Reading Flusser “Towards a Philosophy of Photography”

A few weeks ago I listened to a podcast episode from Brooks Jensen, where he remarked that the docent in a museum he was at would talk about the technical aspects of a painting or sculpture, but about the social aspects of a photograph (ignoring any technical achievement).

Vilém Flusser ([1983] Towards a Philosophy of Photography, Reakton Books, 2000) has a paragraph on this very topic:

This apparently non-symbolic, objective character of technical images leads whoever looks at them to see them not as images but as windows. Observers thus do not believe them as they do their own eyes. Consequently they do not criticize them as images, but as ways of looking at the world (to the extent that they criticize them at all). Their criticism is not an analysis of their production but an analysis of the world. (p 15)

Like with most philosophy books, I understand what all the words mean individually, but I struggle with understanding what they mean when strung together in this fashion. However, I do know that Flusser distinguishes “technical images” from “traditional images” (in short, photography vs. painting) based on how many levels of interpretation is involved (traditional — one deals with the artist; technical — one deals with the underlying science as abstracted by a camera). Like I said, struggling.

Who the fuck’s bright idea was this?!


Kenton Nelson, Two Brothers Employ

(Reblogged from pictorialautobiography)

Barbara Tozier, Borrowed Evil

The two forms of visual expression, representational and abstract, have been passionately discussed and mutually derided during the last years. If one did not decide for or against one or the other, one was suspected of lack of character. In reality, as far as contemporary means of perception go, the two forms of visual expression have so little in common that they cannot be evaluated on equal terms. The confusion has its origin in muddy realizations and incongruent application of means and terminologies. In the accelerated tempo of our time we cannot afford to be fuzzy about causal relationships and their visualizations. No one today is outside the influence of contemporary values, whether ideas or objects.

The same driving force that incessantly pounds innovations into the consciousness of every newspaper reader, every telephone user, every radio listener, every ordinary consumer, is also behind modern art. It is the purest concentration of the organic-functional element as synthetical experiment of all creative goals. We are witnessing today the pressure of a tremendous increase in intellectual and technological development which is transposed into the first groping attempts at sublimation through contemporary means of form and expression.

-L. Moholy-Nagy, “Isms or Art” (Originally published in Vivos Voco, Leipzig 1926), translated by S. Moholy-Nagy and printed in Moholy-Nagy: An Anthology edited by Richard Kostelanetz.

On reading two biographies at once

I was yammering away yesterday about how much I liked Moholy-Nagy, but some of the details as to why actually belong to Kandinsky.

Ah well, I’d probably lose points on that exam.

"People are taught that the best way of living is to buy other people’s energy, to use other people’s skill. In other words, a dangerous metropolitan dogma developed that the different subject matters are best handled by experts and no one should violate the borders of his specialized work or profession. So through the division of labor and the mechanized methods not only the production of daily necessities and goods has passed into the hands of specialists but almost every outlet of the emotional life as well. Today the artist-specialists have to provide for emotions. They are paid—if they are—for that. The sad consequence is that the biological interest in everything within the spheres of human existence becomes suffocated by the tinsel of a seemingly easygoing life."

— Moholy-Nagy, from “The Contribution of the Arts to Social Reconstruction” (1943) in Moholy-Nagy: An Anthology edited by R Kostelanetz.


Man standing behind tank of glowing liquid
ca. 1945
gelatin silver print
24.4 x 19.5 cm.
National Origin: United States
Gift of 3M Foundation; ex-collection of Louis Walton Sipley

Like the guy in the back holding the background.

(Reblogged from eastmanhouse)

Barbara Tozier, China Cap

A food preparation device. Though I think I prefer to call it “Rocket Ship.”

(Practicing using single-light setups.)