence. Instead, I simply kept a section of my computer directory for digital photos.
The above photo of my wife and I was taken in the autumn of 1999 in Perth Western Australia. The photo was taken in the first months of my retirement from full-time employment. I was 55 and my wife, Chris, 52. I was about to take a sea-change and move into a life of full-time writing and editing, poetizing and publishing, researching and reading, online blogging and journalism.
The above photo was taken in 2004 at the age of 60. By then I had also retired from PT and casual-volunteer work and was able to spend, on average, 6 to 8 hours most days with: reading and writing, research and independent scholarship, publishing and poetizing. This photo of me at my desk is, therefore, apt.
PHOTOGRAPHS AND MEMORABILIA
The following link provides a series of poems and essays on the photographs in my life, one of the central aspects of my memorabilia:http://bahai-library.com/price_autobiography_photographs_memorabilia
REQUEST FOR LINKS TO THIS PAGE
Occasionally I am asked by site-owners to LINK THEIR SITES to this page of my website. The following links are three examples:
AN OVERVIEW OF PHOTOGRAPHS: 1943 TO 2013
The following paragraphs cover the first 70 years of my life: 1943 to 2013. While growing up in Canada, in the years 1943-1966, and before leaving home and the region of southern Ontario, first in 1966/7 and then in 1971, my mother and then my first wife, now Judy Noack, took a serious interest in taking photos. In Australia before my divorce in 1974, Judy continued her interest in photography and had her own dark room in Whyalla South Australia in 1972. This was before our separation and divorce: 1973-5.
After 1974 until now, 2013, nearly 40 years, a series of people have contributed their part in providing the photographic base for this album: (a) the Baha’is for whom taking photos may just be their only ritual; (b) my consanguineal family in Canada and the two affinal families in my life, one in Canada and the other in Australia; and (c) friends, associations, work colleagues, inter alter, in the many other communities I was involved with in varying degrees during my life.
More recently, of course, since returning to Tasmania in 1999 and the opening of the new millennium in 2001, I have begun to receive more photos from: (a) my 2nd affinal family, the one here in Australia; (b) my wife’s consanguineal family and the affinal family from her first marriage; (c) my first wife’s, 2nd affinal family, the one from her second marriage after she and I were fully divorced in 1975; (d) my consanguineal family in Canada; (e) people I met along the road of life, Baha’is and others, who have sent me photos since this album had its embryonic existence in 1992 and, finally, (f) a new set of people I have only begun to meet since moving to George Town, Tasmania, in September 1999.
I have always thought that taking photos as a hobby, a serious leisure activity, would be a good idea. By the 1990s, with cameras becoming more versatile and cheaper, many were snapping more photos than ever, not so much in the way my first wife did with her dark room and the study of photography as a serious leisure activity, but simply as a hobby so that more photos could be enjoyed by family and friends. Circumstances, other interests, problems with the mechanical and technical aspects of life, and having others around who did the job with enthusiasm always seemed to militate against my using the camera and snapping photos. Like many things in life, the idea of taking photos more frequently than once a year, if that, remained just that: a good idea and it was never acted upon. It would seem, in retrospect, that print, talking and listening and other activities, leisure and non-leisure, would occupy me. Taking photographs was not to be one of my life's activities: not in the past and not in the future, the remaining years of my life. Such is life. Others should therefore be given credit for the contents of this album. I only arranged the deck-chairs, as they say these days.
In the last years of my teaching career: FT, PT and volunteer teaching, 1992-2005, this album had its first shaping and in the following two years, 2006-2007, this album assumed its present form. One can organize and reorganize photos, like so many other things in life forever, ad nauseam. After more than a dozen years of putting this folio of photos with their several embellishments into a useful shape for the future, I leave it now for other activities that demand my attention and hold my interest to a greater extent. I am happy with the general arrangement here. If it is to have any long term value I feel these photos are now in a form that might be useful to posterity, at least some element of a future age. Time will tell what will be their long term use, their longevity.
6/6/'07 to 12/4/'13.
THE POWER OF PHOTOGRAPHY and A ONE-WOMAN REVOLUTION
In "The Doctor Who Made a Revolution" Helen Epstein describes Sara Josephine Baker who was famous across the USA by the 1920s for saving the lives of 90,000 inner-city children. Her life in review is found in The New York Review of Books, 26 September 2013. Helen Epstein writes: "The Lower East Side of New York was one of the most densely populated square miles on the face of the earth in the 1890s. The photo-essayist Jacob Riis famously described it as a world of bad smells, scooting rats, ash barrels, dead goats, and little boys drinking beer out of milk cartons. Six thousand people might be packed into a single city block, many in tenements with sanitary facilities so foul as to repel anyone who dared approach. City health inspectors called the neighborhood “the suicide ward”; one tenement was referred to—in an official New York City Health Department report, no less—as an “out and out hog pen.”
"Diarrhea epidemics blazed through the slums each summer, killing thousands of children every week. In the sweatshops of what was then known as “Jewtown,” children with smallpox and typhus dozed in heaps of garments destined for fashionable Broadway shops. Desperate mothers paced the streets trying to soothe their feverish children, and white mourning cloths hung from every story of every building. A third of the children born in the slums died before their fifth birthday. For more go to:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/sep/26/doctor-who-made-revolution/ ."
PHOTOGRAPHY: FIXING TIME
Photographs, like the written word, are useful in the battle against Time. They are both, in some ways, my ally in the battle against the enemy of our precarious existence, ever on the offensive, and ultimately victorious. Both photographs and the written word wrest Time from the flux of duration and fix it forever in a semblance of eternity. They both give me some victory over time's many inevitabilities. They are both, as I say, my allies. I shall close this section on fixing-time with some quotations which provide a broader, a philosophical, context on the subject.
