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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Newhall

Philosophy and Photography: Why?

Yes. You read the title correctly. Today I'm talking about the philosophy of art, called aesthetics. Specifically, I'm interested in the philosophy of photography and aesthetics in philosophy. Now, you might have read the "Science vs Art" post, and that's kind of, sort of, not really, what I'm talking about today.


Aesthetics philosophy is a type of philosophy in which people focus on art. They are largely asking questions like: What is the meaning of art? Why do we like art? Is art practical? The most important of these is the question I'm asking today: What is the point of using photography, a scientific process, to create art?


Emotions: One of the first things that comes to mind as a reason for the importance of photography, and indeed art in general, is emotions. Humans are emotional animals. We feel

Photo from great depression called Migrant Mother
This work is particularly famous! Often shown in textbooks

feelings in response to the world around us. Artwork can help with understanding this. Therapists and

psychologists have been known to use art as a form of therapy, and therefore using art to process emotions. Besides just helping process emotions, it also helps us feel emotions. Often when people look at art or photographs they feel something. "Migrant Mother" by Dorthea Lange (featured here) is a famous example. This image is often used to express the impact of the Great Depression. This Photo clearly captures that.


Photojournalism: The practicality of trying to "capture the moment," is certainly an excellent use of the camera. Photojournalism certainly has this effect. In this modern era front page news articles often feature an image capturing the story. It could be a speech, a protest, or even a prominent sport! Nonetheless, it is certainly an application of photography, Is it a practical use of photography? It documents things and tells a story, but is it an art? Well, that's certainly a whole other discussion defining what art is and whether photography is an art form. However, photojournalism is certainly a practical application of photography.


Fine Art Photography: Based on what we've already discussed, photography can serve a practical application. However, the question still remains: Does fine art photography serve a practical application in society? I say that yes, fine art photography does serve a practical application. What application is that? Well, it can certainly help lead a discussion or send a message. For example, photographs depicting events like the Great Depression, warfare, and protests certainly helped record and display contemporary events.


Okay, but that display and recording of contemporary events really falls more into photojournalism than it does fine art. Regardless, fine art photography can certainly encourage discussion. When people look at an art piece in a gallery, they discuss it. What that discussion is depends on the piece, but it can certainly be a practical discussion, regardless of whether it is of a political nature or not. For example, someone might make a piece using a certain technical

light manipulation photo. Wix stock image
This light drawing is an example of that effect. Wix Stock Image

effect. The discussion could even be about the science of that effect. Discussing how light was used and manipulated can certainly have practical applications. Understanding how light moves is something scientists are curious to explore, and fine art photography takes advantage of these interesting effects.


So, how can someone apply a practical side to their own photography? Well, I just mentioned how one can mess with light in taking a photo. Things such as light drawing for example. Those physical manipulations of light is something I certainly enjoy exploring. Preserving the moment, whether it is of a newsworthy nature or not, is certainly another practical application. Who objects to freezing time, and indeed preserving a memory?


What do you think? What practical applications have you found with your photography?





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