As I start to think about future academic endeavours related to my photographic practice, I feel the need to become re-acquainted with some of the greats in the history of philosophy. Although I have read about the likes of those such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, I thought I would start after the Reformation when the grip of the Church had been broken and it was no longer able to retain its previous control over philosophical and scientific enquiry. A C Grayling points out, however, that the Reformation in itself did not precipitate intellectual liberalism but more that the prevailing Protestantism across Europe did not have the power to influence thinking in the way it had done from the fourth to fourteenth centuries. Thus began the pursuit for a greater understanding of the world, and in seeking to find truth from some of the nonsense that prevailed, they sought it through method. There were two key figures that led the search for a responsible method of enquiry – Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and Rene Descartes (1596-1650). The focus of this first blog in my series is Francis Bacon.

Bacon studied philosophy and science alongside a successful career as a statesman and lawyer but after his fall from office in 1621 he was able to spend the rest of his life studying and thinking. He endeavoured to finish a life’s work Instauratio Magna which he failed to do, but The New Atlantis was published after his death in 1627.

Bacon’s aim was to increase knowledge and in so doing gain a degree of control over nature. According to Grayling he made two significant contributions: his advocacy that scientific research should be a co-operative venture and that an organisational structure should be established and second the idea of scientific method in itself.

Bacon believed that science should be grounded in the observation of facts thus providing a basis for the theories that organise and explain them. Bacon’s method in fact, was to become an approach akin to the standard view today, that observations are gathered to test a hypothesis and identified as being either relevant in supporting or refuting it – an empirical methodology. Bacon responded to the sceptics of his methodology as follows:

“We are to receive as conclusive the immediate informations of the sense, when well disposed . . . the information of the sense itself I sift and examine in many ways. For certain it is that the senses deceive; but then at the same time they supply the means of discovering their own errors . . . by experiments. For the subtlety of experiments is far greater than that of the sense itself, even when assisted by exquisite instruments; such experiments, I mean, as are skilfully and artificially devised for the express purpose of determining the point of the question.” (Bacon in Grayling 2019: 199).

What does Bacon have to offer us as photographers? He was an advocate of what many refer to as the ‘inductive’ method: knowledge develops by careful observation and experiment from which we can abstract general principles and theories. His advocacy of what we might term the experimental method and with it the careful consideration of different ideas, outcomes and future testing has been a great influence in the way that I go about my photographic work. For example, in working with the reeds at Loch Cill Chriosd I have find it useful to repeat experimental photographic practise as I look for ways to capture the luminosity that lies beneath the surface. Monet achieved the same effect in his beautiful images of the lily pond at Giverny and I in turn want to achieve the same outcome photographically.   By experimenting with different exposure techniques I find myself able to see quickly, in the shifting patterns of light and shade, when the transient effect I am after might be revealed photographically. I write a Photographic Journal about my thoughts and also record some of the technical experimentation to ensure I go about my work in a systematic way. In my view, all of this contributes to informed photographic practice



GRAYLING, A C. 2019. The History of Philosophy. London: Viking.

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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