name: Bill Jay
title: Occam’s Razor: An Outside-In View of Photogaphy
pub date: 1993
The premise of Jay’s text, or Jay’s premise with this text, to be more precise, is to attempt an explanation as to what photography is, and how it should be discussed. While doing so, Jay has taken, as his north star, the basic principle of the argument of Franciscan monk, William of Occam, entitled Occam’s Razor. An argument whose basic principle says “that in all scientific and philosophical enquiry variables should not be multiplied unnecessarily”.
Jay, through the course of this text, rails against the over intellectualization of the study(ies) of photography, albeit it softly. This railing includes, but is not limited to, the separation of personal life and the photograph, that meaning and interpretation are imposed upon photography; photography disturbs, the chasm between artist and commercial (read professional) photographer.
Along this last line of thought, one aspect of photography that Jay grapples with, or attempts a reconciliation with is whether photography is an art or a by-product of technology. Similar to Sontag, Jay addresses the similarities between photography and painting. Whereas the two are similar in that they are representations, one is wholly an “original”, while the other is considered a reproduction, of never having had, or been, an original. Due to this quandary-ous state, photography then, could never be considered an art medium, as art is uniquely original.
And yet, Jay counters that with a personal anecdote, in which he recounts an experience in which he, all the while, ignorant of having done it, plagiarized an article he had once read. The point to this particular anecdote is that photography cannot be original, it owes itself to what has come before, it is subject to patterns. This redeems photography to some extent for not being a wholly original creation.
Keeping in tune with post-structuralist thought, photography, much like individuality, is simply a construct.
This text includes accounts of Jay’s own interviews/times with such notable photographers as Diane Arbus, E. O. Hoppé, and Frank Capa-Smith.
Ironically enough, Jay includes a chapter on the importance of recognizing that the writing of photographic criticism is for the most part, worthless. Which of course, casts into doubt, his own take on photography.
This text is in line with Susan Sontag’s own analysis of photography, of taking it out of an over-intellectualized arena, and placing it in a more photo-friendly locale. In other words, this text does not drown the reader with –izes and –isms, the meat and potatoes of the intellectual trade. However, that is not to say it is a dumbed-down read or lesser than John Tagg’s The Burden of Representation.
This text did offer a new way at looking at my own research. It’s discussion on photography as disturbance offers me with a new angle to approaching the representation of the masculine other, and what that is.
Not an essential read to the study of photography, but an insightful one, nonetheless.