Sunday 15 September 2019

Object-Oriented Ontology - Part Two

Question #1 (Husband to Larry):
“So, does this object-oriented ontology business mean that if a tree falls in the forest – and nobody is there to listen – it still makes a sound?”
Answer #1 (Larry to Husband):

Question #2 (Photographer Friend to Larry):
“Um, aren’t you already doing this?”
Answer #2 (Larry to Photographer Friend):
“Well, I guess so...”

Question #3 (Universe to Larry):
“So, are we having fun yet?”
Answer #3 (Larry to Universe):
“Oh, yes!”

Forgive me for taking another run at object-oriented ontology. Last week, I wrote about my understanding of OOO, especially as it related to photography. Essentially, OOO takes issue with a world where only human perceptions, categories, and understandings have value. A tree falling in the forest does makes a sound, whether or not a human is present to acknowledge it. 

I am fascinated by how this approach to reality plays out in photography. OOO beckons me to honour the life and integrity of the objects in my photos without drawing attention to myself in the process. It is a worthy challenge. 

My skepticism about OOO started to evaporate when I spent the day after Labour Day wandering around Picton with my camera. Since retiring, I have been treating myself to a ‘Tuesday-after-Labour-Day’ fieldtrip to count my blessings. This time, I determined to photograph with OOO in mind. Some might call it street photography without people. [Intriguingly, husband thinks OOO-inspired street photography can also include people. I’m still thinking about that one...] At first, my photography in Picton was self-conscious and uninspired, but I soon got into the flow of it – seeking objects that seemed to have lives of their own without needing me to acknowledge them. After three hours of photography, I had almost 400 images. 

However, it was the process of editing these 400 photos in Lightroom the next day that was fascinating. It was different from other editing sessions – the photos took on lives of their own. A little uncanny, but it felt like I was having a dynamic conversation with them. There was a mutuality at play. And I loved it.

Update: after I posted Part One of my thoughts on OOO, my dear Tasmanian friend Jan, who lived in Japan for several years, told me that OOO reminds her of the Japanese visual concept of ‘katachi’. The word ‘katachi’ is a composite of the Japanese words ‘kata’(pattern) and ‘chi’(magical power). Thus the term ‘katachi’ means ‘a complete form’ or ‘a form telling an attractive story’. Thank you for this insight, Jan! It addresses my concern that objects in OOO photographs can be so free of human engagement that they risk being bleak and drab. Instead, the parallel Japanese concept of ‘katachi’ assumes that useful objects are also elegant and beautiful. And, yes, I know that bleakness, drabness, usefulness, elegance, and beauty are all culture-specific, human constructs, but at least the combination of ‘katachi’ and OOO opens me to seeking objects that are both pleasing to my eye and filled with their own integrity. And, as husband Bill points out, the blending of ancient ‘katachi' and contemporary OOO makes for a perfect balance. Praise be.

I look forward to discussing ‘katachi’ and OOO with Jan and Bill over a bottle of good Australian wine during our next visit to Tasmania. Meanwhile, Bill has ordered me a rare used book about ‘katachi’. How blessed am I? And spoiled!

The ten photos that follow reflect my humble novice’s understanding of both OOO and ‘katachi’. I hope you enjoy them. I will continue to explore OOO and ‘katachi’ in my photography and will keep you posted. This journey is far from over...

I plan to take the next two weeks off from blogging. Husband Bill is giving quilt presentations in Winnipeg and Elliot Lake – and I get to tag along. “I’m with the band,” as they say. And, yes, I’m taking my camera...

Meanwhile, dear readers, stay humble and curious – it keeps us confused and engaged. 

Sunday 8 September 2019

Object-Oriented Ontology - Say What? (Part One)

“Ontology means something like ‘the study of being’.”
- Graham Harman,
Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything
(Pelican Books, 2018), page 13

“Object-oriented ontology maintains that 
objects exist independently of human perception.”
 - Wikipedia article about Object-Oriented Ontology.

“Photography is engaging with things in the world.”
- Ed Panar, American Photographer,
A Small Voice/Conversations with Photographers 
Pod Cast #109, July 20, 2019
Hosted by Ben Smith

“Are we having fun yet?”
- Larry Tayler, confused photographer

So, bear with me on this one, dear reader. I’m in new territory and am struggling to understand a challenging new photographic concept: object-oriented ontology. And I can feel my brain synapses working overtime!

