Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The Photo Is Not the Subject...yeah, again
This evening Michael Young sent me notes on an article written by Minor White back in 1963 (back in what I consider my formative period of photography). White is writing about Stieglitz’s concept of Equivalence from the 1920’s. We are going to discuss the notes at breakfast Thursday because frankly Scarlet, I am not sure that I am intelligent enough to understand either White or Stieglitz. I get the basics but I do have a hard time fully wrapping my head around this concept of Equivalence. I guess the biggest question I have is how abstract the image has to be to function as Equivalence. Or does it even have to be abstract. It seems that every image that is used to illustrate Equivalence is abstract. Hopefully, Michael, can help with that.
Anyway, a particular statement from the notes struck a chord with me and it has to do with the photograph is not the subject rant that I often go off on. White writes:
“In the world of photography the vast majority of viewers remain so subject-identification bound that they stay ignorant of the expressive qualities of shapes and forms or are unable to overcome their fear of letting themselves go and responding to expressive shapes or colors, that is, the design side of the pictorial experience.”
I do not know that White is actually saying the same thing but he surely implies that there is much more to a photograph beyond the depiction of the object photographed.
Here again, Equivalence is being tied to design. My question is, cannot a normal photograph function as an experience, a symbol, a metaphor? I guess I am curious as to just how tightly Stieglitz drew the concept.
White explains Equivalence on three levels, the first being the graphic level where he says, "While we cannot describe its appearance, we can define its function. When any photograph functions for a given person as an Equivalent we can say that at that moment and for that person the photograph acts as a symbol or plays the role of a metaphor for something that is beyond the subject photographed. We can say this in another way; when a photograph functions as an Equivalent, the photograph is at once a record of something in front of the camera and simultaneously a spontaneous symbol."
Personally, from that definition I cannot see why almost any photograph cannot serve as an Equivalent, at least on this level.
I am not one to contradict Minor White but I have always worked on the assumption that it wasn’t necessarily fear but rather the lack of being exposed to the concept that the photograph is not the object photographed that prevents people from seeing that there is so much more to a photograph. However after the last three or so years I am beginning to wonder if it is not more than that. There simply seems to be a resistance to seeing the photograph as anything other than its subject matter. Maybe White is correct. I know that Ralph Hattersley Jr. approached almost every photograph from its psychological ramifications. I always get a lot of resistance when I discuss Hattersley’s readings of photographs—maybe it is fear.