The phenomenon of photography

Photography is perhaps the most characteristic phenomenon of our age. It’s irreplaceable in science, in the media, and has become so connected to ordinary life that we no longer ponder its multiple forms, functions and exposure. We have taken photography for granted, but at the same time, it has ironically become a significant part of our reality.
We can only assume that hopefully, the next generation will be able to absorb intellectually its indisputable role in the field of arts. They will no longer disparage photography as an artist’s means of expression or ignore it amongst other forms of art just because it has found practical uses and has been subject to mass dispersion throughout civilization.

Photography and architecture are by far the most loyal forms of art. Nevertheless, not every structure is an artistic masterpiece; the same applies to photographs. Both of these fields surprisingly have a lot in common; they create the space we flow in and determine its visual aspect. Both fulfill our needs and create new ones. Similarly, they have multiple layers of nature and character, as well as a debatable fate. We live within images, symbols and signs. Etymology explains the origin of the word photography in two Greek words: phos (light) and graphé (drawing / brush).

autpr:Dorothea Lange
A picture giving face to the Great Depression,
author: Dorothea Lange

‘Drawing with light’, a person cannot resist this notion, symbolizing the genesis of a new image. No wonder we are predetermined to perceive and judge photography based on the mechanism known as artistic painting. Not only the philosophy but also the history of art is obsessed with this comparison variations of it. However, it is an attempt to pass judgment on and systematize something unknown by a proven entity. Photography is an individual factor in itself. It does not need to be compared to other aspects of art or anything else for that matter. The belief that photography is just a continuation of paintings is as pathetic as claiming that man has evolved from monkeys. Just as it was the case of human kind evolving in parallel with apes as relatives, the same applies to the evolution of photography and painting (i.e. the remark that photography is only a matter of the new modern age is short-sighted). People need to realize that the invention of ‘camera obscura’ and photography itself has come a long way.

autor: Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
The first photograph,
author: Joseph Nicéphore Niépce

Human nature urges us to document our existence and create, as well as to follow other significant instincts like destruction and reproduction. During the Paleolithic age, also known as the Stone Age, 2.7mil to 2 thousand years before Christ, stone was obviously the hit of the era. Our dear ancestors were amazed by stone and remained dazed by its technical possibilities. Everyone simply liked stone suddenly. ‘Stone for every family’ was probably the chant of the eldest and skilful homo habilis; the upstanding homo erectus, and, lastly, the reasonable homo sapiens. Who would have thought that ordinary stone would start off the evolution of our civilization in the direction of brighter tomorrows? The last stage of the Paleolithic era gave birth to the first cave paintings, 15 to 30 thousand years ago. This shows that humans already tended to create and document despite their limited skills and knowledge. Some of the conventionalized paintings illustrate that humans painted not only to document random things, but artistically documented their existence and reality to. They perfected their technique on clay, ash, and charcoal. Jumping a few thousand years ahead to the 7th century, it was even further perfected by oil. This is evident from the discovery by French scientists of a complex of caves in the Afghani Bamyan, where we witness the oldest oil paintings in the world—Buddhist paintings.

‘Drawing with light’

Not long after, a fair 600 years later in the 13th century, oil arrived in educated Europe. The further evolution of artistic painting is quite accurately known, since the history of art is taught in similar fashion all over Europe, and no one has really deviated from this Eurocentric precedent. Only a handful of bizarre philosophic-aesthetic theories stray away.
Where does the path of photography begin? 350 years before Christ, when Aristotle discovered the principle of camera obscura. 1,996 years later, in the year 1646, the first laterna magica was invented, and in the year 1825, Nicéphore Niépce developed the oldest known photo in the world. A rapid succession of events followed: In 1888, George Eastman patented the first box camera and introduced the first commercially successful camera designed for roll film to the market. He also registered the Kodak trademark. The first of the ‘easy to use’ products, Kodak Brownie N° 1 box camera, was advertised that same year.

