14 June 2009

Fairies, intentional and otherwise

I've muttered about intentionality before, but here it is again. In opening a recent Photo.Net thread, Fred Goldsmith asked about "our consciousness of taking photos". I replied that both conscious intent and instinctive response were inevitable components in the taking of any photograph, however planned or unexpected. While I still think that, I'm realising as I ponder over it that perhaps things are less simple.

This morning I've been struggling to deal with an unprecedented response to a Today picture, yesterday's Today 090613. Thinking about the various comments and questions has made me think about how the Today pictures happen, and what they represent. My header blurb on the archive says "it's not photography, as such: it's a series of fragmentary moments which stuck to me", but I've only just started to think seriously about what that glib throwaway description means.

Today photographs are, very explicitly, not photographs that I set out to take. They are snapshots: pictures which just happened to present themselves to me. I haven't ever thought it through in those words, before, but that's the truth of it. Yesterday's Today 090613 is a particularly clear example of this, and its genesis is illustrative.

We, my partner and I, were in town together (I never, ever, go with conscious intent to take photographs in company; its an inherently antisocial activity; I do it alone.) I had only a small pocket digital compact with me (a Today machine; for a deliberate photography outing it would be an SLR). We were on a mission to buy the new vacuum cleaner which, at last, after several years of hesitation, she had finally agreed that we needed (I certainly would not combine deliberate intent to photograph with an afternoon of cost and feature comparisons destined to culminate in the carrying home of a large box).

As we proceeded up the high street in a northerly direction, between the T J Hughes and Argos stores, we passed The Shop Formerly Known As Weirdy Nook, now refurbished and reopened as Bewitched. This is a shop which combines a variety of Indian prints and other neohippy fashions with a range of merchandise from inexpensive jewellery to household ornaments – most of it pure tat, but with the occasional pearl hiding amongst it. So, we stopped to see what the refurbishment and reopening had wrought.

Inside were, amongst other things, a range of small figurines depicting winged fairies. These were not the usual childlike fairies, nor the Ramboesque "kick ass" fairies of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl stories, but a new (to me, at any rate) variety: post pubescent fairies, all female, in preRaphaelite mood and various states of undress. It immediately struck me that these were close cousins of the fantasy women on old SF paper back covers such as Podkayne of Mars. A vague idea (conscious intentionality enters the picture here) drifted into my head of extending the intermittent "lurid covers" discussion between Dr C, JSBlog, Unreal Nature, and myself. So, the interior being small, crowded, and lit to evoke a grotto, I wandered outside to see if there was an example in the window.

I found my example (that's it, on the left) – a mild and decorous one, compared to those inside, but it illustrates the point.

Because I was photographing through glass, I had to jiggle about a bit to get a view which both made my point and simultaneously avoided reflections. In the process, I was confronted with the image which became Today 090613 and, without any conscious intent of which I am aware, my shutter finger twitched.

Does the conscious intent to record the photograph shown here transfer to the other one which appeared as Today 090613? Or Not? Does it invalidate or support my assertion that conscious intent always plays some part in the making of a photograph? I'm not, immediately, sure. I wonder what Fred Goldsmith would say.


Gayle Reynolds said...

"Does the conscious intent to record the photograph shown here transfer to the other one which appeared as Today 090613? Or Not? Does it invalidate or support my assertion that conscious intent always plays some part in the making of a photograph? I'm not, immediately, sure. I wonder what Fred Goldsmith would say."

I can't honestly answer that. All I can tell you is that I don't always start out with a conscious idea of what I'm about to paint on a blank canvas. Sometimes the colors I've chosen or a brush stroke lead the way to an end I never expected. Is there something conscious--or subconscious--that takes me to the end? Probably some of each.

Julie Heyward said...

I'm going to focus only on conscious intent because instinctive response would seem to be defined as "whatever is leftover after or outside of that."

How you conceive of conscious intent seems to me to depend on your idea of how long before the event that intent must have happened (been in consciousness). If a long time, then almost nothing is by conscious intent; if a short time, them almost everything is by conscious intent.

So the question about which and whether it is conscious or instinctive seems to me to hinge entirely on the time-before requirement that one assigns to consciouos intent. For a photographer, a loose intent to make pictures is always present -- but was not present before he became a photographer. A tighter intent to take a particular type of picture can be present for long periods of time. The intent to take pictures of particular items can't be present until those items are in sight. Whether, which and when becomes apparent in ever smaller time slices.

For any picture made by deliberate finger movement on the shutter release, you could define a time slice short enough and claim conscious intent.

Fred Goldsmith said...

I've had experiences like yours but don't know if I've ever hit the shutter with complete immediacy. It seems like it takes some sort of intention just to bring the camera up to my eye. You probably didn't dwell on why you were taking this or even what you were taking. And I don't know how specific the intention would have been beyond simply, "I will now take a picture" or "I will now trip the shutter." Probably the most interesting conscious decision or intention in your story is to make a picture that you will send to a group of folks every day. I imagine that intention guides you, even if not with specific consciousness about each photo.