Henry van Dyke(1852-1933), a professor of English literature at Princeton between 1899 and 1923, wrote that: “Time is: Too Slow for those who Wait, Too Swift for those who Fear, Too Long for those who Grieve, Too Short for those who Rejoice; But for those who Love, Time is not.” To realize the unimportance of time is the gate to wisdom, wrote Bertrand Russell in his Mysticism and Logic. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.-Jorge Luis Borges, "A New Refutation of Time," Other Inquisitions. Each moment is the fruit of forty thousand years. The minute-winning days, like flies, buzz home to death, and every moment is a window on all time.-Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel
PHOTOGRAPHY THE UNCONSCIOUS AND MADNESS
The eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century, the years 1700-1850, were dominated by physiognomic theories of madness. These thoeries posited a one-to-one correspondence between mental states and body states: the body was seen as an undistorted image of the mind. Paradoxically, at a time when that 'objective' recording device, the camera, had not been invented yet, skepticism had not yet proven itself as serious a problem as it would become after the invention of photography. Indeed, as Temenuga Trifonova argues in an article in the online electronic journal etheory.net entitled Photography and the Unconscious: The Construction of Pathology at the Fin de siècle---that it was precisely the absence of an external recording/mirroring device (the camera) which made it possible to assume the presence of an internal mirror i.e., to conceive of the body as an 'image' of the mind.
Dr. Trifonova's research and teaching focuses on European cinema, American cinema, film theory, film genres, film remakes and adaptations, and aesthetic theory. She is the author of The Image in French Philosophy (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007) and European Film Theory (New York: Routledge, 2008). Her articles have appeared in many film and cultural journals including Cineaste, CineAction, Film and Philosophy, SubStance, Quarterly Journal of Film and Video, Kinema, Scope, Postmodern Culture, International Studies in Philosophy, The Wallace Stevens Journal, Interdisciplinary Literary Studies and in several edited collections. Professor Trifonova taught at the University of New Brunswick and the University of California, Santa Cruz before joining York's Film Department in 2008.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, Professor Trifonova writes, the new media of photography and film contributed to a shift in the understanding of attention, thereby influencing the development of the new sciences of mind (psychology and psychiatry). Challenging the assumption of the mind and the body as 'co-expressible' -- functioning as 'mirrors' of each other -- photography and film foreshadowed the 'discovery' of the unconscious and were instrumental in the reconceptualization of pathology and in the transition from physiognomic to psychological theories of madness.
As materialist theories constructing madness as purely organic and visually inscribed gradually gave way to a new understanding of consciousness and sanity in terms of attention, it became increasingly clear that inattention, distraction, automatism or absence from oneself, are, in fact, primary rather than secondary states. Paradoxically, precisely when a sophisticated technology for providing visual records of pathology was introduced, theories of pathology as visually inscribed became obsolete and pathology came to be seen as inherent in normal psychological processes.
Photography and film undermined physiognomic theories of insanity, thus blurring the distinction between sanity and insanity and contributing to the 'discovery' of the unconscious in three significant ways. First, photography and film gave rise to a new concept of the self as inherently theatrical and, by extension, of insanity as performative. Second, through its inherent, technical automatism photography revealed at the heart of any photographed movement -- not only the movements of those diagnosed with some form of insanity -- a similar, previously unsuspected, human automatism. Instantaneous photography demonstrated that what appear to be rational, purposeful movements/actions are often carried out automatically or unconsciously. Distraction and inattention -- absence from oneself -- which had previously been considered particular types of pathology now appeared to be inherent in normal psychological processes. Third, while photography was expected to provide objective records of insanity, most scientific applications of photography were driven by aesthetic concerns. To grasp the specific ways in which photography and film challenged materialist theories of insanity, it is helpful first to trace the historical transition from physiognomic to psychological theories of madness. For more go to:http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=661
LIGHT AND KNOWLEDGE
What role does light play in the translation of flesh into image? Through a reflection on the art practice of Nina Sellers, this article positions light as an instigator rather than passive illuminator of knowledge. With the advent of new technologies which are able to emanate, record and capture light, our perception of the anatomical body alters and a new body is imagined. This phenomenon leads Nina Sellers to investigate not only how light affects what we see and experience in relation to the anatomical body, but also how these perceptions and experiences are articulated through images and engaged with outside of the medical context. She proposes to examine these questions by exploring the relationship between the anatomist, the artist and the public audience in their shared observations of the anatomical body. Enacted within a notional space of an anatomy theatre – a space whose design and philosophy go back to the Renaissance – the questions and relations are addressed through a series of mediations and relocations of the anatomy theatre that she performs through her art practice.
This paper takes as its focal point the recent artwork of Nina Sellars in an exhibition entitled Anatomy of Optics and Light (2009), where the theatre is translated from its medical incarnation into an art gallery installation. Readers can also visit the interactive screen space online, which is to serve as more than mere documentation of the earlier work. Instead, it becomes yet another act of translation, with the theatrical space of the gallery being transposed into the virtual realm. For more on this subject go to:http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/view/386/408
VISUAL AND NON-VISUAL DIARIES
During the years 1927-1936 the American photographer Ansel Adams became one of the most beloved figures in American photography. He began to slow down in his late fifties,(1) but continued to work for another quarter century. When he died in 1984 he had become the first mass-marketed fine arts photographer in the world. He was obsessed by photography and worked everyday, all day, unless he was sick. -Ron Price with thanks to (1) “Ansel Adams: Part 2,” ABC TV, 10:50-11:45 p.m. 11 December 2005.
