Donnerstag, 1. November 2007

Schein und Wirklichkeit - eine Antwort

Ich finde, den ausführlichen Kommentar von Lars zu "Schein und Wirklichkeit" so interessant, dass er hier als eigener Artikel zu erscheint:

Appearance and reality - an answer

First of all I must admit that unfortunately I have never read the famous text by Barthes that you refer to. But at least in what you quote him for here, I think he’s wrong. It’s simply not meaningful to talk about the noema of photography in such general terms. Modern human beings are used to live in a world filled with inputs and impression from lots of different sources and with different, often conflicting content. Most of us constantly and more or less automatically evaluate these inputs in relation to a number of parameters, such as what is the context, who is the sender, etc. And we attribute different meanings - or noema - to different objects, according to these evaluations.

If we are reading a serious newspaper, and see a photo of hunger in Africa or war in Iraq, most of us expect it to reflect some kind of reality - that what we see has an existence outside the scope of a photo-session. If we see a picture on a billboard of a glamorous person advertising a new beauty product, most of us know it’s a totally different matter.

I’m not saying that press photography is not subjective or that advertising doesn’t work. What I’m saying is that we evaluate photos in relation to genres – and that different genres have different “rules”. Criticizing an art photo for being staged doesn’t make sense – criticizing a press photo for being staged makes very much sense.

What makes cases such as Doisneaus Le baiser and Capas Dead of a loyalist soldier controversial is that they seem to break the rules of the genre – in this case by being staged (Doisneau) or at least being accused of being so (Capa). Sometimes it works the other way around – as when “reality” is used in advertising, such as the use of refuges, AIDS-patients or starving children in Bennetton-campaigns.
What also happens is that a photo which was originally “born” into one context is sometimes transferred into another. Capa’s photo, which was originally "just" a report of a specific incident in the Spanish civil war, evolved into a sort of icon for the fight against Franco and fascism. And in this new context, the question of whether it was staged or not, is in fact of lesser importance. Doisneau’s photo became an icon for the joyful life in postwar Paris – and again, its connotations are no less powerful even now, when we know for sure that it was staged.

I’m not in favor of abandoning any claim to photography about being “real”. When a photographer presents his or her work as belonging to the documentary-genre, it’s only fair to expect that the photo lives up to the conventions of this genre, such as not being staged, manipulated, etc. On the other hand, absolute objectivity does not exist in photography. A photograph always shows a portion of the world, selected by the person who held the camera.

Maybe in the end it is this ambiguity, this inability of the photo to be neither totally objective nor totally subjective, which makes it such a fascinating medium?

Lars K. Christensen

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