Without the silence, we cannot hear the music.
Without the possibility of its absence, we cannot feel the love.” (Lauren Fins)
In this first part of a two-part blog I intend to delve more deeply into the ontological basis of my photography.
Ontology is the study of existence, or reality. Being is the essence of what it is to exist. Whilst Parmenides, in the fifth century BC, made an attempt to address the problem of existence, the next serious attempt was not until Leibniz in the seventeenth century, who asked why there is something rather than nothing? Heidegger in 1927 returned to the consideration of being by introducing the concept of Dasein – the distinctive self-conscious existence of human beings.
Post-modernists including the likes of Barthes, Derrida and Foucault subscribe to the view that reality is constructed through language, power or human cultural practices whereas speculative realists, and in particular Graham Harman with his Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO), proposes a form of realism arguing that the external world exists independently of human awareness. The concept of an object was best defined by Aristotle: an object is more than the sum of its parts or, as Harman puts it:
“an object is more than its pieces and less than its effects.” (Harman 2018: 53).
As Ryan and Peck (2020) note the key part of this definition is ‘more than’ – the notion that the combination possesses properties the individual parts do not have and, by definition, all objects are independent of one another – the apple in my hand and I are independent of one another, if I eat the apple it loses its nature as an object but so do I – I become a new object which is subtly more than the sum of me and the apple – otherwise, presumably, I would not have eaten it.
Sometimes, the complexity of an object generates properties and effects that are not deducible from its parts. When I eat the apple, the combination generates subjective pleasures in me that cannot be deduced from either my physiology or the nature of the apple. The existence of subjective states lies beyond the ability of science to resolve, they are emergent phenomenon. However, as soon as I look for them, or try to analyse them, their quality disappears behind the veil of phenomenal experience. The mirror state of emergence is withdrawal and it is this that characterises the reality of our experience – like Alice through the looking glass, if we look for something we cannot find it, if we don’t look there it is.
It is this ephemeral effect – what I call the mirror of being – that I seek in my photography. I believe and attempt to reveal the power of photography to reduce the barriers of perception and through that help us glimpse states of being that lie behind visual presence. It does this through it’s reductive power, halting the arrow of time and attenuating space and, in so doing, overcoming the fragility of awareness which is the price we pay for the gift of our conscious mind.
HARMAN, Graham. 2018. Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. London. Penguin Books.
RYAN B, and PECK J. 2020. Object Oriented Photography. Working Paper University of Gloucestershire.