In the pre-Modern world, when phenomena could not be explained by tangible physical interactions, they were explained by magic. As there was no understanding of, for example, magnetism or gravity, the effects of these forces were ascribed to magic or to the occult.
The frontiers of knowledge have moved to an enormous degree, especially in the physical world, but magic still exists as an exegesis for the inexplicable elsewhere.
When people put their faith in therapies that have no scientific basis, one must assume that they are relying on some sort of magic, some process that cannot be explained, in order to get better. But magic is most widely embraced in the fields of entertainment and the arts. Audiences marvel at magicians as they perform actions that are apparently impossible. But I want to focus on the magic that happens in the arts, especially photography when the viewer is stopped in their tracks, or just says “Wow”.
In “Towards a Philosophy of Photography”, Flusser, Chalmers, and von Amelunxen describe the basic concepts of photography: image, apparatus, program and information. As photographers, we know we need these components or concepts to come together to produce a photograph. But these components can be brought together by automatic processes which, once enabled, will carry on producing photographs, to order, indefinitely. This describes motorway speed cameras, Google Street View and airborne reconnaissance photography. Forms of photography that simply provide data to assist in the execution of related tasks: the enforcement of speeding fines, plotting journeys and observing the activities of enemies.
Some of this automatic photography has been appropriated as art, but it always the act of appropriating it, that makes it art or interesting or arresting. So what is appropriation, and what happens when an artist performs this act?
Appropriation is an act of free will. It is an artist saying “I like this. I shall use it”. Just like when an artist says “I shall make this, in this way”. It is fiat, an act of creation, saying it shall be and so it is. And when this act of appropriation or creation is sufficiently bold and effective, it becomes magic. The components of the photograph come together to optimum effect, not to the requirements of a formula, but according to the will of the photographer. An unexplainable, transformative act that grabs the attention of the viewer.
This magic is a leap, a flight, from a solid point to somewhere entirely new.
Magic as entertainment relies on the skill of the performer. There is no occult, just distractions, sleight of hand, gadgetry and showmanship. Perhaps, as photographers, these are the skills we need to acquire. That in order to make our pictures flatter, overawe or pierce, we need to know how to intervene in the program, how to subvert the apparatus and take charge of the information in order to inject the magic into the image. Then viewers will stop and look at our work, hopefully taking the time to try and understand what we are saying.
So does this affect me, how do I make my mark?
Firstly, in my tutorial with LH, she suggested I think less about the image and more about my voice.
Secondly, I watched a Villem Flusser lecture on YouTube https://youtu.be/ZWcX3XQyukg
In it, he talks about the relationship between photography and politics and about how politics rolls towards the camera. Politics loves the camera. Politicians gladly attend the photo-op because they know that the image of them in a positive light will help their popularity or the delivery of their cause.
My voice is political. I’m a member of the Green Party, I have been an elected councilor and I stood for parliament. Whilst I hope I can show many facets to the world, I know this is a strong part of my personality. So I may as well take Flusser’s advice:
“In order to be able to set the camera for artistic, scientific and political images, photographers have to have some concepts of art, science and politics; How else are they supposed to be able to translate them into an image? There is no such thing as naive, non-conceptual photography. A photograph is an image of concepts.”
Flusser, Vilem. Towards a Philosophy of Photography. , 2000 (p36)
So the lesson is, listen to my voice. What makes me happy, what makes me angry, what do I think needs to change. Don’t make pictures that conform to the formula, make the pictures that resonate with the voice. Continually leap towards my ideas and the things that are important to me. My photographs should be images of my concepts.