Immediately upon reading Willem Flusser’s essay, “The Photograph,” I feel as though the “naive” audience he refers to inherently includes myself. As someone who has glided through life as simply as a majority of society, I lack a compulsion or need to interpret seemingly normal aspects of every day life, for example; advertising, color placement and photography. Flusser explains that, to those who are ignorant to the purposes of photography, photographs appear to just be visual expressions of things in the world that exist and therefor are a reflection of the world we live in. However, there is much more to the ‘science’ of photography and the theories which the practice is composed of.
Flusser explains how photographs contain a plethora of levels of complex thought, understanding and theories, some that can only be translated through deep contemplation and comprehension of each level’s intentions. Beginning with color, the author illuminates the complexity in his explanation of how black and white photographs, on a technical sense, are more truthful, thus less deceiving, than color photographs, even though color is what we typically think of as being more naturalistic. He continues on through elaborative explanations of color theories, scientific technicalities, perceived symbolism, and photographer intentions to describe the many aspects of each “level” of a photograph that much each be “decoded” individually, in order to fully grasp the purpose of a single photograph, And even so, this is very difficult and may not be attainable and further, would essentially turn into a critique of the origin and culture behind the photograph, rather than the image itself.
One thing that puzzled me a little bit, was the personification of the camera and its “intentions.” I think that is is a little bit hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that a camera has a hidden agenda, aside from just capturing images. That, in addition to the photographer’s abilities and underlying social commentaries, the device itself also has specific purposes and intended perceived programming for society. To my understanding, cameras are intimate objects that are created for one specific purpose and in most cases, are designed to perform only that task. Now whether or not the designers or engineers of the device have personal affiliations that they want to project into the capabilities of a machine, that is a different story. However, Flusser explains that a camera’s intentions are to “provide for the realization of its capabilities and, in the process, for the use of society as a feedback mechanism for its progressive improvement.” So to speak, the camera exists for the sole purpose of becoming better, in addition to being a sort of record keeping tool.
As a whole, this essay has undoubtedly made me feel inadequate and caused me to question why I’m not more skeptical to underlying rationales to almost everything in the world around me. I have a slightly greater comprehension of what photographs actually represent and what a critique of one must entail, in order to be fitting and precise.