Photography is of late a revitalized hobby of mine. As a young man I toyed with photography on an Agfa Silette-LK 35 mm camera; and, later thinking my skill might improve with a more expensive Nikon camera – which it did not – I flirted in that mechanical depth. But it was only when I unwittingly discovered the “edit” feature of the iPhone camera that the compulsion took hold. Subject to obvious constraints I consider photography a matter of self-expression. The amateur interest may not qualify as artistic but it is more than just snapping a shutter. Everybody knows the quip about the two ways of looking at things; viz., the glass half-empty or the glass half-full. When it comes to photography – which I consider reflective of the way people view things in life – the image in my opinion is less a matter of philosophy and more a matter of phrenology.
Phrenology (from Ancient Greek φρήν (phrēn) ‘mind’, and λόγος (logos) ‘knowledge’) is a pseudoscience whichinvolves the measurement of bumps on the skull to predict mental traits. It is based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules. It was said that the brain was composed of different muscles, so those that were used more often were bigger, resulting in the different skull shapes. This led to the reasoning behind why everyone had bumps on the skull in different locations. The brain “muscles” not being used as frequently remained small and were therefore not present on the exterior of the skull. Although both of those ideas have a basis in reality, phrenology generalized beyond empirical knowledge in a way that departed from science.The central phrenological notion that measuring the contour of the skull can predict personality traits is discredited by empirical research. Developed by German physician Franz Joseph Gall in 1796, the discipline was influential in the 19th century, especially from about 1810 until 1840. The principal British centre for phrenology was Edinburgh, where the Edinburgh Phrenological Society was established in 1820.
There are countless whackos in this world. Nonetheless I remind myself of the primary feature (or, if you prefer, the “major premise” in the deductive argument) that we’re all looking at the same thing just from a different perspective. This implies there are two significant features to photography – the photographed and the photographer. Confining myself to photographic editing, I put the examination right up there with Hume and Descartes – the philosophic dimensions and foundations of knowledge between conscious and empirical experience; or, to put it another way, how one sees it or what one sees. Curiously the two alternatives are each reasonably possible. There is no distinction other than perception.
If I were to attach any credibility to either phrenology or philosophy, the debate is not who of us is correct in our would-be syllogistic conclusion about the truth of either perception but rather how both might co-exist. It is no indignity that people do not agree about their particular perspective. The object is not to trivialize the dynamics of life by eliminating differences. Instead the goal must be to enable people to express their views of the world differently; but, in the process to align themselves with a cooperative path designed to preserve those differences without injuring either party.
Photography has an indisputable visceral appeal in addition to touching upon one of our five senses; namely, sight. Oddly it is the visceral appeal which distinquishes what is often labelled the cerebral attraction of a photograph. Call it what you will, people look at things differently. It is within the scope of editing that I have been able to achieve a dynamic that satisfies me and in the process appeals to certain others. I am naturally open to the disapproval or approbation of what I produce. Because I have no retail interest in my work it is a hobby devoted purely to self-satisfaction. But – pardon the pun – I am driven by that phrenetic impulse.
late 14c., frenetik, “temporarily deranged, delirious, crazed,” from Old French frenetike “mad, crazy” (13c.), from Latin phreneticus “delirious,” alteration of Greek phrenitikos, from phrenitis (nosos) “frenzy, mental disease, insanity,” literally “inflammation of the brain,” from phrēn“mind, reason,” also “diaphragm” + -itis “inflammation.” The classical ph- sometimes was restored from mid-16c.
Another inescapable truth is that we are influenced by our past – both genetic and empirical. This translates into artistic expression of which we might ourselves may be entirely unaware. We seemingly instinctively react to different colours, degrees of definition and any number of alternatives (such as light, balance and intensity) in the “edit” scheme. These manifestations are as signficant signals to our brain as scent is to animals. Unknowingly they trigger favourable or displeasing alerts within us. Nor can it be presumed that the strength of reaction is contrary to or within our particular ambition. Sometimes the allure is remorseful; others it is wanton and perhaps even lascivious.