MORE BOOKS FOR THE CREATIVE PHOTOGRAPHER
ZEN IN THE ART OF ARCHERY
by Eugen Herrigel
In Volume 4, Number 2 of the quarterly a list of ten books was given. Most of these are outside of the photographic literature because nothing of similar stature exists within. Enthusiastic readers have suggested that the following ought to be added to the list.
". . . the thought came to me of writing to you about a subject I haven’t had the opportunity of talking to anyone about (because nobody would understand) and that is, the cultivation of the self, using photography as a means—and, as a consequence, being a most perfect and complete photographer. Or, to say it another way, to explore the world of photography, through a knowledge of onesself (more than through a knowledge of mechanics of the means used) . That is to say that the person who wants to be a photographer has to know and work on himself, instead (or besides) giving much attention to outsides.
"And, to be concrete, and make myself understood, 1 would recommend to you a book called 'Zen in the Art of Archery.’ It shows a world that we, photographers, mildly preceive, and that is waiting to be explored by us.
"I am a photographer, but, more interested in discovering myself and 'the great secret’ (which we feel surrounds us) than in any other thing; I am sure that photography is a tool for self and truth discovery; and, in the reverse relation, in discovering truth and self, we make the great photographies."
Sergio Larrain E.
This is an account by a German philosopher, who taught at the University of Tokyo in the 1930’s, of his training under a Zen Master of Archery. The study and severe discipline was not undergone for the utilitarian purposes of hunting or war, nor for the esthetic enjoyment that could be experienced, but in order to learn the Japanese variety of Buddhism called "Zen." According to the Oriental scholar, Daisetz T. Suzuki, who wrote an introduction, Archery, as all the arts in the Far East countries, is used to train the mind, and specifically to bring the mind into contact with the ultimate reality.
In this matter of touching deeper realities photography can parallel archery. Such an attempt has probably never consciously and systematically been tried by a Western photographer. Which goes to prove that, only, it has not been tried. Certainly if an instrument for hunting can be turned to aesthetic enjoyment, and then further as a means of spiritual participation, then an instrument for capturing images can be turned and converted likewise.
by Jergen Ruesch and Weldon Kees
To make their "Notes on the Visual Perception of Human Relations" Dr. Jergen Ruesch, West Coast psychiatrist, and Weldon Kees, West Coast poet, critic and film maker, used abundant photographs. And they used them as a direct substitute for the objects portrayed.
By way of explanation Nonverbal Communication is any kind of human communication except the spoken word. Grin, grimace and gesture, sign, symbol and visual syntax is the field. And both authors agree that in spite of built-in, inescapable and characteristic distortions, photography, both still pictures and moving, is the ideal way to investigate and discuss the grin or frown, for instance, that accompanies a spoken statement. They explain that this kind of communication is immediate — and photography likewise. And that to work with such transitory, rapidly evaporating communication it is necessary to devise a means equal to it ; and photographs combined with words is the best to date. They admit their method is not very academic, but feel that in this case the academic is so slow that the investigation of the problems is impossible by the usual academic methods.
Their wealth of material, categories and photographs prove that human beings communicate with each other with astounding effect, tact, and intensity without resorting to spoken language.
Many of the photographs in the book make their points and at the same time produce esthetic overtones ; many more do not. Nevertheless, as a group, they drive home the point that the communicative power of photography itself depends more than most of us realize (or are willing to admit) on the nonverbal communicative powers of people. The simply captured telling gesture is often called a revealing photograph. Along these lines the book may well be an invaluable aid to beginning photographers because it comes at a communicative problem through observation. Contrary to the usual "how-to,” it is an object lesson in direct observation.
The potential critic in photography, or those who are currently engaged in criticism, may find the terminology employed in NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION useful in their continual search for terms that are descriptive of the photographic version of the creative process. The terms come from the behavioral sciences, so have a scientific and contemporary flavor, and they promise to offer fresh starting points at least, and may well be source material for photographic semantics.
THE DEHUMANIZATION OF ART
by Ortega y Gasset
When a man with a camera tries to photograph the external world in a manner that delineates the infinite and ever-changing subtleties of his whole entity, the product is likely to be inexplicable to most of his fellow men. More, it is frequent that it is inexplicable to the photographer himself. If he feels a compulsion to work in this manner, and some do, he is usually unable to verbalize about the wellsprings of his activity. He is unable to talk or write in an intelligible manner about the basic tendencies of what is as dear to him as life itself. To the degree that this situation obtains, the photographer does not understand his own motives and his work will lack that unity of purpose which can lead to eventual fulfillment and accomplishment.
A man in such a predicament would do well to read the essay by Ortega y Gasset entitled "The Dehumanization of Art," in the book by the same name. In this extremely lucid, penetrating analysis of the tenets of modern art, Ortega makes it clear that modern principles of art are much at variance with earlier academic values and why. His view is that modern art, contrary to the ideal of art for everybody, separates the body social into those who can understand modern art (by native capacity) and those who cannot. Since photography is generally a popular art, presumably it is committed to the idea of art for everybody. In this light Ortega’s view has a direct bearing on the kind of art that photography can be. Ortega’s view is a direct needling to those photographers who wish to practice camera as an art medium.
Irrespective of one’s personal reaction to Ortega’s views, the net result for the serious reader is a consolidating experience of enlightenment with respect to the forces at work in many fields of contemporary art. Certainly the application of the concepts presented in this essay to photographic esthetics and practices is hardly a matter calling for arbitrary decision. More important is the experience of having these concepts introduced to one’s mind, then thinking deeply about them. Then finally consciously accepting, modifying, or rejecting them. Work such digestion demands (and it is literally work) leads to a strong and vigorous insight into one’s own beliefs — a prerequisite for significant action in any field.
THE DEHUMANIZATION OF ART can act as a catalyst to the photographer ready for it.