I, too, slowed down about the same age
as you, lost the big urge, the endless drive,
the sine qua non that had kept my nose
to the proverbial grindstone as long as
your nose was down and at ‘em, I suppose
about 30 to 40 years depending on how
you define and describe the time, the years.
I, too, had a wife like yours, well two,
both good women they were and are,
but it took me--as it took you--years
to work out a modus operandi in Latin
or modus vivendi. In the long run
it was a rock of stability, steadiness,
practicality so I could pursue,
in the caverns of my creativity
and its tracery, its skimming
flickerings of light, the several
imperative interests, the types of
revelation that became part of
my very creative structure.
And so it was that in our late fifties
we moved the goal posts and went
on with our obsessions, but in a form
more suited to our needs, aspirations
and capacities-with an aesthetic
imbued with emotion, to create
works that went beyond their subjects
and captured an inspired moment,
as a reminder of experience, in a diary
of sorts, yours visual and mine of words.
December 12th 2005
BRINGING IT IN WITH PICTURES
From May 1936 to April 1937, while the American Baha’i community was making its initial organizational arrangements to open the Seven Year Plan in April 1937, the first issue of Life magazine appeared. It was in the middle of this year-long planning process that the magazine appeared on the news stands, in November 1936. The 1930s to the 1950s, the period the first three collective teaching enterprises, was the “golden age” of photojournalism. The Farm Security Administration Photographic Project (1935-1942), photography historian Alan Trachtenberg has noted, “was perhaps the greatest collective effort in the history of photography to mobilize resources to create a cumulative picture of a place and time.” Twenty men and women worked under the supervision of Roy E. Stryker to create a pictorial record of the impact of the Great Depression on the nation, primarily on rural Americans.
As the Farm Security Administration, FSA:1937-1942, photographer Arthur Rothstein later recalled, “It was our job to document the problems of the Depression so that we could justify the New Deal legislation that was designed to alleviate them.” FSA photographers criss-crossed the country during most of the years of the Seven Year Plan documenting the plight of Dust Bowl refugees, southern sharecroppers, migrant agricultural workers, and finally Japanese Americans bound for internment camps in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour. Their photographs, now on line and housed in the Library of Congress, offer an unparalleled opportunity to use photographs as primary historical evidence. –Ron Price, “American Photography: A Century of Images,” ABC TV, 30 October 2005, 10:55-11:50 p.m.
As the American Baha’is began conceiving their teaching Plan in May of 1936 photojournalism was ready to take pictures of the background of events in the wider society. Just as the technology had come on-line, so to speak, in 1826 to visually document the accession of Siyyid Kazim, should humankind have been prepared at the time, so, too, did humankind possess the technology to document the immense field, the gigantic task, the mustering of the forces and resources of the historic mission of a stupendous, a holy enterprize of the American Baha’i community in 1936. Sadly, the documentation of the Baha’i experience would have to wait. –Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, October 31st, 2005.
These unobtrusive events
while humanity was entering
the outer fringes of the most
perilous stage of its existence
and as the Americans were
pulling themselves up by their
bootstraps with the help of
photojournalism and the
policies of their leaders,
these pressing, heavy,
attracted, little did we know,
unimaginable blessings with
far-reaching consequences and
possessed a lustre no less brilliant
than the immortal deeds of those
spiritual descendents of a previous age
when photography had just stuck its
head above humanity’s ground.
October 31st 2005
During the years 1954 to 1963 nine million people attended what was called ‘the greatest photographic exhibition of all times.’ It opened in January 1955 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and was based on the concept of “the family of man” and “mankind is one.” Created by Edward J. Steichen from a collection he began to prepare in 1951, the collection drew on 2 million photographs sent to him from all over the world. Indeed, while Steichen was making the final selection of 273 photographs from 68 countries whittled down from 10,000 photographs in the years 1952 to 1954, DNA was discovered and much else happened in that fertile period two year period in history.
The collection began a second life in the early 1990s in Luxembourg. The photographs were restored and the memories of the hopes and aspirations of millions of men and women, focused as they had been in the early 1950s on peace, on their concerns for the emerging Cold War and the new atomic bomb, were preserved by means of this restorative photographic process. This courageous and provocative photographic undertaking, the vision of one man, with its universal appeal to human dignity, was recreated forty years after its first opening in New York. The serious preparations for this recreation were made in a second Holy Year, 1992-3, as the final sifting of the original collection took place in the first Holy Year of the international Bahá'í community, 1952-3.–Ron Price with appreciation to “The Genius of Photography,” ABC1 TV, 28 February 2010, 11:40-12:40 a.m.
There was no real photography
family back then in those early
‘50s-just a humanistic message-
an abstract tone-poem-which in
its various ways avoided all the
historical, political, ideological1
realities which make for a true
and genuinely graphic family of
man. No photographer had in
those years commitments: not
Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert
Capa, nor David Seymour or Wm
Vandivert or any of the members
of Magnum, an organization with
no relationship with Clint Eastwood.
Cultured and not-so-cultured, modest
and not-so-modest, avoiders as well as
seekers of ostentation, these men had a
quiet and not-so-quiet sensitivity, sharp
awareness of the pain of suffering and an
understated appreciation of others' humanity,
almost as if he were attempting to restore a
more distinguished order to a senseless world.3
1 This point was given great emphasis in the doco “The Genius of Photography: Part 1,” ABC1 TV, 28 February 2010, 11:40-12:40 a.m.
2 This prose-poem does not avoid ideology and commitment, history and endless modesty and ostentation. The history of photography and the history of the Bahá'í Faith can, arguably, be taken back to 1826 when the first photograph was made. That year the US President John Adams, whose life is associated in a series of remarkable ways with the emergence of the American democracy, died and the leader of the Shaykhi school of the Ithna-Ashariyyih sect of Shi’ah Islam, Shaykh Ahmad, passed away leaving the Shaykhi School in the hands of Siyyid Kazim until 31 December 1843 at which time a negligible offshoot of that school began to emerge and, in the years ahead, was transformed into a new world religion.
