Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Nature of Photographs Redux

The Nature of Photographs Stephen Shore's seminal meditation on the essence of photographs has been reisssued. Phaidon has published a hard back version complete with more plates and a slightly updated text. In the new text he adds "...or a digital file" to the end of the original paragraph which explains that,

"This book explores ways of understanding the nature of photographs, that is, how photographs function-and not only as the most elegant or graceful photographs, but all photographs made with a camera and printed directly from the negative." p.3 1988 edition.

This books leans heavily on John Szarkowski whose, The Photographer's Eye, (1966) attempted via five discreet catogories, The Thing Itself, The Detail, The Frame, Time, and Vantage Point, "... to consider the history of the medium in terms of photographers' progressive awareness of characteristics and problems that have seemed inherent in the medium." In this spirit, Shore offers: The Physical Level (the materiality of the print or image on the screen), The Depictive Level (what is shown), The Mental Level, and Mental Modelling. The final two catagories are where things get interesting. The mental level describes how our mind constructs the image. Shore points out that you can feel your mind refocusing as your eyes travel through the space of the picture. The mental level hinges upon focus.

"Focus is the bridge between mental and depictive levels: focus of the lens, focus of the eye, focus of attention, focus of the mind." p.98 (2007) ed.

This feeds into the Mental Model which is my favorite catagory. Photographers make pictures with the idea of what makes a "good" photograph. As we make new photographs, question our own images, explore the work of others, our models shift. If we are curious, and our mental models can then be made more fluid. We can then make new kinds of pictures.

"...And all the while, as your awareness is shifting and your mental model is metamorphosing, your are reading this book, seeing these words-these words, which are only ink on paper, the ink depicting a series of funny little symbols whose meaning is conveyed on the mental level. And all the while, as your framework of understanding shifts, you continue to read adn to contemplate the nature of photographs." p.117 (2007 ed.)

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