The spiritual nature of photographs: equivalents.
It was Alfred Stieglitz in the 1920’s who first considered the Concept of Equivalence in photography.
‘My cloud photographs are equivalents of my most profound life experiences, my basic philosophy of life’.
Ansel Adams, the ‘godfather’ of straight photography was deeply impressed by this philosophy and the theory of equivalents. He is quoted with saying, ‘ that he [Steiglitz] could show a photograph and describe it as an equivalent of what he saw and felt, rather than an exact depiction of the scene’. This fashioned his photographic career.
So what is Equivalents?
This term is now considered a core development in the expressionism of photographic art.
At the birth of photographic practices, the sole purpose of the image was to ‘record’ that which was in front of the camera as authentically as was possible.
By the 1920’s, significantly, in my view after the horrors of the Great War [1914-18], art came to reflect a new vision of the world, and photography was part of that new vision.
Alfred Stieglitz had been a photographer for thirty years, and he began to take pictures of clouds. These images of drifting water vapour in the bright sky conveyed his personal emotional response of the moment of photographic capture. This was a new departure for photography.
In literature this would be termed ‘poetic’ … a vision encompassing not only sight by insight.
How do you recognize an Equivalent?
A photograph cannot be seen as containing an ‘equivalent’ appearance. It can only be termed an ‘equivalent’, if the image creates an emotional response in the viewer.
An Equivalent is what is conveyed subconsciously… the visual arouses a feeling in the viewer through a connection with that image. It may be a subconscious connection [one that is embedded in memory] or a conscious connection [one that comes from a learned experience].
The image to be an equivalent acts as a trigger mechanism. Memories or knowledge create suggestive powers that only come to mind when stimulated by a visual reminder. The true can be said about other sensory triggers e.g. smell, taste, sound or touch.
How a photographer can use Equivalency in their images.
A photographer uses equivalency as a ‘transfer’ of their thoughts via an image and creates an environment for the conveyance of feelings for the viewer.
It is certainly possible that the intentions of the photographer can be different to the receptive message. The photographer aims to capture their emotions in an image, but, the viewer is free to make their own interpretations.
Stieglitz images of clouds, are a record of cloud formations on a given day…. but on another level of function it arouses a different level of sensations and emotions. These differences come from personal information from the viewers’ memory and knowledge.
The photographer may give an indication of their own personal reading of the image, but the arousal within the viewers is only possible if we are sympathetic and responsive to the image. The photograph has to ‘speak’ to the viewer in a subliminal fashion.
My attempt taken from the sea wall along the South Devon coast.