toying with machines

I was reminded of an article in Das Goetheanum when I read Victor’s remarkably silly comment the other day. ‘Photos don’t count’ as creative works, he wrote, because ‘that’s just toying with a machine’. Quite an intriguing perspective. I already commented on it briefly. As it happens, an article in Das Goetheanum (no 46, 2011) was dedicated to photography and anthroposophy (it is an article about a talk that took place at the Goetheanum). I was so intrigued I went to the library, and I photographed the article with my mobile phone, and it has been collecting ethereal dust on the kiosk’s harddrive ever since. It discusses the hostility towards photography and discusses why this might be. One reason noted is the more general hostility towards technology — but the author points out that other art forms are also dependent on technology, even though people tend to ignore this more easily, and to focus, as I understand it, on the result rather than the technical aids or the process behind. The article was, on the whole, a small disappointment. It actually isn’t very interesting. It feels tentative, bordering on hopeless. I’ll quote a passage from it, but this is as exciting as it gets (that’s probably the reason the article’s been collecting dust):


dasG_foto_b(Sorry for the bad quality of the images. I’m too lazy to type, and it doesn’t seem interesting enough to do it.)

8 thoughts on “toying with machines

  1. Well, I can’t read the German, but somehow, I doubt the anthroposophists have something novel to say about photography. I’m also fairly sure most of them aren’t quite as ignorant as Victor on the subject. His opinions are the worst sort of thing anthroposophy has to offer – mindless dismissals of entire fields of human endeavor on the basis of a very narrow minded conception of spirituality.

    Have you ever read Roland Barthes on photography? I think the book is called Camera Lucida. I have it somewhere. It was fascinating. I actually love to read about photography, I don’t know why since I am a terrible photographer myself. (Honestly, I can’t remember after several decades of taking pictures where you place your subject in relation to your light source – someone always has to tell me.) Susan Sontag is also very interesting, though not an easy read.

  2. I wouldn’t be able to tell you, because I don’t think I know!

    I agree with you — most are not that ignorant. And I know there are people who are not anthroposophists who feel the same way about photography. They don’t see the point, and come up with ways of rationalising their own disinterest. (I can’t understand rap music. Maybe that’s the same, I don’t know. I just think it’s pointless and ugly.)

    I should read Barthes then! Unfortunately, I just bought Sontag.

  3. Alicia,

    The article actually says very little of the art itself, it mostly deals with the possibility to squeeze photography into a corner of “der steinerschen Ästhetik”, a process rather uninteresting to Steiner himself, as he had other things on his mind (propably) and photo being in its adolescent years in his time. About the books, if a book has not lightened up my dark broodings within the first chapter, I generally put it back into the shelf nowadays…

  4. Photography need not be “machine” driven. In the old days, (even today) they photographed objects using a “pinhole” camera – no lens required, just a box with a pinhole in it. “Photographic” paper was made by coating ordinary paper with ordinary stuff (like egg whites or lemon juice – can’t remember now…). Sounds very Waldorfy to me.

  5. Pete, yes, I’ve seen some quite fascinating pinhole camera photos! But I guess we can’t be sure Ahriman has not snuck in… I’m sure Ahriman can identify a machine — even a very simple one, one without batteries even!!! — when he sees one…!

    Curt, well, that is basically what the article is trying to do.

    I’m going to try to find out if he ever said something about photography. There was one photographer whose photos of the old Goetheanum and the new one being built are fantastic. (Otto Rietmann, who I think knew Steiner personally.) A minor curiosity I found out when I looked into Steiner’s visits to Stockholm was through a photo by an ‘S Arrh’, which turned out to be Sofia Arrhenius (ex wife of Svante Arrhenius, the scientist), a photographer and anthroposophist in whose studio/flat Steiner stayed on one of his visits.

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