3 See the internet site “1947 Founders: Magnum In Motion.”
After watching the forth and final Part on 21 March, as the autumnal and vernal equinox turned their corner, I wrote the following addition to the above prose-poem.-Ron
170 years is not such a long time
for a history to take place in the
span of a 13.6 billion year span
since the big bang. Still, a great
deal has happened on this very
mortal coil and photography has
delighted, served, moved and, yes,
outraged us all—well—not all of us.
The rigid divisions in this new art
have collapsed and, now, this art is
anything you want it to be, anything!
3 March 2010
Updated on 22 March 2010
SOME FAMOUS PEOPLE'S THOUGHTS ON PHOTOGRAPHY
I always think photographs abominable and I don't like to have them around, particularly not those of persons I know and love.-Vincent van Gogh, "Letter of September 19th, 1889," The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh.
"Due to the physical action of light and the chemical action of development," writes American author, literary theorist, feminist and political activist Susan Sontag(1933-2004), "there is a tangible link between what was photographed, through the developing process to the gaze of the viewer. It is a process involving something that has been, due to the photograph as an object, due to the action of light, due to radiations that ultimately touch me and due to the photograph being something for the gaze, the visual memory, of the viewer. The photograph of a missing being touches me like the delayed rays of a star." Sontag managed to incorporate nearly everything that has been thought or said on photography into a free-flowing argument that would become one of her perennial themes: how photographs—and by extension films and television—those “clouds of fantasy and pellets of information” have become a “pseudo-presence” more real than the real itself in a world dependent on their production and consumption.
The crush of photographs, Ms. Sontag argued, has shaped our perceptions of the world, numbing us to depictions of suffering. She would soften that position when she revisited the issue in "Regarding the Pain of Others." The Washington Post Book World called On Photography "a brilliant analysis," adding that it " merely describes a phenomenon we take as much for granted as water from the tap, and how that phenomenon has changed us - a remarkable enough achievement, when you think about it." Arguably the most important American literary figure or force of the last forty years, Sontag had many insightful things to say about photography.--Susan Sontag, On Photography, 1977.
THE HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY, PHOTOGRAPHS AND----THINKING ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHS
Go to these two links for starters:http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2008/may/01/move-closer-please/ and
SUSAN SONTAG: ON PHOTOGRAPHY
HOW to honor the memory of a multifarious figure like Susan Sontag? The Metropolitan Museum’s solution — a small, grave, beautiful photography show — is an apt one, though some people will grumble that Sontag had tributes enough in her time, and doesn’t need, or deserve, any more. For a review of this photography tribute to Sontag go to:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/18/arts/design/18sont.html?ref=leniriefenstahl For an excellent, an insightful, a reflective esaay or review of Sontag's book On Photography in The New York Times by William Gass(1924- ), an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor. go to: : http://www.nytimes.com/1977/12/18/books/booksspecial/sontag-photo.html
MORE ON SUSAN SONTAG
In 1982 I moved from Zeehan in Tasmania, where I worked in a tin mine, to a small town north of Capricorn, and 3 hours by car south of Darwin. I took-up a position as an adult educator in an open college of technical and further education. In that same year A Susan Sontag Reader was published by Chaucer Press Ltd in Suffock, UK. That book was my first serious connection with a writer whom I found to be at once stimulating and provocative. More than thirty years later I still find her writing, generally, speaks strongly to my mind and emotions. She wrote in that Reader as follows: "The openness of the world and its history inspires greed and an immense weariness. All of phenomena yield only a sameness, and a new sensibility of the equal accessibility of all, creating in the process a labyrinthine perfectionism." This comes very close to how I experience the phenomenal reality of history and writing about it. With Sontag, I find "an immense pleasure in thinking in the arts."
"The critic," says Sontag, "has the task of discarding worn-out meanings for freshness, and liberating her fellow human beings by means of an avoidance of the obvious." Her writing, like my own, is "a record of compulsions and it expresses, as well, a wish to have a superior relation to assertion." Sontag "pleas for a festive, a savouring, relation to ideas." "Writing," she is quoted as saying in this Reader, "is everything, or it's not worth bothering with." Writing "is the product of an appetite, and a perpetual renewal of the right of an individual to assertion." Sontag describes her writing as possessing "an evasive relation to politics, with moments of gentle apocalypticism. It is the great adventure of desire and pleasure with a generous relation to the world. It is an emptying-out or kenosis, and like everyone else," she goes on, "I am profoundly uncertain about what I write." To conclude with one of my favorite quotes from that enigmatic philosopher Frederick Neitzsche(1844-1900): "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger and leaves scars."
At the age of sixty-eight I now possess, as I have indicated above, a dozen albums of photographs of various sizes and shapes. They could represent, and they do, a significant aspect of my autobiography, memoir, diary and journal. This essay, this part of a chapter of what is now a 2600 page memoir, tries to put all these photographs into perspective, tries to provide readers with my personal hermeneutics of the visual, at least that part of the visual that got packaged into these twelve albums in a culture which gives hegemony in many ways to the visual. More generally, too, I provide in that part of my memoir a fragmented, an episodic, examination of the phenomenon of seeing. What the famous Italian film director and script writer Federico Fellini(1920-1993) said about film could also apply to my photographs. "My films are not for understanding," said Fellini, "They are for seeing." This essay, though, is about understanding. For the artist at the AAForum, one of the many photography forums I have joined in cyberpsace, I hope I provide some useful, some interesting, comments.