In 1948, the legendary brand Hasselblad enters the market with its first product. In the same year, people were able to purchase a Polaroid with its ‘instant’ photos. 21 years later, Willard Boyle and George E. Smith invented the first CCD chip in Bell’s laboratories. Within the scope of the history of photography, this technology brings us to the present time, influencing the entire world. In 1994, the market was enriched by the first digital camera with CCD technology, distributed on mass scale: AppleQuickTake100. CCD technology – Charge coupled device – exploits the advantages of chip instead of celluloid film. In crude terms, the photosensitive circuit detects the light and converts it to an electric charge, which is then measured and converted to a digital image. This kind of system is composed of an enormous amount of ‘miniature cells’ catching light individually. The digital image is assembled from particular points – pixels; the more ‘cells’ a sensor has, the higher resolution of the resulting digital image. In other words, by this process we gain more data. As a matter of fact, the mechanism closely resembles the functions of the human eye. Thus, this is the reality of the present. The technological progress of the photographic camera cannot be confused with the history of photography, especially not with the artistic part. Nevertheless, it’s always an advantage to have at least the slightest idea about things that come across and affect our everyday lives.

autor: Murray Becker
A photo that destroyed one of the industrial sectors, author: Murray Becker

The purpose of technology is to help us and make our lives easier. Today, it is as easy as ever just to pick up a camera and practically take a picture of anything we desire. As a result, the practice of photography has changed compared to previous times: Comparing the present situation to the one a hundred years earlier, we come to the conclusion that in those days, the target situations to be shot by the camera were carefully chosen, composed and arranged. Taking pictures was more of an occasional event. The outcome was usually artificial—perfectly satisfying the setup and arrangement. Today, photos are not bound to some sort of responsibility for the result. The process of photography is not as elaborate anymore and is nowhere as expensive for the ordinary person, who now has the ability to afford spontaneous and imminent images. There are no boundaries for the creative mind. Therefore, the camera’s notation of certain situations can be far more sincere than before.
Lately, the trend has reached the situation where we hear negative evaluations and opinions about the present time; that photography is heading towards a decadent slope, that its value is degraded by postproduction, that it has become profane, and, finally, that its standard has dropped both on the amateur every-day level, as well as on the artistic professional level. Sentimental memories follow, praising the days when photography was ‘worthy’.

autpr:Philippe Halsman
A photo that made surrealism real,
author: Philippe Halsman

Hardly anybody realizes that these beliefs lead to a dead end. The spiritual quality of photography is not based on the technology used, since technology is not the result but only the tool. According to what you desire, you are free to choose the respective tool. If you choose to take pictures on a large light sensitive glass with a box camera and would like to return to the wet collodion process, no one will stand in your way. On the other hand, if you chose to use the Hasselblad H4D-40 and take pictures in the RAW format in the 1880s, tough luck. The present day simply offers a wider range of possibilities, nothing more and nothing less. The photography of old cannot be considered better just on the basis of being more respectable, scarce and a matter of rare occasion, since people could not simply afford any other approach. The same applies to the present day. Photography cannot be labeled as decadent just because it has expanded on a massive scale. Present day photography can’t be discriminated against based on the technological-economic aspects resulting in its affordability. The conditions are far more favorable today than a hundred years ago, true, but it is surely not the decisive and relative criterion of the consequent aesthetic experience. The gifts of progress need to be utilized without guilt and remorse. And besides, mastering digital technology requires similar expertise as handling film does, if a person wants to accomplish truly top-notch results. You need your eye and a sensibility for light no matter what. A perfect photo always stands out, no matter how many people around us own a camera.

“…sentimental memories, praising the days when photography was ‘worthy’.”

The Week of Life project allows for a wonderful thing: it enables every one of us to illustrate our week, documented by photographs, in pure democratic fashion. It creates a mosaic consisting of individuals and their photographic ‘manuscripts’. These photos show who we are, what we do, what we consider important, what we like to share and disclose to others or on the contrary, what we indirectly try to keep in our private sphere. This indirect approach tells a lot about us: how we perceive things around us, how we ‘filter’ our reality, what is our inner order of values, how spontaneous we are, or the other way around, what our abilities are when it comes to composing with reason. Week of Life works as an all-round visual exploration probe.

