Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A MANIFESTO for neo-humanistic photography

Notes toward

A MANIFESTO for neo-humanistic photography

one possible application is as a resolution for dissonance between two aesthetics

i) fine art photography & ii) photographic societies/RPS aesthetics

ver 1 - 5th April 2012


Which ground needs to be cleared?

WHAT IS PHOTOGRAPHY?  Like cave painting, and other visual art forms, photography is simply a way to to make marks - ones that last reasonably well.

There are broadly two classes of photography -

record photography, objective/scientific in nature, and fine art photography, subjectively expressive in nature.  

These two can very occasionally morph into the other - perhaps unmade beds are an example!

Record photographs are for example police mugshots, scientific shots of the brain or rocks or animals or flora.

After 100 years the supposition is still that they = faithfully represent objective reality.

Art photographs are subjective expressions/constructions of how the artist sees or experiences the world.

Record photographs have meaning - objectively.  Its conventions are set by science & special purposes e.g scientists, police etc

Fine Art photographs have meaning - subjectively.  Its conventions derive from the great ongoing (art) educational dialogue.

Some of these are meaning-full for us as individuals, some are meaning-less.

The worth or value for record photography lies in verisimilitude, faithful technique to exclude subjectivity as far as possible - the focus is the thing in and of itself - for whatever is the purpose.

The frame of reference, the evaluative model, is all other photographs of, for example, red admiral butterflies, plus red admiral butterflies seen ‘in nature’ - plus the need of the ‘uses’ -  such as electron-microscopy for scientific research.

Fine art photography has as its frame of reference the perpetual ‘great conversation’ that has taken place about art.

Verisimilitude was important say in the 18thC but with the invention of photography art generally took an inward turn - ‘this is how I experienced my chair and room and sunflowers and the country around Arles’.  

This turning point may well have been the (genuine?) crafts-art dividing point as well.

Going inward in photography took much longer.

         Was Minor White a ‘pre-inward’ photographer of the ‘spiritual’?     

                   See the work of this guy -

Two people who really enlarge the notion of ‘internal’ are Cindy Sherman and Calum Colvin in his Ossian project.

         ‘Ossian’ Reviews HERE

I distinguish between the philosophy of Humanism and the view of being human as presented by Maslow et. al.  It is from within a humanistic world-view that this argument is presented.

My neo-humanistic world-view in a nutshell is as follows.

The difference between a normal healthy functioning human being and a corpse is the life-force.  

I call this life-force (chi in Chinese) the human spirit.  

It is useful to relate the expressions of the human spirit as ‘the 4Cs’, 3 inner Cs and 1 outer C.

These are the modes & expressions of the human spirit -

with them  we ‘read the world’, intuit, come to know, exchange ideas and develop levels of consciousness.  (I take Archbishop Tutu to have a higher level of consciousness than Charles Manson.)

All expression can be seen as combinations ‘inwardly’ of Caring, Criticality & Creativity & ‘outwardly’ being in and via the 4th C acting in community.   
INWARDLY ( intra-personally)

Caring     - is the mode of our being & thinking & doing the social-moral truth sphere.

Criticality - is the mode of our being & thinking & doing in the scientific-philosophic, the objective truth sphere.

Creativity - is the mode of our being & thinking & doing in the arts, revelatory, subjective truth sphere.

OUTWARDLY (inter-personally)

All the Caring, Criticality & Creativity we express, & receive, is in various levels, ‘onion rings’, of Community/ies - from friendship to families to the global family of humankind.

Culturally these three modes of expression, & of receiving the world, are the great ‘store-houses’ of the Humanities, the Sciences & the Arts

The 3 intra-personal modes Caring, Creativity & Criticality are also called the  WE, I & IT  voices by Ken Wilber.

The 4Cs is part of the SunWALK model which is a foundation for science, the arts & humanities, for education and for social activism.  Diagrammatically it is represented in this logo;

A fuller account of the SunWALK model is HERE

Seeking the intrinsic nature of photog is as blind an alley, as seeking the intrinsic nature of brushes, pigments and canvas.  Art flows from the human spirit not from the camera or paint-brushes.

Always the relevant nature lies in what it means to be human, and have human experience, including aesthetic experience.  The great (and infuriatingly frustrating) Camera Lucida by Barthes is ultimately about the dynamics of the human spirit not about light-tight boxes, optics etc.  

This is a vital insight:

"To me photography is the simultaneous recognition in a fraction of a second the significance of an event, as well as the precise organization the forms that give that event its proper expression." -Henri Cartier-Bresson,

but this is even more vital;

Photography is an immediate action; drawing a meditation For me photography is to place head heart and eye along the same line of sight. It is a way of life. - Henri Cartier-Bresson

except I would say that the head-heart-eye flow (ideally) secures an image that both reflects a meditative state and, in the ‘reader’, induces a meditative state.


Aesthetic experience is the subjective reading, or de-coding, of the event that gives us the kind of experience we call aesthetic.  

My preference is to not confine the aesthetic to ‘beauty’, but to take take ‘truth, beauty & goodness’ as the three dimensions of a  single reality - that reality being the three modes, or ‘primar colours’ of the human spirit.

Often, and at best, the aesthetic experience is ‘pre-conceptual’ - thinking & talking about it, if at all, is what comes afterwards

Two haiku serve as examples;

A lightning flash:

between the forest trees

I have seen water.

Shiki Masaoka (1867-1902)


The summer river:

although there is a bridge, my horse

goes through the water.


Shiki Masaoka (1867-1902)

‘RPS’ and Fine Art photography - a collision of two aesthetics

Unlike say the miners who were ‘primitive’ and ‘folk’ artists, i.e the Pitman Painters, the RPS (?) and Clubs have successfully avoided or prevented connection with the great art conversation.

Little bits from the great conversation occasionally leak in and fine art photographs emerge in spite of the oppression, seemingly by accident -  and what’s more are often recognized by judges and by many members. So what’s lacking - knowledge, appropriate language or what?

POSSIBLE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TWO AESTHETICS - mainly negative ones to start with!


Boys with toys - anti feminine
Clockwork - non-holistic
Nerdiness - wonderful example of Nerdiness - aircraft cockpits HERE 
Aesthetic is driven as a box-ticking set of negatives. Light bits take your eye away from central subject, background of flower/butterfly insufficiently de-focussed,

Some Judges are self-indulgent, painfully ignorant, destructive in their remarks particularly toward newbies, have only vague notions of categories and appear through inconsistency to have no coherent model with which to work.

Fine art

Some say it is run by a ‘mafia’ of curators and dealers  + some ‘I’ve made-it’ artists, brilliant like Hockney and less so like Tracy Emin.

Described/championed/controlled by up-their-own selves critics speaking psycho-babble - people who have no simplicity or depth.  

With some their language exists to assert dominance over others and to act as privileged gate-keepers, wielding power, or as enticers of the gullible rich.

The positives

I don't doubt that the positives will come to me soon - with others help!


NB very rough Ver 1 at 5th April 2012

Posted via email from sunwalking's posterous

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