Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Photographic Philosophy: The Photograph as an Entity

Those who know me have heard all this before but it is so important to my concept of photography that it requires continued examination until I fully understand my relationship to this concept in the creation of and viewing of a photograph

A photograph is an entity unto itself totally separate from the subject, the photographer and the equipment used. It should be seen on it’s own merit as a work of flat art comparable to any other flat art.

At best a photograph is a flat, two-dimensional object bordered on four sides and wholly—wholly—contained within those borders.

It is no more the subject than a painting is the subject.

As attached as the photographer might be, it is not the photographer.

Nor is it the camera or the software.

It is an entity unto itself whose success or failure lies totally within its borders.

Everything about a photograph exists nowhere else outside of its borders.

Why is it that we can look at a painting and see it as a painting, not as the subject but as a rendition of a subject done by the artist, but we cannot look at a photograph and see it as a photograph, a rendition of reality done by the photographer?

Why do we insist on limiting a photograph by seeing it only as its subject, which it isn’t?

Why, as photographers, do we insist on seeing subjects as photographs without moving to understand either beyond a physical appearance?

My photographic goal is to see a photograph as this single entity and to understand what it says on its own. That is not always easy, but I intend to continue trying.


  1. either it is to early for me to grasp this or I am not sure about it. I had thought that the image was an extension of the photographers eye/mind/heart making the image a part of them in some way. But I am not clear on this so i won't say more.

  2. Photo Paul, true, to a degree. As example, the child is an extension of the parent. However, the child, like the photograph, is an entity totally apart from the parent and is, as it should be, viewed as such. The photograph is an entity totally apart from the subject as well as the photographer or the equipment and must be viewed as such.

    Not to negate the photographer or the parent but the success of their product, the photograph or the child, is dependent upon the end product.

    What I am saying is that the photograph should be viewed as the elements, every element, that falls within the borders of the photograph, as it does not exist beyond those borders.

    It is the same with the child who is viewed on his own character traits and personality. The photograph succeeds or fails on its elements; the child succeeds or fails on the makeup of its characteristics. Both should offer substances on their own merits and that substance is what we should be looking for in either.

    It is difficult to separate this out as a stand alone from “there is no such thing as good or bad technique,” “the painter adds the photographer subtracts” and “all photographs make two statements.” They are all interrelated.

    I am simply trying to address my belief that some photographs unfortunately are the subject and some photographs are not the subject and until the photograph is not the subject it is not a photograph. Clear as mud, right?

  3. Wow Gary! I want to understand, but for now I cant quite see past the mud. Really enjoying your blogging btw... :) Scott A

  4. Scott, you have dug deep to bring up this rant. LOL I had forgotten writing this one but over the years I have written on this subject dozens of times. In 2008 I had a separate blog dedicated to the discussion of photographs. It went very well for two or three years. But like all things it finally ran its course, meaning that everyone probably got tired of my rants. I just feel that I am so far in left field that I am totally out of step with everyone else. I cannot recall whether it was Bruce Bingham or George Barr that wrote that there are two types of photographers; those that are only interested in the verisimilitude (appearance of reality) and those that feel that the photograph can transcend this illusion of reality as a means of self expression. I feel that I vacillate between the two. I want to be in the second group but much too often finding myself in the first. I appreciate you bringing this to my attention once again.