I started writing this because I was going to watch a movie on Netflix directed by Jean-Luc Godard called “Goodbye to Language”, but this seemed like a better idea because 1) I have been thinking about two books that I recently purchased, and 2) I don’t really like watching Netflix that much, or cinema for that matter. Although “Life Itself”, about Roger Ebert, was mostly good…
Anyway, despite recently reading about the formal connections between philosopher Owen Barfield, and the subject of my last review, Howard Nemerov, and confronting a critique of the still image, I am still beguiled by photographs, though it is clearly an inherent vice. I write these “reviews” that are only provisionally reviews because I want to share a little bit of my interest in photography, and that is really the sum and substance of this review, but it should be added that “interest” is exchangeable with “symptom”. Despite myself, I want to look at two recent collections, both of them recent catalogs from exhibitions, “What is a Photograph?” curated for the International Center of Photography by Carol Squires, and “See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection”, curated by Britt Salvesen for the Los Angeles County Museum. This is a long preface, and a way of saying that saying anything about photographs is just as fraught and mistaken as anything else, but nevertheless, I’d like it if my reader sought these two collections out, as it is my pleasure to own both of them, and to ruminate on their perspectives.
Yet, I’ve struggled all week with which to review first. I hope I am getting the order right, as I have tried to suss out the order, chicken-or-the-egg-wise. What comes first, a picture, or how we see a picture? Here it goes… “What is a Photograph?” is essentially based on an “objective correlative” thesis, or on what was called by literary theorist Bill Brown, “Thing Theory”. Carol Squires’ approach is precisely limited to a conceptual turn in photography that was not phenomenological, inasmuch as it put the photograph at the fore, limiting the open-ended question of perception so apparent in the other collection in question. An essay in “What is a Photograph”, called “Photography and the Philosophers”, hits the nail right on the head, and notices that the images in the collection share a seemingly intended “image-affect”. “See the Light” differs is how it is concerned instead with a neurocognitive, phenomenological (as opposed to epistemological) effect. That is, it confronts the visual regime with an eye toward the principles of Gestalt psychology, cybernetics, biology, and photographic technology, all at once, seeking to understand how a photograph works to make the eye, and the mind, see. “See the Light” disposes of the photograph as a subject, as the “observant I” cedes to the “non-attentive eye”. As a stunning collection of photographs, it does not cease to enchant.
“Carol Squires: What is a Photograph?” and “Britt Salvesen: See the Light, Photography, Perception, Cognition” are both available for sale in-store and online at thecamerastore.com.