Photography's Ich-Du

October 03, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Brace yourself for some philosophical reflection...

Is it possible to engage with another person and not walk-away changed, even if slightly? You might investigate the "butterfly effect" of physics (chaos theory) and the "Ich-Du" (I-Thou) premise of the German philosopher Martin Buber. Both support the idea that change or transformation is an inevitable consequence of an encounter. Buber argues that the encounter must occur at an unfettered, fully human level--meaning that the parties involved cannot objectify one another.

I'm not sure that it's possible to have an encounter without committing at least a small amount of objectification--even if it is subconscious. We all view life through filters that stem from our experiences and world-views, and these filters inevitably lead to judgments. The more complex our filters, the more we will be entrenched in our positions and less we will be open to the wondrous transformations that can result from our encounters. If it was possible to completely remove our filters, then we could fully experience our encounters and we could not help but be changed. In my opinion, no filter is so opaque that zero transformation is possible.

Photography can easily embody a high-level of objectification. This is especially true for genres like fashion and commercial photography, which easily foster an objectifying "I-It" relationship with the subject rather than an authentic "I-Thou" relationship. Portrait photography that seeks to connect with a subject's personality, and fine-art photography that captures and conveys innate meaning, are more likely to result in a connection between the subject, the photographer, and the audience. For this to happen, the subject must not be a "subject" but rather a partner in the encounter, the camera must become an organic extension of the photographer rather than a tool positioned between the parties, and an authentic relationship must develop. In the end, the nature of the encounter is much more important than anyone's technical prowess. This is NOT easy, and photographers who can facilitate this--even to a small degree--produce transformational work and are masters of their art form.

My personal filters are complex and I am not a master. Even so, I recently worked with a number of people for whom fitness is a core aspect of their identity and I still managed to walk-away changed and inspired. So much so, that I have returned to lifting weights in the gym after a 20 year hiatus. It is as if these encounters helped me re-discover a part of me that had been lost. I am again energized, and my outlook is strangely positive! So to those who were willing to engage with me in an "Ich-Du" fashion (one of whom was my teenage son), thank you!

~ Kris

Athletes/Models: David Cox, Heather Kobus, Naomi Rabon, Shannon Watson



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Kristoffer Cox Photography: Artisan Portraits and Conceptual Images

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