a blog by knut skjærven

Posts tagged “Edmund Husserl

Moments Sticks

The more I occupy myself with these areas, phenomenology and photography, the more they seem to interconnect.

I should have recognized this a long time ago, but I am afraid it only occurred to me recently. Simple things sometimes mature slowly. It goes like this: The notion moment is essential to both phenomenology and photography.

All of us, interested in photography, have heard of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Decisive Moments as described in his famous book from 1952. I am not going to repeat that story here since it is already on this blog.

Considerable fewer of us know that a moment also is a central theme in Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology.

It goes like this: Phenomenology deals, among many other things, with parts and wholes. Parts comes in two types: Pieces and moments.

If I have a framed picture, and that picture is a photograph, the framed picture could consist of a) a piece of glass, b) a wooden painted frame, c) white passepartout, d) a back plate to support and stabilize it all, and e) possible some nails, tape or glue to hold it all together.

These parts are all pieces. They are independent parts.

Independent parts are parts that can be dismantled. They have, as one of their characteristics,  the ability to live their own life after being dismantled from the picture. Pieces don’t stick.

There is, however, also another type of parts involved. These parts are moments. Moments are dependent parts. They do not live their own life after being dismantled. In fact, they cannot be dismantled at all. Moments sticks.

Have a look at the picture above. Moments are e.g. the light and shadow in the black and white print, the identification of some of the combinations of light and shadows as human beings, stairs, shoes, legs, stone, etcetera. Try take those parts apart and discover that such a thing is not possible.

Here is a very important type of moments: All those parts that are not seen in the photograph. You see only parts of two women, yet you know that the rest is there. You see only parts of a staircase, yet you know the rest is there too. These moment sticks.

He is my point: If you combine the photographic moments with the phenomenological moments, there opens up a wholly new road of understanding photography. Simple as that.

What are the implications of this? Let me come back to that. They are huge.

I will leave is there, since this blog is also a notebook. I just made a note.

Have a good day.

By the way, you may want to chick the image above. Just to see where it takes you.


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.