Week 2: Snyder & Allen (1975)

Jeff Wall (1998-2000)  The Flooded Grave

Jeff Wall (1998-2000) The Flooded Grave

I have found Snyder & Allen (1975) article quite contradictory and not particularly easy to follow who is saying what and why they think that. However I have also found some really interesting points that some confirm my previous thoughts on the nature of the photograph and others have challenged my thoughts. 

Although I found them particularly challenging and thought provoking, I like the thoughts and comments that Rudolf Arnheim assigns to the traditional artist. Although Schnyder & Allen are correct in saying that "He makes criticism of Photography difficult if not impossible", Arnheim does have some interesting points of view. 

Photography is a different kind of Art, unrelated to traditional types, but closely related to perception."

This interests me as there is much talk of how photography is the benchmark of pictoral fact. In looking at the constructed image as an example, where does the boundary lie between Pictoral fact and a completely constructed ie made up image? Emerson implies that this pectoral fact is where the image serves in the "Scientific Devision"  and provides information. Can these "Informative" images not both provide information from this Scientific Division, but also "Aesthetic pleasure" from the "Art Devision"? This is one of the first parts that really confuses me. I don't see these as two individual "Devisions". In all photography are we not striving to find the most aesthetically pleasing way of informing the viewer? For example, as a photographer for University of Bath in the past I often had assignments to produce an image of a scientific experiment or of animals in he animal testing lab. Yes these images were in Emersons eyes very much in the scientific devision, but I always chose the framing and lighting in such a way as to make it as aesthetically pleasing as possible ( Art Devision). I guess that this is something that will never be completely answered as it is very much in the eye of the viewer as to whether something is pleasing or simply informative.

Arnheim later insists " That Photographyis a different kind fo Art, unrelated to traditional types but closely related to perception." Is the image a faithful copy of an object?  I feel that whether something is a faithful copy or not is altogether to do with someones perception of what the 'real' object should look like.  

Another position taken is that of Jeff Wall in a recent video I watched where he talks about how the "Photograph seems to disclose an actuality". A great deal of images are accompanied by a great deal of description (Verbal). When you take a way the description your left with a pure picture..." I think he is right that people look at photographs and they use there current perception of what they are looking at in the photograph. Different people have different perceptions of what an object looks like. To me this then means that nobody will look at image int eh same way, as everyone has a slightly adjusted perception of what something is. 

(You can read about my thoughts and ideas from the Jeff Wall video here)



Going back to think about where my own practise fits in with all this, I keep thinking about Emerson's ideas of the divisions of photography. I do disagree with his approach as I mentioned above, however, my documentary project on Barton where I was born could have different meanings to different people depending on there perceptions of the place and the people who live there. Unlike a landscape painting of the place Stanley Cavell talks about the automatism of the photograph. "Removing the human agent from the act of reproduction". I disagree with this as the camera requires many adjustments and human choices in making the image. The framing fo the iage, the amount of light exposing the negative to and the amount of detail and what is in focus ad what is left out of focus. 

On a similar topic and a point of view I particularly like is that of Andre Bazin who states that 

The solution is not to be found in the result achieved, but in the way of achieving it"

This I find very interesting. He is on a basic level saying that two people could photograph the same landscape and achieve very different results which is down to personal Photographic style which separates us as photographers from each other. So it doesn't matter what is photographed but hat matters is how it is photographed. This is one of those quotes which I will always remember especially as I have found it difficult to relax into my own style of image making. 

In terns of how the context effects how people view my work, I think very much like The New Village work by John Spinks, my work will speak for itself. I don't really feel with this particular project that there are different contexts it can be viewed in. It is a series of portraits and landscape studies of my childhood town. I suppose there maybe views that I am commenting on the human interaction and change int he environment as many of the places I photograph looked very different to me as a child. The common I used to play on and collect frog spawn is now a housing estate and my old house was knocked down and rebuilt a few metres back to allow for a road to be built connecting the new hosing estate. In this context it maybe a comment on regeneration, the lack of housing perhaps. Maybe a series of images like this needs to have with t a set of texts to explain the story? or I am inclined to leave it to peoples perception and to take form it what they want. For me its a story of a photographers urge to go back to his childhood town and to record to keep the memory alive. 


Moving on to the use of Snyder & Allen's terms "Characterization" and "Characterize" which I found very interesting and so far for me the clearest explanation. It also further confirmed by thoughts that Arnheims' statement: 

The physical objects themselves print their image"

Is not a realistic approach to the nature of photography and "is nothing more than a metaphor rather than fact" (Snyder & Allen Pg 151). I really like this use of Characterisation when trying to decode the photographic image. Particularly the description of how "A given Lens characterises things in greater or less detail than another, and in the end result of the image being made, the image is a characterisation of something. 


Another angle I thought worth noting from this text is the following argument.

A Photograph is what we would have seen if we had been there ourselves." (A)


If our vision were like photography, then we would see things the way a camera does." (B)

To me these are both right and wrong and so I am on the fence as it were as to in which direction I would take. (A) is correct I think fr example of the family holiday snap. friends and family ask to see holiday photographs as they weren't there and so it gives an impression of what the holiday destination was like. Yes it won't be exact but it gives the viewer a good enough perception of the place. In terms of (B) It immediately reminded me of the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition at The Tate Modern where a series of images of advertising in London were said to have been taken using a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera sensor as this is the same as the field of view from the human eye. Because of my thoughts on both of these I agree nor disagree with these statements, but just find them both interesting view points for the reasons outlined. 



Snyder, J. and Allen, N. (1975). Photography, Vision, and Representation. Critical Inquiry, 2(1), pp.143-169.

Louisiana Channel. (2018). Jeff Wall: Pictures Like Poems. [online] Available at: http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/jeff-wall-pictures-poems [Accessed 2 Mar. 2018].