Unruly Discipline

Position and Practice – Week 2

How I love this post title. This a perfect paradox that describe the practice of photography.

Jessie Alexander’s approach to teaching us has peaked my interest. Bear with me and read further to understand the two statements

My impressions of the engagement with the Fishers cohort

A wanderer above a Sea of Fog 1818-Casper Dawid Fiedrich

In spite attempts to separate the photographers context from the appreciation of the art work, the photograph in this case, this weeks exercise emphasized the value of understanding the photographers and what influence their photography. Our Photographs are not merely a disconnected moment that is captured. Even intuition is informed by our experiences and past learnings.

Philosophy and its influence

One of my latest and more intense influences in my photographic practice and development is the disciplines that has been developed in History and Theology and other philosophies. While I don’t see myself as fully knowledgeable in the subject, I believe this is a significant global influence that knowingly and unknowingly impacted us throughout the western world via our education. It is how we have been taught to learn, observe and put it into practice. You may well think that the “Enligtenment” is a photographic term but this period’s impact on the development of photography or arguably may even have been the road that led to discovery of it.

The Enlightenment was a golden period when conflicting philosophies such as Rationalism, Romanticism and Empiricism collided which resulted in a creative tension launching the world into the greatest period of incalculable growth and understanding of the world we live in. I have no doubt it is the source of of conflict that all serious photographers experience in our practice today. the terms used in Jessy’s lecture and some of the students responses such as discipline, critical thinking, aesthetics, characteristics and practice are terms developed from that period. But we forget that there was conflicting philosophies and that we are mere disciples of all of them.

Rationalism Rationalism, in Western philosophy, the view that regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge. Holding that reality itself has an inherently logical structure, the rationalist asserts that a class of truths exists that the intellect can grasp directly. There are, according to the rationalists, certain rational principles—especially in logic and mathematics, and even in ethics and metaphysics—that are so fundamental that to deny them is to fall into contradiction. The rationalists’ confidence in reason and proof tends, therefore, to detract from their respect for other ways of knowing.

Encyclopedia Britannica

Today there is a clear rational approach being used to teach Art and in this case photography. The ontological approach and references made to Plato’s cave by Susan Sontag clearly indicate this influence. Jesse’s rational use of terms such as discipline, practice and characteristics is delivered to us in our educational discourses. It helps us to develop clear understanding to gather knowledge by categorizing, classify and enable us to rationalize and critically analyse our learning and understanding and intern entering into discourse with each other. In the late 18th century and early 19th century all form of higher learning was considered art as indicated in the title of this course: The Masters in the Art of photography.

As Jesse pointed out in his lecture it is merely the discourse between the established practitioners and intellectuals of the Arts such as literature, painting, drawing and sculpture.

This rational discourse, coupled with photography’s perceived ease to execute and accessibility to all, lead to an unwarranted resistance to change and the willingness to accept photography and the motion picture as true artistic en-devours. In my view it was also to disenfranchise those that wanted to express themselves through photography as they felt commercially threatened by it. However, early photography and film were infantile instantiations of what can arguably be considered the greatest influences on civilization since the development of language and writing.

Those that adopted the change reaped great benefits and applied what the learned from this practice to the older practices. The digital age put a similar challenge to the old film based photographers and the digital image and its capabilities. This is proven as photography and the motion picture has become one of the major communication mechanisms in the world, and is used to document science.


Naturalism, in philosophy, a theory that relates scientific method to philosophy by affirming that all beings and events in the universe (whatever their inherent character may be) are natural. Consequently, all knowledge of the universe falls within the pale of scientific investigation.

Encyclopedia Britanica

Empiricism, in philosophy, the view that all concepts originate in experience, that all concepts are about or applicable to things that can be experienced, or that all rationally acceptable beliefs or propositions are justifiable or knowable only through experience. This broad definition accords with the derivation of the term empiricism from the ancient Greek word empeiria, “experience.”


Being a true scientific en-devour the practice of photography is inherently tied with the harnessing natural laws. The taking of pictures is practice is empirical in nature. A practitioner needs need to understand how it is affected by lenses and apertures, and even the process of capturing the light (photons) via either a chemical or electrical reaction on the film or sensor to capture a two dimensional image or as Susan Sontag calls it a ” a Trace of reality”. And most of the practice is developed through experiential learning. A predictable cause and effect. No wonder we attempt to define the visual image and its composition in terms rules. How, what you do, effect the viewer! Rules that can make people interpret the image in a specific unambiguous way.

Romanticism, attitude or intellectual orientation that characterized many works of literature, painting, music, architecturecriticism, and historiography in Western civilization over a period from the late 18th to the mid-19th century. Romanticism can be seen as a rejection of the precepts of order, calm, harmony, balance, idealization, and rationality that typified Classicism in general and late 18th-century Neoclassicism in particular. It was also to some extent a reaction against the Enlightenment and against 18th-century rationalism and physical materialism in general. Romanticism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental.

Encyclopedia Britanica

There ate many other philosophies that may be descussed but I limit it to Romanticism. The term aesthetics ties to this. This is where intuistion plays. This relate to our existential experience. In terms of photography an irrational, supernatural yet empirical process we as photographers experience. The true making of the photograph.

But in a sense this is the part of photography that bring in the unruliness. As a true romanticist it tends to be my final goto!

Call for the development of a Philosophy of Photography

All of the of us have been shaped by these influences. It is what we are all pursuing in this course even if we don’t realize it. Not merely taking or making photographs. When I started to give photography masterclasses this understanding allowed me to really improve my teaching of photography as an Art- within a strict discipline and a touch of unruliness. The later, in my view , the greatest gift to creativity.

I am currently reading “Towards a Philosophy of Photography” written by Media Philosopher Flusser, Vilém, 1920–1991 ( which was published posthumously in 2015 in English. As I am in search of uncovering the inherent wisdom of photography to learn and educate others in it, I will be referencing his material on a regular basis.

The rest of the module merely expand and illustrate Jesse’s profound introduction.

In conclusion

I invite my co-travelers above the sea of images to meditate over our aspirations to become become better Photography practitioners. We need time to ponder truly what is meant by discipline, practice, characteristics and learning the rules. Words that are bandied around so easily at this stage. I believe we will then find the way to understand, categorize and intellectually elevate our practice. But our practice needs a big unruly dose of romanticism, skepticism or suspicion or whatever you feel you would want to express in the time we live in today.

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