The theme for September is ‘The Thing Itself’. I attach some advance briefing notes. Good luck. Don’t forget, August is ‘Happiness’.
Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Kant thought there was an external reality, but we may have a naive view of it. We use concepts like space and time; but if we had a different sense system we would see things differently. Kant thought we can not see ‘The Thing Itself’; only our version of it.
Science supports the idea that different animals may perceive the world differently. Bats navigate by sonar; dogs have a strong sense of smell. We think we are the ultimate life form, but maybe we only perceive a fraction of what is really going on. Does a snail have a theory of reality which includes the existence of humans? ‘The Thing Itself’ is out there, but we don’t recognise it.
Science fiction. It is easy to extrapolate the above thought train into science fiction. Maybe we are already surrounded by advanced life forms. Maybe if we were cleverer we could gain access to telepathy, teleportation, and time travel. Maybe we could develop artificial intelligence to access ‘The Thing Itself.’
Photography. The reasoning here is a bit more prosaic but draws on the above to some extent. John Szarkowski used the term ‘The Thing Itself’ in relation to a 1964 exhibition ‘The Photographer’s Eye’.
The point here is that reality is one thing; the photograph is another. The photographer uses a number of tricks: composition, timing, framing, vantage point, detail, in order to make the image interesting to the viewer; to tease the viewer with an intellectual puzzle; to imply a narrative which may or may not be present in reality. The photographer invites the viewer to experience a reward by making their own discovery of ‘The Thing Itself’.
As an example I offer this famous photo by our patron saint, William Eggleston. It’s a photograph of two men and a car, right? Wrong, it’s a photograph of ‘The Thing Itself’.