Object-Oriented Photography – a speculative essay on the photography of essence (Bob Ryan and Alison Price)
The title of my thesis is as follows:
The Ontology of the Photographic Moment – An Exploration of the Implications of Speculative Realism for Photographic Practice
While studying for an MA I began to feel dissatisfied with the phenomenological approach I was using – that is to capture the landscape as experienced by our senses and through our perceptual skills. It seemed to me that there was more to photography than this and I wanted to take a more challenging path. After reading Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Ontology (2018) I began to search for the “essence” in my work and in my subjects, looking for the “more than the sums of its parts” in objects, whilst recognising that Harman had made clear that the Real Object and Real Qualities of an object were not directly accessible. I was also drawn to Harman’s world where all objects were equal whether small or large, real or imaginary and where we as humankind are also objects.
My work at this time was also inspired by the words of Jacques Derrida who in his search for meaning between words and lines of text referred to:
“. . . the crevice through which the yet unnameable glimmer beyond the closure can be glimpsed.” (1967) p14).
These words indicated to me that Derrida was searching for Being behind a network of signification and suggested that I could use the deconstructive powers of the camera – to reduce space and time – to capture a glimpse of the glimmer in familiar places. In setting about my task through my photographic practice I referred to Ryan’s Star Diagram, a methodological framework by which I might approach “essence”.
I worked on all five of Ryan’s (2019) strategies of reduction (through framing, converting to black and white and beginning to use intentional camera movement and multiple exposures), metaphor as a means of alluding to the essence of the Isle of Skye through unnoticed natural objects, fracture through my photographic practice “Among Trees, and attenuation and activation to encourage intuitive use of the camera and encourage creative flow through playing music in the field. In my photographic work, I am searching for a sense of dwelling in locations, a feeling of Being aware of another Being and the entanglement that might exist between them. In all cases, I am looking for a sense of interiority with my subject rather than an observer looking in or at them.
My research and photographic practice have led me to produce a model of 10 signifiers that can possibilise the realisation of Being.
These are approaches that I have tried and tested in my photographic work and while others might interpret the constructs in different ways, I believe that my research has the potential to guide other photographers searching for the essence.
Derrida, J. (1967). Of Grammatology. Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press.
Harman, G. (2018). Object-Oriented Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. Milton Keynes, Pelican Books.
Ryan, R. J. (2019). Intuition, Expertise and Judgement in the Assessment of Photographic Images. School of Business and the School of Art. Cheltenham, University of Gloucestershire. PhD: 492.
I read this with interest, especially your diagram, and looked at the Ryan Ph.D. thesis you referenced There are a lot of new terminologies here, so I will require more time and attention to understand them better.
I was especially drawn to your comments about “essence” and the “thing itself” Of course, that is what phenomenology has been trying to address for the last century. No less than Edward Weston wrote about his intentions in this regard as “intensification of the important form and texture—a revelation.” And Frederick Sommer wrote “In total acceptance, almost everything becomes a revelation.” Weston influenced Sommer but Sommer’s reference to acceptance adds a significant framing to the process of “revelation.” Essence is a problematic concept. In Buddhist literature, there is a concept of “suchnes”” that seems very close to our idea of essence, but in this instance, it is regarded as more of a lived experience than an intellectual concept, akin to a revelation perhaps.
I discovered the following paper just today that addresses some similarities and differences between object-oriented ontology and MerleauPonty’s phenomenology, and I found that informative.
I would be interested in any comments you might have about it.
Of course, in the final analysis it is not our theoretical perspectives as artists that count most but what we do with our cameras.
I look forward to more of your writing.