The beginning: in late July, I heard an interview with the American photographer Ed Panar on A Small Voice/Conversations with Photographers, a podcast created by English photographer Ben Smith. (Episode #109, July 20, 2019 – link; Ed Panar’s personal website is here.) 

[Sidebar One: Smith’s podcasts are a delight – filled with interesting photographers talking about their passions. The conversations are mostly idea-oriented, not gear-oriented – one reason why I find them so refreshing.]

Panar is a Pittsburgh-based photographer who is exploring the concept of object-oriented ontology (OOO, as the cool kids say) in his practice. (If you listen to the podcast through the link above, Panar starts talking about OOO at the 33 minute mark.) I was immediately intrigued by his description of OOO, even though I didn’t understand what he was talking about. The first thing I did was look up the word, ‘ontology’!

Adherents of object-oriented ontology believe that the Age of Enlightenment in the 17thand 18thcenturies – despite its commitment to the role of science and reason in human development – placed too much emphasis on human understanding of reality and not enough on the wisdom of the non-human world. To this day, so-called Western societies privilege human experience over non-human. The non-human elements become mere tools for humans to use in the exploitation of the planet. A rock has its own integrity beyond any classification and purpose assigned to it by humans. Rocks had their own existence long before humans evolved – and will continue to do so long after humanity has flamed out. 

Ever since I heard Panar’s interview, I have been reading everything I could find about OOO and am fascinated by the concept, despite the fact that A) I am skeptical about its application to photography; and B) I am still confused about what it means. My explorations are tempered by a trusted friend’s caution that OOO might be simply ‘elevating the banal.’ In any case, this is an ideal opportunity for learning.

Photographers who use an OOO approach try to ‘decenter’ the human aspects and focus on the uniqueness of the non-human world. They honour the non-human reality. Or, as Graham Harman says, “OOO holds that the external world exists independently of human awareness.” (Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything, Pelican Books, 2018, page 10)

[Sidebar Two: Tragically, the privileging of humans over non-humans led to the horrors of slavery and its wretched legacy. ‘Enlightened’ white Europeans often regarded non-whites as sub-human, commodities to be bought and sold. When a human being can be reduced to a chattel, the transgenerational trauma lasts for centuries. Racism was not born in the Enlightenment, but that is surely the source of its intellectual ‘legitimacy’.]

And that’s the end of today’s lecture. I hope it was useful. Writing it helped me sort out some of my own thinking. Next week, I want to examine my skepticism about OOO and how that skepticism diminished as I began to feel OOO’s rhythms in my photography. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these OOO-influenced photos from Corbyville and Prince Edward County.

Sunday 1 September 2019

Harvesting Photographs, Part Two

  “If you are too lazy to plow, don’t expect a harvest.”
- Book of Proverbs, Chapter 20, Verse 4
(Contemporary English Version of the Bible)

As promised last week, today’s blog post is Part Two of my exploration of harvesting photographs. I love this concept, especially the careful tending and nurturing of images that the term implies. It certainly enhances the mutuality and reciprocity of photography. The subject and the photographer are equally important in the creation of the image. The heroic, ‘go-it-alone’ photographer – with ego to match – is not likely comfortable with harvesting photographs. Instead, harvesting is a more nuanced and gentle approach. And I love it. I’m still exploring what it means – which is another way of saying that I don’t fully understand it. Watch for further updates!

I made this series of photos at the Hastings County Plowing Match and Farm Show, held recently in the central part of beautiful Hastings County. Although I grew up on a farm and heard lots of talks about plowing matches as a kid, I had never attended one until last week. And what great fun it was! Beautiful weather, excellent organization, friendly people, lots of interesting displays, and – of course – plowing. A fine opportunity for my camera to explore – truly, a harvest of photographs. 

I hope you enjoy these ten photos from the Hastings County Plowing Match. Next week, I plan to discuss a new trend in photography: “Object Oriented Ontology”. Intrigued? Puzzled? Me too! Stay tuned...

As always, thank you for reading my blog.

Two of Hastings County's Finest Ambassadors!
Luisa Sorrentino, Marketing Co-ordinator (left)
Kasey Rogerson, Tourism Development Co-ordinator (right)