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About Photography / Student Premium Member WestleyMale/United States Groups :iconpulledthroughtime: PulledThroughTime
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justanothersomeone's Profile Picture
Artist | Student | Photography
United States
"Any new possibility that existence acquires transforms everything about existence." -Kundera

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Linda Connor - Blind Musician

Joyce Tenneson - Contortion

Luis González Palma - Arráncame el Miedo (Take away my fear)

Can a photograph capture the true 'essence' of a person?

To answer this question we must first ask ourselves what defines the 'essence' of a human being.  The dictionary would define essence as follows: the quality or qualities that make a thing what it is.  Therefore when applied to a person we would conclude that the essence of a person is the unique qualities that make that individual the person that they are.  Sounds simple enough so far.  Immediately coming to mind are qualities like facial features, body type and size, birth marks, tattoos, piercings, clothing styles, age, ethnicity, etc.  All of these things make each person unique and since a photograph can record physical features with great clarity and accuracy we could say that yes a photograph can capture a person's essence.  Unfortunately though, or perhaps fortunately, it is not quite so simple.  All of these attributes are merely physical descriptions, and we  do not like to think of ourselves as merely physical bodies, most of us believe that we have a unique part of us that is our personality, soul, and/or psyche, and it is that unseen part of us that actually constitutes who we are as an individual, rather than our physical bodies that house us.  Taking these new points into consideration one can see where this argument can becomes very difficult to navigate.  We must next ask ourselves if a camera can capture something that is not normally seen.  Can a photograph capture our soul, or perhaps even our ghost?

Richard Avedon - In the American West

Irving Penn - Al Pacino

Richard Avedon - William Casby

Spirit Photography

In the late nineteenth century a rather peculiar market in photography emerged.  Spirit photography.  The goal of this genre of photography was to use the camera to capture on film, the presence of a ghost or other spiritual entities.  William H. Mumler was the first person to start using spirit photography.  He stumbled upon it in the 1860's while developing a self portrait that was accidentally double exposed.  He then started taking peoples' portraits and doctoring the negatives to make it seem that the ghosts of their loved ones were in the photograph with them.  The genre became very popular over the next few decades and into the early twentieth century and many other photographers started using it as a way to sale their photographs.  However, as the techniques that were being used to create these photographs became to be discovered, the photographers were labelled frauds.  Mumler for example was caught when he used photographs of an identifiable living Boston resident as a spirit.  So we could say that while photographs can capture "spirits" for the sake of novelty, they cannot capture actual literal representations of the soul, not yet at least.  But what if a person's soul can still be captured by the lens without it actually physically being visible?  What if a photograph is taken so well that the soul of the sitter comes through the photograph and can be tangebly recognized and experienced in the mind of the viewer?

William H. Mumler - Moses A. Dow with the ghost of his assistant

William Hope - Reverend Charles L Tweedale, his wife, and the spirit of her deceased father

Ada Emma Deane - unkown

The Photographic Distance

There is one large contradiction that encapsulates the dilemma of the photograph.  It's distance from the actual subject.  Photography will always have the reference of being rooted in it's truth, or rather in it's verisimilitude.  A photograph must either accept it's portrayal of reality, or struggle to fight against it.  If a photographer sets out to capture the essence of the sitter they are always confronted with the issue of distance.  The photographic truth that is captured by the camera is one step removed from the actual physical subject as that subject would ordinarily be experienced in real time and space.  To further complicate this matter, the photograph is taken by another person, the invisible creator of the photograph.  Every one of the photographer's decisions while composing and exposing the negative will add another veil that makes the photograph removed from the subjects true tangibility.  These steps of removal continue as the photograph becomes edited and manipulated in post process and printing.  Finally, upon holding the two dimensional print in their hand, the viewer is removed yet another step from the actual truth that was attempted to be recorded.

Joyce Tenneson - Suzanne and Mirror

Richard Avedon - Pablo Picasso

Katy Grannan - Anonymous, San Francisco 

Observer Effect

From the path of photographic distance we can reach yet another complication to photography's ability to capture truth in the world.  Similarly to the theories in quantum physics, where the act of observing will change the properties of the subject being observed, a sitter in a portrait knows they are being photographed.
The person being photographed is fully aware that the camera is directly in front of them.  Thus they will change themselves so that they will be represented the way they choose to be, or the way the photographer chooses to portray them.

