A Philosophy of Photography

A Philosophy of Photography
and of Some Visual Art in General
by Rick Garlikov


Great photography is simple.
It is merely to discover, collect, arrange, create, anticipate or provoke
exquisite subject matter;
and then to choose, invent, or patiently wait for
that properly illuminating and perfectly enhancing light,
in order to utilize the proper electronic and mechanical equipment,
and the optical and chemical principles and processes,
which will isolate, immobilize, and capture the combination forever
in a visually meaningful and aesthetically interesting way.
It takes only a camera and film.
It is almost as simple as writing, which needs only pen and paper;
as sculpting, which requires only chisel and mallet;
or as orchestra conducting, which demands only a thin stick and an evening coat
—unknown source


SO worthwhile reading:

What You Perceive Is Not Always What You Think You See

Trying to capture qualities in a purely visual way is often difficult because what we perceive or feel, or even seem to see, about something is not always what we actually see. I have already discussed about the football play that was so clear to the eye but so minute a part of the field of vision that the film could not portray it the way it appeared. And I have mentioned how cold and dead a play or classroom presentation seems on film photographed from the back (or even the front) of the room, though it might be a quite exciting presentation to those in the audience at the time. Similarly, you have seen movies made from cameras attached to cars or peoples heads as they drive or walk about; and the way such scenes look to you is not anything like anything really looks to you when you walk or ride in a car. In a still photograph, you can get all kinds of terribly distracting things you never even noticed at the time you took the picture. If there are geometric lines such as the lines of the edges of walls and ceilings in the background of a picture, if you are at any but the squarest of angles or at some geometrically interesting angle to those edges, the room will look distorted and badly built. None of the edges will look correctly vertical or horizontal. A beautiful face outside in the noonday sun actually has terrible shadows in the eyes and socket area because of the protrusion of people’s brows. But you do not notice that when you are talking to someone. So if they and their eyes appear beautiful to you, it is not just because of the way they look, or the way they would look if you painted or photographed them accurately. If you take a close-up head and shoulders picture, with a normal camera lens (for example, a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera), of an adult, you will get just enough distortion in the proportions between the nose, eyes, and ears that the portrait will usually be unsatisfactory though it may not be apparent why or what exactly is wrong. Yet, while looking through the camera’s viewer the face will probably have seemed normal proportion to the photographer.

Part of the art or trick in film or tape or in painting is to get what you want to portray to “appear” the way it does or can instead of the way it actually would look if you just copied it. You need to capture an essence or a perception rather than a strict physical appearance. So you have to discover or decide what the essence or the perception is first; and that is not always easy. In portrait photography, one of the things that makes someone attractive sometimes is their personality, not just their physical looks; so in order to capture their beauty you have to somehow capture their personality. If you don’t and they do not have much beauty in just their looks, you will get just a very unflattering and unattractive picture*


What I generally like to do in photography is to try to isolate and depict or capture a particular quality or idea or the essence of some subject, especially if that quality or essence is elusive and difficult to discover and/or to portray. I like to do this in part so that I can show other people the way I perceive a subject so that they can perceive it that way too in case they never did before and might find it interesting and/or enjoyable. Sometimes then they also may “see it” afterwards emotionally the same way I do or with the same kind of perspective. Photography is in this manner a sharing and teaching experience for me. And even when people do already “see” some subject the same way I do, capturing that perspective on film is then a different kind of sharing experience — one that simply expresses what we all perceive, and demonstrates to the group that we actually do feel similarly about the subject, or perceive it similarly


and, if you have time and /or interest

A Philosophy of Photography
and of Some Visual Art in General


Journal Comments

  • Peter Evans
  • Andrea Ja
  • Andrea Ja
  • Peter Evans