A Philosophy of Photography

The other day I came across a short little book — Vilém Flusser’s Towards a Philosophy of Photography— and skimmed through it, dipping in here and there, getting a taste of how a German philosopher viewed the act/art of photography. Flusser’s book first appeared in German in 1983 as Für eine Philosophie der Fotografie. In it, he suggests that the the parameters of the camera itself control the photographer and not the other way around.

The camera controls the final image, not the photographer’s eye.

What an interesting concept. I am not sure I agree.

And then I turned again to Susan Sontag’s famous essay, On Photography.

Sontag suggests that act of photography is one of aggression, meant to capture images of the world and allow a certain process of democratization to occur.

What an interesting concept. I am not sure I agree.

Both Flusser and Sontag touch on something very revealing: photography — ever since its beginnings in 1839 — offers a way to document the world quite unlike painting or writing.

In photographs, the viewer sees a version of the world created in part by the camera, yes, but he or she gazes at the world through the eyes of the photographer, too.

This is my version of winter, dead leaves, the sensation of the tree weeping, longing for warmth and sun and skies filled with birds singing. And yet, it is all there. In the photograph.

Look closely. The tiny buds turn their pointed little faces upward, welcoming the icy rain falling from the grey and forbidding sky. And there lies the future, whispering of days to come, when the branches and the twigs no longer resemble skeletons, the stuff of dark nights and long afternoons.

So I gaze again and know now what I missed when I pointed the camera and clicked the shutter button. All I saw at that moment was snow and the movement of the branches in the wind. But when the image sputtered onto my computer screen, and I enlarged it, I could see so much more.

And that is why I envision photography as a way to meld with the world, realizing concretely a sense of oneness with everything there. The camera is my eye on the world, not just a machine that determines how I see it all.