Monday, June 13, 2011

View on the world


In one of my first blogs, more than four years, ago I wrote: “Just the idea: A photo of me in front of the Eiffel Tower with Bourdieu’s Un art moyen in my hand. So sorry that you cannot read the title of the book then...”, and that was it.
I had to think of this blog when I visited the biennial Photo Festival in Naarden last week. I had yet to find a style for my blogs and often I wrote short remarks without any further explanations. This was one of them, and I think not many readers will have understood it. It is already rather long ago that I read Bourdieu’s contribution to this book, so I must recall from memory what it was about. However, what I was referring to was what I call since then a “Bourdieu photo”.  When Tom, Dick and Harry or their female counterparts are going to make a picture of someone they know (and they often make pictures of that kind), the persons are often so far away that you can hardly see who they are, not to speak of what they hold in their hands. And in case the persons photographed haven been taken from nearby it is still often so that much remains on the picture that distracts from what is supposed to be its central theme: the person or persons on it. It is as if the photographer does not want to say: “Look John and Jenny” but “Look John and Jenny have been there” (in Paris, London, or wherever it may be). Or the picture says “Look Jenny in the garden”, while there is actually no relation between Jenny and the garden (she isn’t working in the garden; she isn’t looking at the garden or at a single plant; no, she stands there and there is also a garden). A professional photographer or an advanced amateur photographer would make such a photo in a different way. S/he would concentrate on a theme and would fill the photo with it; and everything else has a place in the picture, too: Jenny looking at the garden or a flower. John looking at or climbing the Eiffel Tower. And so on. That’s why we tend to call the first type of pictures just a shot and the second type portraits. But in the end, what the worth of a picture is depends on what you want to say with it, and from that point of view “just a shot” can do as well as a “real” portrait. It is not without reason that the book by Bourdieu and others has the subtitle “Essay on the social uses of photography”. Photos of the first type simply have another social function than second type photos: They give different views on the world.
I have not a picture at hand like the one described in the old blog, but I wonder whether the reader of this blog would judge the picture above as a “Bourdieu photo” or as something else, when s/he knows that I am one of the persons on it and that I called it “Self-portrait at distance”.

P.S. This year’s Naarden Photo Festival is dedicated to portraits: http://www.fotofestivalnaarden.nl/

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