Katrin explained phenomenology by talking about the scientific analysis of a cat which provides us with certain information however, it does not provide us with the essence of a cat – what does it mean to encounter or engage with a cat – that is about interactions or what it is like to know or own a cat.
She argued that photography is a phenomenon in the world and there are some phenomenological aspects about photography such as: photography is about seeing something, seeing an image about something. We can see pictures as objects and can see into pictures. Katrin argued that there was a difference between seeing a painting and seeing a photograph in that there is a power in photography to provide a direct link with the content of an image. She argued we see through the photograph and that enables us to pre-visualise a city that we haven’t visited for example. She referred to Susan Sontag who in On Photography (1979) said that the world might be viewed as a set of possible photographs.
In order to explain phenomenology further Katrin talked about the phenomenology of illness. This can be referred to factually as a disease or a period of sickness but in itself this does not tell us about what it is to be ill and the experiences of being ill. She argued that how we feel is hardly ever visualised. In our everyday lives, photography can either be used to record symptoms or microscopic images that cannot be seen with the naked eye or photography can be about illness. For example, what is the life world of someone with poor health? What is it like to feel ill?
Katrin then referred to a number of photographic projects that had focused on this. For example, The Scar Project by David Jay that has recorded what it feels like to have breast cancer in a very poignant project. Sally Mann’s work Proud of Flesh documents her husband’s demise through a series of nude photographs. Mark Edwards charted the effect of Alzheimer’s disease on his mother with images showing her physical and mental degeneration.
The photographer John Darwell charts what depression can feel like in A Black Dog comes Calling:
In my view, there is an issue with Katrin’s exposition of phenomenology. She focuses upon the phenomenology of the image and the viewers’ experience of the photograph. However, in her references to medical illness she refers to the experience of the illness, which is not analogous with the experience of an image. An alternative phenomenology relates to the experience of the photographer in the context of which images are taken and indeed may reflect that photographers’s experience. My project on The Road to Elgol is exploring my experience of the road, and my understanding of its meaning for me, and my images are an attempt to convey that experience with power and impact to the viewer. It is also worth reflecting upon the fact that an image is a phenomena without a noumena. The noumena subsists within the photographer because, in my view, in a very important sense the image is the photographer.
I found this lecture from Katrin very helpful and the example of illness as a case study has really made me reflect on my experience of The Road to Elgol. How do I capture the essence of my feelings and experience through primarily landscape images? How can I connect with my audience and how has my early experience in photography influenced my work, and indeed my life? How do I get my message across – am I getting my message across?
Joost, K (2018), Reframing Illness: Photography as a phenomenological insight into the lived experience of illness – Guest lecture for Falmouth University
Alison I don’t understand. A noumenon, I thought, was something that existed independently of human sense whilst phenomena are things experienced by the human mind. These ideas seem to be at variance with your thoughts.
A very interesting commentary on phenomenology. The conventional paradigm in critical theory is that it is only the viewer’s perspective that matters and that the intention of the photographer as author is irrelevant. From that perspective what matters is the viewer’s experience of the image. I think your take on it is very challenging but very valid. What you are saying is that it is your experience of the Road to Elgol that is driving your photography and which is your expression of that experience. I agree that Katrin Joost has got it the wrong way around – the research into illness is not about the doctor’s experience of the condition, but the patients. What matters for you is your experience of the Road, not the viewers.
I was also going to say I like your placement of the noumenon of the image in the perception and intention of the photographer. If one accepts the Kantian distinction between phenomenon and noumenon then the question has to be where does the latter subsist? It’s clearly not in the image itself. The image is a sensory artifact – what you see is what you get so where does the noumenon reside? The image is a gateway to the mind of the photographer and it is only through that can we approach the whole rather than the surface of the photographic experience.
The camera looks both ways . . .
Sometimes I think it is helpful to challenge current critical theory!