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Towards a Philosophy of Photography

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  940 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Media philosopher Vilém Flusser proposed a revolutionary new way of thinking about photography. An analysis of the medium in terms of aesthetics, science and politics provided him with new ways of understanding both the cultural crises of the past and the new social forms nascent within them. Flusser showed how the transformation of textual into visual culture (from the li ...more
Paperback, 94 pages
Published December 1st 2000 by Reaktion Books (first published January 1st 1983)
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Mar 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Interesting attempt to build a theoretical framework around photography, sometimes gratifying, but not always successful. The central idea of an "apparatus," tied to mechanical devices, social systems, and "programmed" with every possibility already inherent in the device itself... it's one of a number of intriguing conceptual turns taken by Flusser.

I sensed two major weaknesses in Flusser's framework. First, he's often rehashing ideas of other thinkers on these topics... Heidegger's ideas about
Rodrigo Novaes
Oct 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is not about photography - it is a political manifesto about freedom in a programmed world.
Paula Koneazny
May 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Brief. Fascinating. According to Flusser, we’re caught, it seems, in a Kafkaesque condition of non-freedom, swallowed up so to speak by our apparatuses. He describes two historical paradigm shifts: the invention of writing, which he situates in the second millennium BCE and the invention of photography in the 19th century. He states that the first humans were surrounded by their tools; then, as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution, humans began to surround their machines; finally, after th ...more
Eduardo Deboni
Mar 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Czech philosopher, naturalized Brazilian, Vilém Flusser (1920-1991) considers the invention of photography as important as the invention of writing. While writing revolutionized humanity and marked the beginning of the historical period, photography, and its new coding and symbolization of the information, make the post-history, with equally revolutionary developments, developers and modifiers of humanity. He has glimpsed the magical ability of a photographic image could destroy the one-dime ...more
Mark Broadhead
Feb 27, 2015 rated it it was ok
What a mess. A 'philosophy' book without references. A multitude of quips, without thought, or little consistency with what he has said before or will say in the next sentence. Is there no good thinking on photography other than Barthes' Camera Lucida? ...more
Taco Hidde Bakker
Jun 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Texts on photography making you think photography - as system and function of the natural, scientific, and social worlds, rather than as an art or practice. If you want to read about photographers or particular photographs, read others. If you wish to receive stimulating speculation towards thinking photography as abstract category, Flusser is your thought-feeding-machine. But don't forget to free yourself by playing against machines! ...more
Philly Baby
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant writing, although admittedly strange: a book about the philosophy of photography that contains no images.

Here, Flusser posits photography as a magical act, a lens through which we can examine the current philosophical climate. More specifically, Flusser is very hung up on the idea of the "apparatus", black box devices developed by humans to change our symbolic understanding of the world. Behind this seemingly benign concept lurks the melancholic realization that human freedom is direct
Zoë Holman
Mar 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
Interesting analysis of our relationship with and understanding of images in a post-photography historical context. If you have any interest in concepts of the information society, Baudrillardian simulation/simulacrum or even just like philosophy and image-making, it's worth a read. ...more
Al Matthews
Jul 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: literates & art-literates
Hello. So, inspired by friend-traffic on this site I'll begin a temporary but sustained one-per-day or so.

Item one: sorta trendy a certain number (7? 10?) of years back; but really, this seems a very lovely translation and is a very well-couched bit of theory, because it's a great read.

Prospective readers will note this is not so much a sustained analysis of photographic practice as a fresh contribution to typically mealymouthed discussions of the relation between writing and image -- plus a the
Joséphine (Word Revel)
Actual rating: 4.5 stars

Initial thoughts: I expected this book to be rooted more in theory. Instead, Flusser set out to contribute hypotheses to the discourse of photography. He did mention this in the foreword though, so that was clear from the beginning. Towards a Philosophy of Photography is not solely about photography but about the deconstruction of information—how it's encoded and decoded, the cultural influences and how it is conveyed. Flusser broke down photography into the image, the ap
Jade Aslain
Mar 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book changed my life. This little hypothesis of Flusser's somehow manages to put to work most of my prior studies in philosophy, without even making a single citation. What we have here seems to effectively replace Marx, for what Marx was to philosophy of history, Flusser is to philosophy of post-history. And at the same time, Flusser has managed to incorporate aspects of both Adornonian and Heideggerian systems (who were rivals). And for the first time I have seen anyone put Nietzsche's et ...more
Char Tan
Jul 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Flusser's anti-quote bravado and originality is refreshing,vexing, and at times changes how you see everything.