The French sociologist and philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer, Jean Baudrillard(1929-2007), is frequently associated with postmodernism and post-structuralism. Go to these two links for brief discussions of these fields which have some relevance to the subject of photography:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism
Baudrillard is often abused and is often amused. He often confuses many a student who has had to study his writings in the last 40 years. Baudrillard said that "no matter which photographic technique is used, there is always one thing, and one thing only, that remains: the light. Photography is the writing of light and this light is the very imagination of the image. Baudrillard sees his photographs as making the world a little more enigmatic and unintelligible, as exposing the very unreality of the world of appearances. Any photograph is never of any "real" world, but rather, it is a record of the momentary appearances behind which the real hides. To him, the world is essentially illusion.
MORE COMMENTS ON PHOTOGRAPHS
I certainly sense this as I look back over more than 100 years of photographs in my dozen albums, photographs of family and friends going back to 1908. Our contemporary culture of digitization and image-glut actually shrivels the ethical force of photographs of whatever type intended to elicit compassion, sensitivity or the milk of human kindness. Many, I now, would not agree with this statement, but I think the statement offers some truth even to those who are inclined to disagree with it on an initial inspection. In an age in which spectacle has usurped the place of reality in many situations, photographic images of course still have the power to evoke shock and sentiment.
Photographs, so this argument runs, are the fragmentary emanations of reality, the punctual and discrete renderings of truth, rather than the uniform grammar of a consistently unfolding tale. I would hesitate, then, to draw on my collection of photographs, however numerous, however bright and shiny, colourful and clear, as evidence of the unfolding tale of my life and its tangential connections with the lady down the street, my mother or girl friend, or even that wondrous scene over there in those paintings. All of those portrayals of reality--relay and transmit diffuse assemblages of affect, without necessarily appealing to the coherent, narrative understanding of an interpretive, rational consciousness. Now that is an interesting point of view, but what does it actually mean?
The photographic frame is not just a visual image awaiting its interpretation; it is itself actively interpreting, even forcibly making a statement. Sontag wrote that where "narratives make us understand, photographs do something else. They haunt us." Our age, she goes on, is one in which "to remember is more and more not to recall a story but to be able to call up a picture." Given the sheer sweep of the visual image in contemporary culture and politics, I struggle to come to terms with the nature of memorialisation in all its forms effected by photographs. I ponder as to what is the kind of affect relayed by photographic images as discrete and punctual fragments of reality. What, I ask myself, is the semiological universe that is being called into play by such dissociated transmissions of affectivity in all these photos.
THE CULTURE OF IMAGE-GLUT
The culture of 'image-glut' gives us a harried and, in fact, beleaguered document of reality. I am on my guard that these words of mine do not turn into something that is little more than a frustrated rant against the inhuman multiplication not just of images, but of the sacrilegious settings in which we see them. The place of the image in an era of information-overload, and the capacity of the image in such a landscape to infinitely, and perhaps "irrationally," multiply its significations in relation to continuously mobile variations gives me cause to ponder. To photograph is to frame and to frame is to exclude. My dozen volumes of photos have indeed excluded most of my life.
This would be true a fortiori of the effigy. Of all the religious and artistic treasures which a visitor may see at Westminster Abbey, the collection of eighteen funeral effigies in the Museum which I saw in London recently is perhaps the most intriguing. Carved in wood or in wax, these full-sized representations of kings, queens and distinguished public figures, many of them in their own clothes and with their own accoutrements, constitute a gallery of astonishingly life-like portraits stretching over more than four centuries of British history. Can only the dead astonish us by seeming "life-like"? Is there something lifelike in this memoir of mine? Perhaps even the living can induce the uncanny effect of an effigy from time to time—but in print. Modern celebrities, of course, do this all the time and a whole industry has been created to cater to these ‘life-like’ forms and antics. We see them day in and day out if we look at TV, magazines, indeed, any of the print and electronic media. It is hard to escape them if we wanted to, of course, we could limit our contact with them.
NOT JUST MEDITERRANEAN LIGHT
Those who return from Haifa so often seem strangely silent. They talk about their pilgrimage of course and often show photographs, photographs they have themselves taken or professional ones that can be purchased. Some pilgrims even make and show short videos. Postcards are often sent out to friends and, in the last fifteen years, emails. There seem to be silences that speak of some inner integration, inner harmony, not known before. There appears to be, for some, what is often called a peak experience, an epiphany, a new kind of life. And it is. Life is changed. Inevitably, though, the battle resumes; the old-born war continues. -Ron Price, “A Summary of a Hundred Such Conversations and Observations,” Pioneering Over Four Epochs, February 2, 1998.
I see with my own eyes the genesis
of paradise, inhabitable by anyone.
It’s poised on the peak, luminous
images crystallising its most extended
statement and few still see—for seeing
is done with the soul. Here, even now,
I have a desire to bathe in the sky, to
take a running leap and vault into the
blue, float in the air like an angel or
lie in the grass overwhelmed in some
cataleptic trance, just off the terraced
gardens where stone and sky marry, as
if I am in some perpetual dawn of man’s
awakening, grateful for having my eyes.
This is not just Mediterranean light;
it is something more, unfathomable,
holy, isolated in a metaphysical bliss.
The rocks which have been lying for
millennia, exposed to divine illumination,
are quiet and still, nestling now amid
dancing shrubs in a blood-dust-stained
soil, shrugging Dawn from their sleek height,
drinking in clumsy wonder the rising light,
marvelling that they should grow luminous
and warm with day. They do not speak, ever.
They never chorus, as well they might:
The Sun! The Sun!
