Part Three: Photographic Behaviours


Van Lier, Henri. Philosophy of Photography, Lieven Gevaert Series, 6, New ed. (Leuven: Univ. Press, 2007)

‘Part Three: Photographic Behaviours’, pp.77-78


As with all other techniques, photography poses the question of the nature of the link between equipment and human activity in general. The humanist illusion suggests that equipment is a means in the service of man, and in his control. However, from the very start, our objects and technical processes are objects-signs, or object-indices, and we are signed animals, literally constituted by them through our languages.

Furthermore, devices are not so much a meas as a milieu; and a milieu we are steeped in rather than it being at our command. In fact, photography nowadays comprises millions of apparatuses and billions of photographs and lenses. It might be we who push the shutter, but, as we have seen up to now, it is, above all, we who are triggered.

There is something peculiar about speaking so extensively of the photographic act.

It is perhaps because it concerns a domain where human action is at once both violent and most decentered, as in the case of the surgical act for instance. Both surgeon and photographer cut and trigger. And both operate on the level of living humanity, and engage with a specific death. The one works predominately with bodies, while the other predominately engages with signs.

Photography appears the most blatantly anthropocentric act, but this is without accounting for what the photographic apparatuses we produce state quite bluntly: “Put us down somewhere, allow us to release the shutter by ourselves, we will manage to make you something, to produce things often better than you have, which you will never understand absolutely anyhow, as you are concocting mostly anthropomorphic, thus irrelevant theories. […]”


Therefore, we will use the phrase photographic behavior, without denying the link between the photographic and surgical act, and without failing to recognize there are scientifically, artistically, commercially, and erotically committed photographers.

Following from the indicial and therefore overlapping nature of the photograph, these behaviors will not be as distinct and separable as is the case with sign systems. In addition it will also prove difficult to clearly distinguish the one who makes the photograph from the one who looks at it. Thus we will consider them together when addressing the major attitudes or behaviors.

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