Photomenology–a photographer’s philosophy

According to Berkeley, there is no real difference between riding a horse and thinking about riding a horse–indeed physical and mental phenomena are mixed in a most complex manner. Brentano distinguished mental phenomenon as being “directed at an object” and will “include an object intentionally within themselves.” INTENTIONALLY consciousness focuses like a searchlight beam. We expand our aesthetic Idea of Light as emanating from the being as did medieval theologians.

We shall begin our effort where Brentano left off and Husserl begins. We do not seek a true science as did Galileo, nor suggest Doubting Everything, as did Descartes. Like a true philosopher, a thoughtful inspired photographer’s basic instrument is not logic; it is observation.

Greatness as a photographic artist is a function of often expressing a unique angle of view, having the technique and sensitivity to refine and elevate a subject for one’s viewer. It is the ability to speak the language of the craft with fluency and grace.


Husserl’s master was a theologian-turned-psychologist called Franz Brentano(1838-1917). With his discovery of the intentionality of consciousness, Brentano had stumbled on a starting point that was far more fundamental than Descartes’ idea of doubting everything. The starting point of philosophy and photography should be the checking of the instrument. An example of intentionality is a face seen in the fire being endowed with as much personality as a good photograph by staring at it and allowing “intentionality” to work. Looking away for a moment, the face may disappear completely. Often described as “prejudice” –rationalising or wishful thinking, a familiar object can be seen in a photo from an unfamiliar perspective baffling the selective faculty. The human mind is unaware that its view of the world is strictly selective; it sees the world from its “natural standpoint” and assumes it is the whole truth. We might call this perception a “Snapshot.”

Nietzsche once remarked contemptuously that philosophy is only the autobiography of individual philosophers. Most “shooters” today would be pleased by a remark that vindicated their vanity at including themselves in their every photo, giving them existential validation and identity enhancement.

Husserl recognised the truth of this, but felt that it should not be true. Philosophy should begin by merely trying to describe things without prejudice. In the media world at the moment, there is only flimsy pretense of accuracy, while the falsehood of illusions is an accepted norm POSING as communication, demolishing the old cliche of ” a picture is worth a thousand words.” We must doubt the veracity of the WORDS and the PICTURE.

Where Husserlian phenomenology agrees with how I experienced photography over the years is in acknowledging that everything depends on subjective states. It follows that knowledge begins with a descriptive analysis of subjective states. The idea is not to tell what something is; suspend belief in its real existence and only tell me WHAT YOU SEE. Participate in experiencing your subject and describe it with images. Immerse yourself in the process of unfolding. Essence will reveal itself.