Oct 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
“This, I think, shows what being free means. Not cutting off one’s ties with other but making networks out of these connections in cooperation with them.” — Vilem Flusser in the afterword of Towards a Philosophy of Photography

I’ll start my review by stating that I have a love-hate relationship with this book. I love it because it introduced such a refreshing way of looking at photography & the people, machines & aesthetics involved. It literally forces you to step back and look at the whole pict
Sean Tatol
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic, some of the best theory I've read in years and a nearly effortless read. Nothing against Barthes, but I think this is far better than Camera Lucida. He diagnoses image-based media as a technological mediation that obscures our perception of reality while also presenting itself as an unbiased document of reality. Our society is saturated with these images, which leads us to believe in the images as reality itself. This precise phenomenon seems to me to be one of the primary issues of c ...more
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Possibly the best way to think about the image is to understand the philosophy of photography. In here, Flusser was madly obsessed by the black-box of apparatuses—which means, I think, an interesting starting point to understand techne, or in that matters, technology. Although he might not very systematic when describing the notion of information and value inside a post-industrial object, the way he explores the idea of technical images is pretty much crucial to understand Benjamin's reproductio ...more
Kyle Crawley
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
A version of Heidegger's 'The Age of the World Picture' where the fourfold take on its technical or cybernetic dimensions (i.e. 'image,' 'apparatus,' 'program,' and 'information'). An interesting read and connected to Flusser's writings on writing (see 'Into Immaterial Culture'). Favourite idea from the text: the the image as surface. Question: why are human beings forced or compelled to reduce the world to surface? As ek-sistence, is this our only way to comprehend it? ...more
Ray Dunsmore
Feb 07, 2019 rated it liked it
An interesting, fairly necessary slap in the face to get you to step outside yourself and consider the cultural reasoning behind any artistic action and expression through photography. Admittedly, these are just introductory concepts not really fleshed out, but it's a push in the right direction - total consciousness of the culture around you and its reasons for existing in this manner. ...more
Crispin Semmens
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Exposing the photograph (technical image) as further removed from reality than the linear text - despite seductive surface appearances to the contrary. A step on the path to photographic literacy. Wow.
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The thinking and writing here is in the stratosphere.
Oct 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting reflection about photography as the "hinge" that signals the start of a post-industrial culture. The book looks more like a manifesto than like a philosophical study. ...more
Luke Coughlin
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
An important starting point for serious critical thought about the modern world.
Coco Kneepkens
May 15, 2020 rated it liked it
"Human beings struggle against this natural entropy not only by receiving information but also storing and passing it on -" ...more
Twój Cichy Wielbiciel
May 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Chief Wizards of the Galaxy appointed Vilem Flusser as one of their Earthly Emissaries. This little book proved it to the masses.
Irving Ratings
May 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The characters and great plot were engaging and made it hard to stop reading.
Reveiws by Daisie
Jun 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
The amount of effort in describing what is happening is unmatchable.
Jun 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
The author shows the serious side of loss and revenge as well as building a relationship and teaching children what is important.
Nov 22, 2019 rated it liked it
If you have to study photography as I currently do, you need to think about it. Flusser aims to provide enough to get us started, and like all philosophies, it’s intended to just be a starting point. For that, it does okay although, having been published in 1983, it felt dated in parts.

Part of the reason it hasn’t aged as well as it could have is that Flusser draws on the technology of his day to frame his ideas. So, we have talk of apparatuses and other mechanical devices.

This doesn’t stop the
Sep 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is the reason why a raven is like a writing desk. It has helped me a great deal in understanding a development of the natural world. Flusser's philosophies are a mastery. And particularly, his ideas on the apparatus are wonderful thoughts. This is a book that I will return to again and again.

I have added here a brief thought inspired by the book entitled 'The Magic of Photography.'

The Magic of Photography

Images are textual mediations that work to reconstruct a reality between world a
Jul 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I learned that a philosophy book can have hardly any references to other works of philosophy, be totally cracked in a manner that wins, contain no images while being all about images, be fun to read with a couple glasses of white swill, and extend its arms to consciousness with the sensitive insistence of an evil kitty.
Tiago Vitória
Nov 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Fascinating way of thinking but sometimes it can be too hermetic for the reader. No question about the philosophical side of this book, some chapters put you on a situation of pure thinking and questioning the real photography value aswel as the problems raised by the democratization of photography in our society.

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Vilém Flusser was a philosopher born in Czechoslovakia. He lived for a long period in Brazil and later in France, and his works are written in several different languages.
His early work was marked by discussion of the thought of Martin Heidegger, and by the influence of existentialism and phenomenology. Phenomenology would play a major role in the transition to the later phase of his work, in whic

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“Both those taking snaps and documentary photographers, however, have not understood 'information.' What they produce are camera memories, not information, and the better they do it, the more they prove the victory of the camera over the human being.” 21 likes
“The task of a philosophy of photography is to reflect upon this possibility of freedom - and thus its significance - in a world dominated by apparatuses; to reflect upon the way in which, despite everything, it is possible for human beings to give significance to their lives in the face of the chance necessity of death. Such a philosophy is necessary because it is the only form of revolution left open to us.” 13 likes
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