a blog by knut skjærven

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Cartier-Bresson and Zen

Tonal Range. © 2008: Knut Skjærven.

In the history of photography French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson plays a special role. Not only are many of his photographs a delight  to look at and to study, but Cartier-Bresson also had a good grip on what he wanted to do, and how he wanted to do it. He wrote about his photography.

The book giving the best overview of his thoughts on photography is The Minds Eye. I have the version from 1999, published by Aperture.

In this book, as in other contexts, Cartier-Bresson suggest that he does not consider himself as a photographer at all, but as one whose main task it simply is to be attentive to life. His main art form he considered to be drawing. For Cartier-Bresson photography was only a quicker way to do things.

If you want to understand a bit more about what this attention to life might mean, a good place to start is within Buddhism. Cartier-Bresson is said to be a Buddhist at least part of his life. I started to look around for sources that might enlighten me in this matter.

By a simple search on Google, I was pointed to an article on the subject. The article is Henri Cartier Bresson Zen Buddhist? It is written by British photographer and photojournalist, Ben Wyeth. Go see his site here.

The story ends here. Or is starts here. Depends.  As it is Friday: Have a nice weekend. Enjoy the article.

Many thanks, Ben.

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Chan-fai Cheung:”Kairos. Phenomenology and Photography” (book review)

Click the text image above to read the full review at pages 137-143.

This is an amazing book. It combines close to 200 photographs with phenomenological theory.

Normally, I would just have posted my review here, but because of copyright reasons, I am in no position to do so. If you, however, click the picture  above, or this link, you will be taken to the review that was published online a couple of days ago in Romanian journal, Studia Philosophia, 3/2010. In January 2011 there will be a print version, as well.

The book is Kairos. Phenomenology and Photography. It was published by Edwin Cheng Foundation, Asian Centre for Phenomenology, Hong Kong, 2009. The author is Chan-fai Cheung. He is professor and chairman of the Department of Philosophy at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, as well as director of several other departments and units.

Professor Chan-fai Cheung is one of the international capacities on phenomenology and photography. He is also a keen photographer.

The book also includes articles by Hans Rainer Sepp and Kwok-ying Lau.

Good luck with it. Feel free to comment on the book review, right on this blog.


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.

Sporting Life

Sporting Life.

André Bazin:

“The aesthetic qualities of photography are to be sought in its power to lay bare the realities. It is not for me to separate off, in the complex fabric of the objective world, here a reflection on a damp sidewalk, there the gesture of a child. Only the impassive lens, stripping its object of all those ways of seeing it, those piled-up preconceptions, that spiritual dust and grime with which my eyes have covered it, is able to present it in all its virginal purity to my attention and consequently to my love. By the power of photography, the natural image of a world that we neither know nor can know, nature at last does more then imitate art: she imitates the artist.”

André Bazin: The Ontology of the Photographic Image, in Classic Essays on Photography, edited by Alan Trachtenberg, Leete’s Island Books, New Haven 1980, page 242.

Library Thing.


In Any Single Picture

French Visit.

“Of course it is impossible to separate thinking from acting; in any practice of photography, in any single picture produced by a camera, there is already an idea of the function, the character, the limits of the medium.”

Classic Essays on Photography, edited by Alan Trachtenberg, Leete’s Island Books, New Haven 1980, Introduction, p. vii.

Library Thing.