"A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he is being photographed" Richard Avedon

Richard Avedon - In the American West

Alec Soth - Adelyn

Irving Penn - Philip Seymour Hoffman

The Inevitable Disconnect

In light of these ideas we can again ask the question; Can a photograph capture the true essence of a person?  If taken into account the inability to physically document a soul or spirit of a person, the inherent distance a photograph is removed from it's original subject, and the observer effect which can cause the sitter to become actor, I claim that a photograph can not capture the true essence of a person.  If you find you agree with this conclusion, there is one more question left to ask ourselves.  Is a photograph ever meant to truly capture a person?  In our experience of existence, both sensually and ideologically, we are constantly confronted by the limitation of our five senses to experience the world in a three dimensional space and by our minds restriction to understand its surrounding by placing it in a sequence of time.  We see the world more closely to the way cinema see its, bound by time and interacting in a three dimensional space.  A photograph is not bound by these guidelines nor could it meet them if it tried, but would we even want it to?  I would say that we would not.  There would be little use for it.  The inevitable disconnect, yet eerie verisimilitude that a photograph embodies is the one quality that makes the medium a completely unique tool that has helped us better understand our lives and the universe around us.  A photograph captures a representation of a single moment and holds it in place forever.  It creates a new reality in itself.  This reality can be reflected on over and over by anyone from anywhere or anytime.  This bestows on the photograph the ability to transcend our actual physical experience of life and to let us look at ourselves from the outside in.  If you are photographing a person, and find yourself asking whether or not you are doing the best job you can at capturing the true essence of that person, perhaps you are asking the wrong question.  Perhaps we should be asking ourselves "what are we trying to see through the camera" and more importantly "why do we want to see it?"

Luis González Palma - Perdida en su pensamiento (Lost in thought)

Alec Soth - Misty 2005

Philip-Lorca diCorcia - Hustlers

Katy Grannan - Anonymous, San Francisco, Boulevard 1

Philip-Lorca diCorcia - Heads

Luis Gonzalez Palma - Mariana

Selction from DA artists:

girl emotion by MartaSyrko

The Beard by sandae

a n t o n by SiVkiN

Scan-130811-0005-1 by HocEstCorpus

.dria03. by dasTOK

Sisters I by rawimage

L'Irene. by Sirxlem

Photo: Advaita Vedanta by Lilta-photo

dream by MartaSyrko

Alek 130901-213626 by pasiasty

Octopus by kakaoconad

seratonin by buhoazul

Semiotics in Art 

 "To quote out of context is the essence of the photographer's craft. His central problem is a simple one: what shall he include, what shall he reject? The line of decision between in and out is the picture's edge. While the draughtsman starts with the middle of the street, the photographer starts with the frame. The photograph's edge defines content. It isolates unexpected juxtapositions. By surrounding two facts, it creates a relationship. The edge of the photograph dissects familiar forms, and shows the unfamiliar fragment. It creates the shapes that surround objects. The photographer edits the meanings and patterns of the world through an imaginary frame. This frame is the beginning of this picture's geometry. It is to the photograph as the cushion is to the billiard table." - John Szarkowski  - from The Photographer's Eye by John Szarkowski, former director of the photography division of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Photography is all about how things bounce off the edges and interact, similar to the game of billiards, as Szarkowski has pointed out. A photographer uses the frame of the photograph to create an image that conveys how the artist sees the world around him. Most photographers will find that a single image format is ample enough "canvas" to get his ideas and visions out into the world. However, some artist feel that this way of working is limited and prohibits us from making more complex associations and connections with the world around us. Painters have long been using diptychs, triptychs, and other multi-image formats to create narrative stories such as in altar pieces. Scientist use groupings of similar things to create patterns that can be studied for similarities and differences. As photographers we have the unique ability to quickly capture moments of life with ease and repetition. This allows us to lend our own view into the world of semiotics (the study of meaning-making) by grouping photographs in order to speak of our subjects more broadly and with increasing complexity over an artist who has to work with one image or one art piece at a time. This of course brings it's own set of challenges. The possibilities are greatly increased when we start approaching image making outside of the single frame and thus creating a strong and cohesive piece becomes much more difficult. Questions you will surely face when you set out to make work in this style include: How many images are needed to make the statement that I want to make? When have I gone overboard and included too much information? What composition should be used, diptych, triptych, large grid, etc.? What images help add to the overall piece, and what images are distracting from the end result? Why is this a valid form of image making, should I be challenging myself by restricting myself to a single image? We will take a look at several artists who have effectively used multi-image techniques and hopefully by seeing what was successful in the past we will have a better understanding of what will be successful in the future and where we as contemporary artists can take this format to create new frontiers for art.

"I am interested not in individual readings, but in constructing networks of images and meanings capable of reflecting the complexity of the subject." - Wolfgang Tillmans

John Baldessari

Wallace Berman

Anna & Bernhard Blume

Sophie Calle

John Coplans

Thomas Florschuetz

John Hilliard

David Hockney

Duane Michals

Eadweard J Muybridge

Andy Warhol


Robert Flick

Penelope Umbrico

Gary Beydler

Interview with davespertine

I had the priviledge and pleasure to have a brief conversation with an artist here on DA who is very knowledgeable on this discussion. We will be talking some about kaleidoscope images, or k-scopes, if you are unfamiliar with what these are you can read up on them in this journal

justanothersomeone Do you feel there are times when a single photograph cannot by itself represent the concept or reality that the artist is trying to portray? Or is this just an inability by the artist to convey a message in the bounds of one image?

davespertine I can't answer your questions in terms of 'the photograph', but only in terms of 'the image'. And in terms of an image only in terms of subjects or icons, the elements that make up the image.
The very idea of your question conjours up the possibility to take a photograph of two photographs. What is the difference between photographing two photographs or scanning them side by side, or arranging them side by side on a computer, or placing them side by side in frames.
It all becomes like the infinity mirror and the reflection of reflections. Where does the photograph end and reality begin?

