by adrianpark on September 21, 2011
[The progress of the project so far has been documented extensively in Evernote. This series of posts pulls together this documentation in a more coherent form and provides an account of the progress so far rather than the documentation itself]
After building and experimenting with the Poetic Camera, and liking the results, I felt that I had stumbled across something interesting. But I figured that if I wanted to develop it further, I had to get to the bottom of exactly what it is I liked about it, what makes the device unique and what attributes of the device should be investigated and developed further. So, as mentioned in the previous post, I shelved the device and started thinking about these questions from a theoretical perspective, trying to pick apart the device.
During this time I discovered the writings of Vilém Flusser, particularly The Gesture of Photographing which, in contrast to most other writing and thinking on photography, focusses not on the photographic image but on the act of photography. In The Gesture of Photographing, Flusser examines the act of photographing from a phenomenological perspective. One of the main arguments stemming from this examination is that photography be treated as form of philosophy. By this rationale, by changing various aspects of the gesture, the philosophical perspective is changed – we get a different view and experience of the world.
In my own photographic practice, I’m more concerned with representing my own experience of the world than with reflecting an objective view of the world. Reading Flusser, I realised that, through photography, I was engaged in a philosophical enquiry with the world – observing it in detail, considering it from various different perspectives, interpreting it through different conceptual filters and ultimately forming ideas or theories about the world through this enquiry. I came to the realisation that the tool of my enquiry – the digital camera – was inherently embedded with a programme that was frustrating my enquiry. Ultimately, I realised that what I found so compelling about the Poetic Camera device was that it enabled me to alter the programme of the camera at a fairly fundamental level and in a way that enables me to explore, discover, enquire and learn about the world in a less restrictive manner than a standard digital camera would.
A decided to explore this line of enquiry further in an essay written as part of the theory side of the Digital Media Master of Research programme. The introduction to this essay is included below and the full essay is available for download here: Exorcising the Apparatus or How Not To Be Possessed by the Camera (note that it does not reference Flusser’s The Gesture of Photographing as the English translation written by and very kindly provided to me by Nancy Roth has not yet been published). The essay does make reference to Renée Creager O’Brien’s thesis, The Post-Romantic Vision of Contemporary Pinhole Photographers. Though I have never done any pinhole photography myself, in reading this thesis I realised that there was a high degree of correlation between my approach to photography and the approach of pinhole photographers and between the program (Flusser, 2007, p. 10) of the Poetic Camera and the program of pinhole cameras. The following post discusses these correlations and how they may inform the development of the Poetic Camera.
The form of modern digital cameras reflects a particular preoccupation of photographers, a preoccupation apparent from the dawn of photography: that of obtaining an exact mirror, and some might say, reproduction of the camera’s subject. But the creation of representational images is not the only use of the tool: many use the camera for a more subjective, individual exploration and recording of the world. Mainstream cameras, with their focus on accuracy and objectivity, limit the potential of the tool for these, more poetic, pursuits. Traditionally, the relatively high costs and technical knowledge required by photographers to create their own cameras has limited the scope for alternative uses of the tool. Now, digital cameras, based on software and information processing principles, provide new opportunities for photographers to modify their functions for novel and unique purposes. This essay aims to demonstrate the bias towards accuracy and objectivity in the camera’s evolution and to establish how software may provide photographers with the means to subvert this evolution to create new and interesting forms of photographic tool.
Flusser, V. (2007) Towards a Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.