For our coursework this week and as a contribution to the Forum we were asked to:

Find an example of effective theory in practice. This could be an extract of text, a paragraph, sentence, or even just a phrase by a practitioner, theorist or commentator.

 We were advised the content or subject is not of great importance, but instead we should look out for, and consider why, it is an effective piece of communication.

I chose:

‘The camera looks both ways’

This is a challenging statement by Freeman Patterson (1977) the Canadian photographer and writer. Its effectiveness derives from what it points us towards. In semiotic theory it is a signifier, and in terms of Saussure’s Dyadic what it points to is a mental construct expressing our relationship with the product of the camera which is the image.

At one level the camera, like Heidegger’s Hammer (Heidegger 1927), is an instrument or tool through which we express our intent. However, it also reveals something about ourselves and that maybe something we do not intend to reveal. From this we can define intention at two levels: conscious and non-conscious. The first reflects what we think we are doing when we click the shutter and the second, delivers an unintended message that reveals, in the moment, the core attributes of our personality and our beliefs (Ryan 2016). The more consummate our ability as a photographer, the deeper our knowledge and skill goes, the greater the scope for the unintended message in the image to appear.

When we put our eye to the viewfinder and press the shutter we do so in response to an array of conscious and non-conscious choices. The more skilled we become the more those choices are driven by more fundamental aspects of our person and our place in the world. This is our ‘life-world’ as Husserl described it and, at the non-conscious level of intuitive judgement, our responses are affectively driven, drawing on levels of expertise hardwired into our brains by long practice and experience that has gone far below the superficial levels of conscious recall.   We sometimes refer to that deep expertise, revealed in the images we make, as ‘style’ or ‘voice’ – terms that reflect subliminal consistency in our non-conscious response to photographic opportunities and which shape our intent.   From this we recognise that style or voice is not something we can create – it is an emergent phenomenon over which we have little control and which says as much about us as a person as do the subjects we choose to portray.


Heidegger, M (1927) Being and Time, Harper and Row, New York

Patterson, F (1977) Photography for the Joy of It, Van Nostrand Reinhold Ltd, Toronto

Ryan, R J, (2016) The Master Photographer – the journey from good to great, Bourchier, Cirencester UK

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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