Philosophy as Method

During class we mainly spoke about philosophy in the form of, ethics, aesthetics and ontology of photography. One of the first things I learnt during class was that there is a ‘philosophy of’ lots of different things. It is such a broad subject it is hard to understand it in one lesson, however I did realise that even if I wasn’t aware of it I think philosophically about subjects anyway and ask many of the questions they raise.

We began by looking into ontology, out of the three parts of this class this is the one I was least familiar with and found the hardest to understand. The main question that is asked with ontology is what is photography? and what makes a photography what it is? These questions feel very broad and hard to answer but what made it easier to understand what ontology was is when it was explained that during the Modernism period photographers were challenging what photography is, making it a very ontological period.

Another valuable point I found was when talking about the necessary and sufficient conditions of photography –
Is quality x a necessary condition of photography? =
Are there images which are obviously photographs but don’t have quality x ?
Does a photograph have to be in focus? Is a photograph that isn’t in focus a photograph? In my opinion it still is a photograph, but then are scans and x-rays of objects photographs? In that sense I’m not so sure I would consider the image a photograph.

The second subject we moved onto was ethics. Famine, natural disasters, war, terrorism, slavery, most likely we wouldn’t witness or be aware of any of these things if it wasn’t for photography, but is it morally correct that we are? Who actually benefits from photojournalists capturing moments of torture? Could they just be encouraging it to continue? Just observers sitting on the fence documenting it whilst letting it continue. We see so many shocking images on the internet and in newspapers that we are becoming anaesthetised to it and are no longer astonished from what we see.

Two terms that were explained were consequentialism and deontology. Consequentialism is whereto moral value of an act is based on the acts consequence: if the consequences are good, the act was good. Deontology is you have to do your duty, you have to do what is right in the first place, regardless of the consequences.

Lastly we spoke about aesthetics, when thinking about this theory it is often thought to be about the beauty in art and nature, but when thinking of it formally it becomes more about the colours used and how the image is composed rather than questioning what beauty is.
In terms of photography these aren’t the only things we to think about and in fact when thinking of aesthetics in a philosophical way it actually predates photography.
Photography in the sense of philosophical aesthetics discusses whether photography is aesthetically valuable at all? Is photography in fact an art at all? This leads us to think about how photography is different from other media, it definitely does have aesthetic value but this did not come from it specifically being photography.
One thing photography can capture is the sublime, juxtaposing the disasters with aesthetically pleasing photography, which can come back to the point made from ethics – does this just make us numb from it?

In conclusion I have found that ethics, aesthetics and ontology of photography all combine to further analyse photographs, questioning them rather than just looking a the surface. It really does make you think about yourself as a photographer and what you’re doing with the images that you take, are they actually helping anyone? or are they just benefitting you? Next time I begin a project or decide to take a photograph of something under these ethics I will most likely find myself thinking about this.


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