And we, carried too soon from innocence
and exaltation, with all the protocols of piety
seem empty-handed and joyless even here,
with all of our knowledge’s knowingness.
2 February 1998
NO MANNA FELL FROM HEAVEN
I am at the top of the terraces and listening to a middle-aged man play an electric piano. Soon we will have dinner. Day Nine of the pilgrimage has come to an end, except for a closing ceremony in the next two hours. I am looking out over the Bay of Haifa in the early evening. This afternoon I listened to the Project Manager, Mr. Sabah, discuss the overall program of the Arc, its conception and announcement back in 1986 and its final realization in 2000-2001, before the official opening on 23 May 2001.-R Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs,13 June, 2000.
These clean cool notes
inspire my very soul,
an unplanned interlude
in the nine-day-pilgrimage
where no manna fell from heaven
as I walked amidst the marble columns,
edifices, their inaccessible mysteries
and their ordinary dust. What is here?
Only what I lavishly invest with meaning.1
Yet I stand uncomprehending before all
this beauty and what is truly awesome.
I have gazed at old photographs
and a thousand ancient stones
to get some idea of what defines us
up here on the hill and down there
on the plain across the bay by the sea.
Nothing is the same here as what there
is back home in my town on my street
by a river and by another sea.
This is no Disneyland of religious sites
soon encompassed in my camera’s sights.
As they herd us onto buses, to lunch hours,
to our various appointed assignations,
the tour guides become our friends,
for an instant, for an hour, for nine days.
As we drink our cold lemonade,
we take a deep breath,
waiting for the next instalment.
I suppose the birds won’t be dieing over Akka, today.
A light repartee is part of the language of the pilgrim.
For he must live in this new world
and satire need not be wasted on trivia.
Another pilgrim remarks how the time has flown:
The moon is full tonight, the weather’s clear.
Did you see my souvenir? They idly chatter here.
By tomorrow night they’ll all be gone.
1 Roger White, Pebbles, pp.68-9.
13 June 2000.
HEARTLESSNESS: A RESULT OF PHOTOGRAPHY?
The following is a paraphrase of Warwick Mules article in Issue 33, August - October 2004 of The Australian Humanities Review. That article is a review of Susan Sontag’s book: Regarding the Pain of Others
The ubiquity and sophistication of the photographic image, in combination with powerful telecommunication technologies, now take an ever stronger grip on the awareness and visual capacities of global communities. Heartlessness—the lack of the capacity to sympathise with the suffering of others—is, in effect, a problem of modernisation and the deterritorialisation of space and time through image technologies.
The problem of heartlessness lies at the bottom of Susan Sontag’s recently published book, Regarding the Pain of Others, an essay on photography and its power to affect the viewer with images of suffering, brutality and the inhumanity of war. For Sontag, there is an ambiguity in such images that has the potential to either make the viewer act, or withdraw the viewer from action. Sontag mentions plenty of examples, from Goya’s powerful sketches of the Peninsular War to more recent images of the Balkans conflict during the 1990s: "The pictures of Bosnian atrocities . . . became important in bolstering the opposition to a war which was far from inevitable, far from intractable, and could have been stopped much sooner. Therefore one could feel an obligation to look at these pictures, gruesome as they were, because there was something to be done right now, about what was depicted’(pp. 90-91)."
The photographs become part of a general archive where voyeuristic displays of cruelty and inhumanity simply affirm the desires and fetishes that circulate in the image economies of the post-industrial age. Sontag oscillates between these two views of the photographic image: one as a call to action, and the other as part of a cynical image culture separated by the media from the conflicts themselves and their causes.
Sontag’s book extends and revises her earlier argument on this topic in On Photography, published in 1973. In the earlier book she had written: What determines the possibility of being affected morally by photographs is the existence of a relevant political consciousness. Without a politics, photographs of the slaughter-bench of history will most likely be experienced as, simply, unreal or as a demoralizing emotional blow (On Photography, 19). Here photographs are regarded with suspicion. There is no guarantee they will lead to political action, even if their contents shock and horrify the viewer. In Regarding the Pain of Others, the suspicion that photography pacifies the viewer has been replaced by a more nuanced approach, which includes an ‘instructive’ role for photographs in the formation of public opinion. Through exhibitions of atrocities such as the lynching of blacks among many other possible examples, photography ‘eclipses other forms of understanding, and remembering’ (89).
When it all boils down, Sontag wants photographs to make us remember the event as something that really happened to someone who really suffered: ‘Remembering is an ethical act, has an ethical value in and of itself’ (p. 115). To overcome heartlessness, we must remember as an ethical act: "Heartlessness and amnesia seem to go together. But history gives contradictory signals about the value of remembering in the much longer span of a collective history. There is simply too much injustice in the world. And too much remembering embitters. To make peace is to forget. To reconcile, it is necessary that memory be faulty and limited."
So, just where does Sontag stand on photographs? Are they a powerful evidential force for political action, or are they deceptive, seductive images that lend themselves to voyeurism and consumer display? I don't think that Sontag can’t really make up her mind on this. Unlike John Ruskin, whose belief in an idealised natural order framed all of his arguments, Sontag, as a contemporary humanist, cannot appeal to such a belief, and is thus stuck with a relativistic account of the processes of image mediation, leading to the positing of an essential ambiguity at the heart of the photographic image. Modern images are ‘heartless’ no doubt, but there is no way now to retrieve the wholeness of the human spirit from the fallenness of industrialisation. This would explain the vacillations, wanderings and hesitancies that pepper her book, an unwillingness to come up with a solution or to settle on a line of action.