For me a single photograph has never been enough. But this is true of the moving picture. Things move, things change. A single image can capture magic, but is that magic enough? NO.

Images are like people. They are individuals but they have relationships with other individuals. There is a relationship between any group of images.

Context changes an image. How many times do we look at an image that we know well and notice something that we have never seen before?

Images are like music, is one note enough, is one instrument enough? NO. But sometimes YES.
If music is about tension and resolution, then lets look at any two images and see if together they are in harmony or if they clash with each other.

Images are like people, society does not recognise their potential and does not use them imaginatively.
Now would be a good time for those with imagination to show what can be done both with images and with people. Maybe we can move away from the same old clichés, where people become bound by their jobs and images by their frames. None of us fit in the square or rectangular box. It is just a restriction formed by lack of imagination. There are no limits and the worst thing is to have limits set by people who lack imagination.


justanothersomeone The K-scopes have become very popular here on deviantArt but it is still relatively unexplored and unknown in broader society. Why do you believe this is a valid way to create images? And where/when do you see this format emerging in the fine art world and greater global consciousness?

davespertine K-scopes are really about sharing and deviantART works very well for arranging images and sharing them.

No form of art needs to be justified, it is valid, it is validated by the fact that someone decided to create it.

Fine art is so far behind what art really is that it takes a long time to catch up. Art is a form of communication that although can be refined through learning skills, needs no skill what-so-ever. It is built purely on the desire of the person to communicate.
Fine art simply judges it and decides whether it is worth some kind of elite status. However the core motivation of the person is communication not status.
I find it hard to use the word artist rather than person because we are all artists. People need to conform in order to be recognised as artists. They need to demonstrate certain skills. They must lose their pure identity and be recognisably predictable.

Surely we have words and language to clearly explain things to each other. Art can express pure individuality and doesn't need to be refined so that those who don't understand it can cope with it.


justanothersomeone Do you have any suggestions for artist who are starting to experiment with multi-image photographs such as diptychs, triptychs, and k-scopes?

davespertine I would say to anyone that they were born artists. It is so easy. Take two images, place them side by side, if they look interesting together, show other people and see what they think. It doesn't matter if they don't get it. Start again, build up a portfolio of images that you think go together. After a while, people start to see what you are doing. All we are doing is showing our choices and expressing to others what we like. If we find someone who likes them too then we find a kindred spirit. We don't need to change ourselves, to become someone else in order to find kindred spirits. If we show ourselves for what we truly are then we might find true happiness.


Selection from DA artists:

Acqua Minerale by Filterkaffee   cast a shadow by partiallyHere   sameness by davespertine
Promenade And Museum by KizukiTamura   Clair obscur by JPtHart
385294 10151260373912912 1906206165 N by edredon   MaKina KomiKs Strip by Pierre-Lagarde   You Pull Me Through Time by justanothersomeone
grey hours of those afternoons by maybe-paper-hearts     z-265,266 by S6ltuvus     anna - a triptych by RaMiBru
 Monomania by Einsilbig     I feel stupid and contagious by katworks
triptych by leenik here in the black by ra-gro
IntrospeKtion by insolitus85   scopic blues by aerendial   Offerings to the Holy Spirit by Image-heart
"Orchid" triptych by alexciel   Isolation by thergothon
Summer Love Recollection by passion-aesthete     hand in hand in hand by m-lucia
metaphysics by Vladimir-Serov  breathe it in and let it go by Flubberwurm  Desterro by A-byssus
               Sophie montage by lloydhughes    painting nightmares by PsycheAnamnesis  haircut :: by lucidscarlet


Add a Comment:
DouglasHumphries Featured By Owner 5 days ago
~ thanks for the favs Westley !
justanothersomeone Featured By Owner 5 days ago  Student Photographer
You're welcome!
Astralseed Featured By Owner Jul 9, 2014  Professional General Artist
You've been featured here to help gain a bit more exposure to your art :aww: 
StoryTellerF Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
thank you for the dWatch!
justanothersomeone Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2014  Student Photographer
My pleasure!
EintoeRn Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer

Many thanks for :+fav:ing, Westley !
justanothersomeone Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2014  Student Photographer
Many thanks for sharing your work with us!
EintoeRn Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Great compliment ! Many thanks !
dorock5 Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2014   General Artist
Thank you very much for the fav!
justanothersomeone Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2014  Student Photographer
My pleasure :)
ChristineKalliri Featured By Owner Jun 27, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist

  ~Thank You So Much~
(you were in that dream that i was dreaming) by ChristineKalliri


Printbookspike Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thanks for the watch.
justanothersomeone Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2014  Student Photographer
No thank you!
hillaryault Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2014  New member
Thanks for the fav, cool gallery!
justanothersomeone Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2014  Student Photographer
My pleasure! Thanks for the watch!
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