a blog by knut skjærven

Edmund Husserl

Husserl: Photograph’s Three Objects.

Honouring Henri.© Knut Skjærven.

There are a couple of statements that are “a must” for everyone who deals with phenomenology and photography. The statements are made by Edmund Husserl, and found in the text for the winter semester lectures held in 1904-1905. He gave these lectures in Göttingen, Germany.

Speaking about perception, images, phantasy and memory he moves into the area of physical images. In chapter two of the lectures he speaks about physical images, and even about photographs.The situation is, as he says, “somewhat more complicated” (20)

“For example, there lies before us a photograph representing a child.” (20) Husserl continues by stating that we, in fact, deals with three object:

“We have three objects: 1) the physical image, the physical thing made from canvas, marble and so on; 2) the representing or depicting object; and 3) the represented or depicted object. For the latter we prefer to say simply “image subject“; for the first object we prefer “physical image”; for the second, “representing image” or “image object”. (21)

Husserl deals with photographs as a particular type of image (or picture). What he says about images includes reference to painting, drawing, sculpture “and so on”. In that context he occasionally speaks explicitly about photography, and film.

Husserl’s statements imply the following for the photograph above:

Physical Image:

The physical image is the combination of pixels that I perceive at my computer screen at this very moment. Likewise, what you perceive on your screen. Husserl did not, for obvious reasons, speak about screen images in 1904-1905.

If I want to manipulate the pixels I can do that in different image editors, or I can simply turn off the screen and the image will be gone.

If I print the image on paper, I can tear it up, lay it on my desk, place it upside down, hang it on the wall, or whatever.

The physical image is quite indifferent as to what is depicted (image subject) or what is depicting  (image object).

Image Subject:

The image subject is a particular spot at the wall memorial at Bernauer Strasse in Berlin. Including the people and other physical objects, that were present.

Image Object:

The image object is what you would normally refer to as the picture or the photograph. It shows what it shows in the way it shows it. In this case the image object is a piece of a wall with some people in front of it. Different activities are observed. Is it a cropped picture where the composition plays an important part. It is a black and white picture. And so on …

Some would say that a picture, when the picture is a photograph, is merely a mechanical reproduction of what was in front of the lens when the release button was pressed. Certainly something was in front of the lens (and always is) when this photograph was taken, but a photograph is hardly a mere mechanical reproduction of an image subject.

Yes, it is a bit complicated. I am not sure if three objects will do it either. Since this is merely a note, however, I will leave it here.

Quotes are made from Edmund Husserl: Phantasy, Image, Consciousness, and Memory (1898-1925), translated by John B. Brough, Springer 2005. The numbers in brackets are reference to pages in the book. For full information on the book please see Library Thing.

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Husserl’s Curious Image

Curious Couple. © Knut Skjærven.

What’s luck got to do with it? A lot, I would say. Being at the right place at the right time.

Last week I decided to start mapping out the best brains on phenomenology and photography. Not separately, but combined. Who are they, where are they, and what have they done that could be of interest for this project. What are they presently working on?

I started to ask around. It was my guess that the Husserl-Archives in Leuven, Belgium, would be one of the good places to start. They should know who is who, where and when.

I had a look at their web page, but that did not ring any immediate bells so I just roamed the site. And there it was: Professor John Brough (Georgetown University, Washington D.C.) was on his way to Leuven, Belgium, to do a guest lecture. (This was Thursday October 7, 2010.) The theme: The Curious Image: Husserlian Thoughts on Photography. To be held Monday 11 October, 17.00 – 19.00, Room C. I could even download a poster.

I know John Brough’s reputations already. He is the guy who translated Husserl’s Phantasie, Bildbewusstsein, Erinnerung (Husserliana Band XXXIII), which, I am ashamed to say, have owned for many years, but until recently never have done anything serious about. I bought the English translation by Brough a couple of years back, and was actually re-reading his brilliant introduction, when I found out about the guest lecture in Belgium. I wanted to drive down (from Copenhagen, Denmark), but there was not much time to prepare. So I did not go.

Did you know, by the way, that you can read most of John Brough’s English translation, absolutely free of charge. On the net. Try it. You can definitely read the Introduction.

There is even more: Handbook of Phenomenological Aesthetics just came out. Edited by Hans Rainer Sepp and Lester Embree. I am the lucky owner of one copy. Professor Brough has two articles in the book. The first one is titled: Edmund Husserl (1859 -1938), and the second one is on Representation. Both are good reads on the way to photography.

The common view is that Husserl said very little about photography. I don’t hold that opinion.

That is, basically, what I wanted to tell you. I am really looking forward to reading John Brough’s guest lecture on Husserl’s curious image. Once it is ready for publishing. I will probably write about it too. If I am right, the lecture definitely fills a gap.

Should I say that I am eagerly curious, or is that too banal?

NB: The photograph above has nothing to do with the lecture. It has been inserted for visual purposes, by the blog author. Go here for more photographs.