In my approximately 30 volumes of letters and emails, readers will find yet more visual material which I have not mentioned elsewhere. If readers dig enough, if such be their desire for whatever reason, due to some particular family interest that develops, for example, after my death; due to some group’s interest in an aspect of arts and letters or history and biography; or due to some altered circumstances associated with the rapid evolution of the Faith I have been associated with for over half a century, they will find more of the visual. I conclude the introductory section of this binder Volume 1.3.1 with the following ideas which, when I first came upon them in the world of Susan Sontag's writings, I found intellectually stimulating. And so, I pass them on to readers who may, perchance, find them equally so.
Our contemporary culture of digitization and image-glut may actually shrivel the ethical force of photographs of atrocity, violence and trauma, so argued this leading commentator on American culture in my time in her now famous book On Photography published in 1977. Sontag argued that there is “a suspicion of Anything that seems literary.” Whether in an age in which spectacle has usurped the place of reality, photographic images still have the power to evoke shock and sentiment is a complex question, too complex to deal with here. Nor is it my intention to provide even a short summary of Sontag’s ideas here, although readers will find that summary later in this sub-section at my website. Photographs are the fragmentary emanations of reality, the punctual and discrete renderings of truth, rather than the uniform grammar of a consistently unfolding tale. I'm not sure that this matters much; indeed, it is difficult to know exactly what does matter in life. We each must choose our agenda of what matters.
The photographic frame is not just a visual image awaiting its interpretation; it is itself interpreting, actively, even forcibly. Sontag most famously writes that where "narratives make us understand: photographs do something else. They haunt us." In an age in which she herself says "to remember is more and more not to recall a story but to be able to call up a picture." Given the sheer sweep of the visual image in contemporary culture and politics, I struggle to come to terms with the nature of memorialization in all its forms, that is the memorialization effected by photographs. I ponder as to what is the kind of affect relayed by photographic images as discrete and punctual fragments of reality. Beauty can reside, says Sontag, in any photo, however banal, however random; photography conflates the notion of the beautiful and the interesting. Photography aestheticizes the whole world; perhaps this is true, a fortiori, of other print and electronic media.
The culture of 'image-glut' is a harried and, in fact, beleaguered document that swims across the surface of our world and is often little more than a frustrated rant against the inhuman multiplication not just of images, but of the sacrilegious settings in which we see them. The place of the image in an era of information-overload and the capacity of the image in such a landscape to infinitely and perhaps irrationally multiply its significations is indeed a complex one. These words, these ideas I have put on paper here in the introduction to this photo album, are simply suggestive of a world of analysis of photographs, a world I explore to some extent in other places.
To photograph is to frame and to frame is to exclude. So wrote Manisha Basu in his Review of Susan Sontag's book Regarding the Pain of Others, Picador, NY, 2003 in Postmodern Culture, 2006. Much is excluded here in this album; indeed most of my life. But some of it has been captured for readers who might enjoy some of the delights herein; some of my life has been captured for others who would normally not have experienced what I experienced. For each of us has a unique experience even if we share much in common. Fragments of reality are elevated to privileged positions, Sontag says. I like that idea. It seems at least partly true. And there is poignancy here and a kind of pathos—and I trust not a little joy.
27 May 2007
Often, for reasons of vanity or the intimate connection between identity and beauty, because a person thinks they are not particularly attractive, some people often dislike having their photo taken. Their best sides, most attractive selves, are not fixed in the photo and some undesirable image is presented to the world. Inga Clendinnen(1934- ), Australian historian and author, anthropologist and academic, thinks that photographs challenge and corrupt memory. Most of us, she goes on, remember individuals through time as a sort of moving collection of lights, vague images or an indistinct melody. If you think of how you might describe people who've mattered to you it's never in terms of a static photograph. I find this to be very true of my own experience. People, of course, will be in your memory bank, but it is as an action or actions not an image or images. It might be as a glance, a particular movement; it might be a sensation you get when you see them or think of them. It might be a feeling of happiness or sadness, nostalgia or warmth.
The memory of some people is associated with a distinctive melody; this melody may surround the person in question. Clendinnen thinks that photographs cannibalize and oversimplify this complicated moving memory, this sequence of indistinct memories that we all have. Photographs tend to fix our memories into a form and it is a form at a time and place. For Clendennin photographs are a violation of the actuality she wants to cherish in her memory. -Ron Price with thanks to Inga Clendinnen, “Interview,” Internet Site, November 10th, 2001.
Yes, Inga, a lot of what you say
is true, but there is so much more
to this business of the photograph.
They quietly pierce my vision.
They also help maintain, integrate
and enhance my cultural identity
through their role in society’s
main symbol systems.
They seem to be part of me.
This pictorial backdrop
both reveals and conceals.
They mobilize my memory.
They simultaneously document
and yet undercut the narrative.
They reduce and enhance reality
in frozen moments, a pseudo-intimacy.
They help us in a reenactment,
the conquest of the world as picture,
but I say: is this really me….or you?
The first photograph in my collection
is from 1908--the year He was set free.
Then a flood came in and after ’53:
photos for me and a new and vibrant
wind for all humanity, or so He said.
Can I keep the freshness of those instants
in the world around me amidst vast and
pervasive incoherence and complexity?
Can those radiations still touch me?
April 9th 2006
The subject of photography is interesting AND I HAVE MUCH MORE TO SAY--but I will leave it here for this my first draft of this page on the subject "photography." I will close not with my own words but with some of the insights and highlights from Sontag's book On Photography arguably the most provocative book written on the subject in the last 40 years.
