My Psychology/Philosophy of Photography: Useful To You?

Discussion of architectural photography in general, plus postings for participating photographers in the Artifice Images licensing pool.

My Psychology/Philosophy of Photography: Useful To You?

Postby RonPrice » Fri Aug 24, 2007 1:09 am

We all lose things in life; we all change out of sight. Memories fade. All methods of recording past actualities are imperfect, every one of them. Human memory, written texts, photographs. All of them are deficient in some way. Eva Clendennin says she just doesn't much like the way she looks in photographs and she doesn’t much like the falsification of experience that she thinks is entailed in photographs. Of course, she is expressing her own views and others will inevitably have different views. I think these views throw my own collection of photographic memorabilia into perspective. These views also provide a provocative persepctive for architectural photogrpahy. :arrow:

In photographs it is not only the content that has the impact, but it is also the capability of the photograph to bring the receiving human body, thanks to the sensual stimuli, into a state of physical distraction, if not of sheer trance. The seductive power of photographs in particular and media in general lies in their suggestion that it is possible for us to become pure intensities of feeling. We connect to photographs and media out of a desire for a direct experience of something that is not ourselves. This is also true of print. But with photography you only have to see, you don’t have to say. You do not need any narrative or analytical skill.

Some analysts contend that all perceiving is also thinking, all reasoning is also intuition, all observation is also invention and, therefore, by implication, it is not words which are the primary ingredients of thinking but the entire repetoire of the senses. Since language precedes perception, perceiving and thinking are indivisibly intertwined. A person who paints, writes, composes, dances, indeed engages in any art form, including I hasten to add, life itself, thinks with his senses. And so our memories, in this context, become like a series of still photographs, a film strip, a film, a musical score, a mysterious and often chaotic sensory complex.

In my first album, a collection of some forty photographs for the years 1908 to 1953, fifteen of which are friends of my mother and people I do not know, there are some twenty-five photographs of my mother and various members of her family. The photographs provide something of a pictorial backdrop for the transition period from my grandfather’s autobiographical story which ended in 1901 to my own. His story, that part of his life that he wrote in an autobiography, ended at the turn of the twentieth century and is kept in a green two-ring binder in my study. My own pioneering story I take back to 1962 and my association with the Baha’i Faith goes back to 1953. Other aspects of my story go back to 1944, the year of my birth and even as far back as 1844 when I try to connect my family history to that of the history of this new world religion.
The bias for the human over nature, over the architectural in my collection is typical of the family album.


The visual imagery of the mind appears to be both more complex and less systematic than the visual imagery of cinema, TV or photography. Images viewed through conscious effort are more often indistinct and elusive. Even the faces of loved ones are often difficult to recall. They sidestep the mind’s gaze if their images are actively pursued. Long familiarity renders such objects too complex and heterogeneous for a single image to suffice. Such faces become, in our mind, multidimensional, ambiguous and possessed of a breadth and complexity that photography and film condense and strip away. This is also true of sensory experience in general.

Because of the elusiveness of sensory experience a mode of thinking comes into action, into play, called narrative thought.1 Narrative governs the disposal of objects and actions in time without which memory and language would be impossible. Most of our experience can be assigned a place in our narrative history or at least its potential, although some of our life is clearly and inevitably incoherent. -Ron Price with thanks to David MacDougall, “Films of Memory”, Visualizing Theory: Selected Essays from Visual Anthropology Review:1990-1994, editor, Lucien Taylor, Routledge, NY, 1994, p.266.

Just as film and documentary makers
are often uneasy about their narratives,
so are the autobiographers among us
as we try and reconstruct our lives, our
narratives, our stories. Some, of course,
seem less troubled. Often a celebratory
stance is adopted towards one’s memory,
masking uncertainty, an emptiness at the
heart of such authorship, a fundamental lack
of conviction; reminiscence is usually treated
as fragmentary, rarely as omniscience which
is presumed as arrogance. The richness inside
people’s memories is often unattainable and
is supplanted with endless illustrative material,
with physical experience, primary stimuli and
photographic iconography. These usually
do not serve to integrate society, encapsulate
ideology or create social order; rather they give
us the unalterable record of appearance and place
and a more profound place in our memory.

I would like to think that this story will allow
more than the record of appearance and place
and will contribute in a rich way to that ultimate
integration of society: will photographs help???

Ron Price
11 April 2000
Updated for:
ArchitectureWeekDesign Community:
24/8/07 :arrow:
Posts: 42
Joined: Thu Oct 28, 2004 12:56 am
Location: George Town Tasmania Australia

No Replies in Three Years

Postby RonPrice » Sun Jul 25, 2010 1:26 am

Since there have been No Replies in Three Years, I will add a response on the subject of "Culture to the Rescue."-Ron Price, Australia

In 1919 Ruth Benedict(1887-1948) began taking courses, first at Columbia University with American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey(1859-1952) and then at the New School for Social Research with American anthropologist, sociologist, folklorist, and feminist Elsie Clews Parsons(1875-1941) whose course in ethnology of the sexes kindled Benedict's interest in anthropology.(1) At the time my father was 29 and my mother 15. They would not meet for nearly a quarter of a century in Hamilton Ontario at the Otis Elevator Company where they both worked.

Under the guidance of Franz Boas, Benedict went on to receive her doctorate in 1923 from Columbia, where she remained for the next quarter century until her death at the age of 61 in 1948. In 1948 she was promoted to full professor in the Faculty of Political Science, the first woman to achieve such status.

In 1919, too, the Tablets of the Divine Plan, written by Abdu’l-Baha during the Great War, were unveiled in New York before the North American Baha’i community. During the years 1923 to 1948 the embryonic international Baha’i community was transformed from an informal network of groups into a series of national units of a world society.(2) The numbers of Baha’is increased in this period from about 100,000 to 200,000.(3)

Benedict's fieldwork was done in California among the Serrano and with the Zuñi, Cochiti, and Pima in the Southwest. Student training trips took her to the Mescalero Apache in Arizona and Blackfoot in the Northwest. From her work in the field, several of her books were developed: Tales of the Cochiti Indians(1931); Zuñi Mythology(1935); and Patterns of Culture(1934) which became a best seller and influenced American life in that it explained the idea of "culture" to the layperson.

During World War II, Benedict worked for the Office of War Information, applying anthropological methods to the study of contemporary cultures. A study of Japan was her final assignment. The outgrowth of her work on Japan for the OWI was her book, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture(1946), which became a bestseller at the time and, ultimately, a classic work in the study of Japanese culture. At Benedict’s death in 1948 I was four years old.-Ron Price with thanks to (1)Guide to the Ruth Fulton Benedict Papers: 1905-1948, in the Vassar College Library; (2)Loni Bramson-Lerche, Some Aspects of the Development of the Baha’i Administrative Order in America, 1922-1936, Studies in Babi & Baha’i History, Vol.1, ed. Moojan Momen, Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, 1982, pp. 255-300; and (3) these numbers are my personal approximations.

I first heard of you in 1963 when
I was reading sociology at uni in
Canada long ago at the age of 19!
The course was a tortuous story
with Talcott Parsons’ theories at
the centre and my psycho-bio---
emotional state all over the place.
But sociology remained in my life-
narrative & it still is in the evening
of my life as is this new world Faith
for our embryonic global society with
its patterns of planetary culture a word
which you, Ruth, helped us to begin to
understand at the very start of that Plan
far back in those entre deux guerres years
of 1936/7 as the world was about to explode
yet again in that tempest, in another sad war.

Ron Price
24 July 2010
Posts: 42
Joined: Thu Oct 28, 2004 12:56 am
Location: George Town Tasmania Australia

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