Members of many cultures participate on this project. Every culture predestines how we view and perceive the world around us, be it in form of the language we speak and think in or the respective religion. For example, each society has its own perception of time and moreover, every one of us individually creates an attitude of one’s self. Personally, I identify myself with Heidegger’s conception of time and life as a ‘question of being’, ‘da sein’ to be exact. I consider his theory regarding the sense of being and creation of time as the most meaningful and concise. On the other hand, we can expect a Hindu, for instance, to distance himself from my views and beliefs as he or she lives in his or her own philosophical system, and so on. The perception of time is just a small raindrop in a pool of various factors that influence our attitude towards life. Let us compare, for example, the idea of beauty of individual societies, the notions of taboo within different cultures, various habits, the terms of social coexistence, the functional models of family life, etc. etc. All of this makes us who we are as well as determines our ability to reflect upon miscellaneous events and interpret them. Therefore, all of this is considered a factor when we press the shutter of a camera. We no longer need to paint the inside of a cave; we simply hang photos on our walls.
Therefore, Week of Life gathers testimonials in the form of photographs. And after some time passes by, it would certainly be interesting to examine these photos closely and perhaps come up with several comparisons. The individual pieces both directly and indirectly predicate the status of the society and its cultural development. The potential of the ‘Week’ is substantial regarding the essence of scientific visual studies.
Furthermore, it is extremely interesting to inspect one another, as well as ourselves, while gathering memories—moments rare as well as common, and so on. Most sets also include self-portraits, as though we follow some kind of an instinct to perpetuate ourselves. The way we approach our self-portrait has a lot to say emotionally in itself. One person captures only parts of his or her body – for example, his feet at rest or his own shadow or reflection. Another person will stand in front of a mirror naked and without hesitation capture him/her self ‘totally’. Many of us decide to conceive this photographic documentary in a specific style, which is ever more interesting, since we can monitor our own games and quirks.

autor: Arthur Sasse
A photograph that enabled genius minds to have a sense of humor, author: Arthur Sasse

Photography is a democratic medium. It captures positive events but also negative ones, as well as the occasional pathological phenomenon. Thanks to this medium we can not only inform others that we spent our vacation in the Canary Islands, but also show that children in the north of Kenya are dying of hunger and as a consequence of deadly diseases. Through the means of photography we can document such elusive moments as a snowflake melting the instant it lands on our hand. We can catch precious moments such as the first gasps for air of a new-born child. And from a different perspective, we can capture things of a cruel nature, for instance the immediate expression of a person’s face stunned by the sight of a war-infested city bombarded to ashes. A Photo never illustrates more than what really is happening in the world.

About the Author
Stanislava KopáčkováMy name is Stanislava Kopáčková and I’m 22 years old. I come from a little village in Central Bohemia called Obecnice. After graduating from high school in the city of Příbram, I continued my studies at the Faculty of philosophy of the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice, in the field of aesthetics. At present, I’m finishing my bachelor’s program and preparing for the Leaving Certificate Exam and the defense of my thesis, called ‘The insight into the aesthetics of culture of living by Adolf Loose and Le Corbusier’. I live in Prague and work here as an import manager at an advertising agency. As a model, I co-operate with artistic photographers in the Czech Republic as well as abroad. The person that has affected my life the most is my mother, who taught me everything I know and what it is that makes me who I am. On top of that, I have been greatly touched by photography, architecture and in the last year and a half, punk culture, and Harley Davidson motorcycles. I am fascinated by the systems of nature and its laws, by oceans, space, and life in primeval forests. I like to experience how things actually work. I like to travel. I like everything that is amazing: a well-built house, an ably tailored cloth, the furniture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the elegant automobiles of the 30s. My ideal plan for the distant future is to live in a warm remote place, with a house on the hill by the seaside, drink gin and tonic, raise grandchildren, relax in my private luxurious library, and tend to a herd of goats. Life is a journey with constant lessons prepared for us, but it all earns its meaning only when we have someone beside us to share it with and love. Otherwise it loses its significance. I feel at ease in the arms of the man of my heart. This kind of feeling cannot be measured or compared to anything else, perhaps only with having children. A person is condemned to existing; it is just a matter of understanding that it is a gift.
Příspěvek byl publikován v rubrice Author's column a jeho autorem je Zdeněk Kamrla. Můžete si jeho odkaz uložit mezi své oblíbené záložky nebo ho sdílet s přáteli.

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