In her essay On Photography Sontag says that the evolution of modern technology has changed the viewer in three key ways. She calls this the emergence of a new visual code. Firstly, Sontag suggests that modern photography, with its convenience and ease, has created an overabundance of visual material. As photographing is now a practice of the masses, due to a drastic decrease of camera size and increase of ease in developing photographs, we are left in a position where “just about everything has been photographed” (Sontag, Susan, (1977), On Photography 3). We now have so many images available to us of: things, places, events and people from all over the world, and of not immediate relevance to our own existence, that our expectations of what we have the right to view, want to view or should view has been drastically affected. Arguably, gone are the days that we felt entitled to view only those things in our immediate presence or that affected our micro world; we now seem to feel entitled to gain access to any existing images. “In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notion of what is worth looking at and what we have the right to observe” (3). This is what Sontag calls a change in the “ethics of seeing” (3).
Secondly, Sontag comments on the effect of modern photography on our education, claiming that photographs “now provide most of the knowledge people have about the look of the past and the reach of the present”(4). Without photography only those few people who had been there would know what the Egyptian pyramids or the Parthenon look like, yet most of us have a good idea of the appearance of these places. Photography teaches us about those parts of the world that are beyond our touch in ways that literature can not.
Thirdly, Sontag also talked about the way in which photography desensitizes its audience. Sontag introduced this discussion by telling her own story of the first time she saw images of horrific human experience. At twelve years old, Sontag found images of holocaust camps and was so distressed by them she says “When I looked at those photographs something broke... something went dead, something is still crying” (20). Sontag argues that there was no good to come from her seeing these images as a young girl, before she fully understood what the holocaust was. For Sontag the viewing of these images has left her a degree more numb to any following horrific image she viewed, as she had been desensitized. According to this argument, “Images anesthetize” and the open accessibility to them is a negative result of photography (20).
Sontag examines the relationship between photography and reality. Photographs are depicted as a representation of realism. Sontag claimed that “such images are indeed able to usurp reality because first of all a photograph is not only an image, an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stenciled off the real (Sontag, Susan (1982), The Image World 350). It is a resemblance of the real as the photograph becomes an extension of the subject. However, the role of the photograph has changed, as copies destroy the idea of an experience. The image has altered to convey information and become an act of classification. Sontag highlights the notion that photographs are a way of imprisoning reality- making the memory stand still. Ultimately images are surveillance of events that trigger the memory. In modern society, photographs are a form of recycling the real.
When a moment is captured it is assigned a new meaning as people interpret the image in their own manner. Sontag claims that images desensitize the reality, as people's perceptions are distorted by the construction of the photograph. However this has not stopped people from consuming images; there is still a demand for more photographs. Sontag observed some uses of photography, “Photography has become one of the principal devices for experiencing something, for giving an appearance of participation” (Sontag,1977 10), such as memorizing and providing evidence. She also states that “to collect photographs is to collect the world.” (Sontag,1997 3)
Sontag believes that photography implies that we know about the world if we accept it as the camera records it. She states that photography has ‘become one of the principal devices for experiencing something, for giving an appearance of participation’. She refers to photographs as memento mori, where to take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability and mutability. The progression from written word to an image shifts the interpretation from the author to the receiver. Sontag believes however that ‘photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire’. It is a slice in time and in effect, is more memorable than moving images for example, videos. It fills the gaps in our mind of the past and present. Even though photography has such effect, there are limits to photographic knowledge of the world. The limitations are that it can never be interpreted ethical or political knowledge. It will always be some kind of sentimentalism, whether cynical or humanist. For the references in the above go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Sontag#A_new_visual_code
TELLING THE STORY
Most of us, without particularly meaning to, have accumulated--from commercials, from ads in magazines, from picture books, from movies--a mental archive of images of the West, a personal West-in-the-Mind’s eye in which we see an eternal pastoral, very beautiful but usually unpeopled. These potent images, pelting us decade after decade, finally implant notions about how the West was explored and developed, in a word, won---that are unrealistic. Photography has helped to redress the balance little by little with its rich but disordered resource. Over the last seventy years studies of various kinds and the occasional autobiography, like We Pointed Them North(1939), have helped to alter the picture that is engraved on all our brains from TV and the movies: Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey, the Lone Ranger, Butch Cassidy, et al. -Ron Price with thanks to Larry McMurtry, “High Noon”, a review of The New Encyclopedia of the American West, editor Howard R. Lamar, Yale UP, in The Australian Review of Books, December 1988, pp.17-19.
The enterprise began, perhaps as early as 1894 when the first Baha’is landed in America from the Middle East, or even when the Letters of the Living travelled throughout Iran in 1844 and thereafter. The twenty-five years from 1894 to 1919 was a precursor to the year 1919 when the Tablets of the Divine Plan were read and a pioneering program began that is now eighty years old. It is a program that is immensely diverse and operates at local, regional, national and international levels. It is important, as the Baha’i community comes to describe this vast and complex story, that it avoids a tendency to an affinity with the reverential writers of medieval England, to endless edification and to what is called hagiography. There is a need to emotionally individualize stories so that readers will not have to piously wade through hundreds of pages of lifeless prose.-Ron Price with thanks to Edward Morrison,”When the Saints Come Marching In: The Art of Baha’i Biography”, Dialogue, Vol.1 No.1, Winter 1986, pp.32-35.
touching on the personal,
bringing people out of
Needing an eye
for telling detail,
a certain dramatic power,
analysis and interpretation,
with incisiveness and conviction,
with no doubt about its being true,
a willingness to deal with the unpleasant,
for we need more than a glimpse.
We need the story of the saintliness
in all its unsaintliness.
It is as difficult to write
a good life as to live one.
We want to know we are not alone:
for the community is its own ritual,
the greatest drama in the world of existence,
something forever new and unforeseen,
devoid, in writing, of appearances and pretentions,
a mysterious development, this writing, of many values,
conveying to the reading public
insight and a knowing who they are
into their lives.
1 February 1999