Dan Hume's Blog

Existentialism Philosophy
March 4, 2012, 12:29 am
Filed under: Extended Major Project

I had a tutorial with Bob today and after discussing my project with him he said I should get some academic theory behind my work. We ended up talking about this idea called, Existentialism to which he felt I could apply to my own work. When he explained it to me I couldn’t really get my head round the concept and I probably won’t really fully understand it even after I finish this project. However, I’ve taken a stab at learning a little bit of it and hopefully I can talk about this theory in my professional development report.

I’ve been looking at photographers and other artsits in the 1900’s who have been influenced by the philosophical idea of  existensionalism, which is an incredibly deep and complex thought that is directly focused on the person’s own existence as well as emotions associated with it. In the broader sense existensionalsim is a 20th century philosophy that is centered upon the analysis of existence and of the way humans find themselves existing in the world. The notion is that humans exist first and then each individual spends a lifetime changing their essence or nature.

I was reading this interesting article where it discusses existentialism further.

The problem with Existentialism is that it leaves us without absolute foundations, encourages a separate / individual sense of self and gives too much power to our imagination and how we may choose to live. While this may be liberating, it unfortunately offers little guidance and does not abide by the fact that humans are constructed of matter, interact with all other matter in the universe and have evolved certain genetic traits as part of their evolutionary ancestry. Thus there are certain absolute truths that humans (all things) must abide by if they are to live by the truth and the wisdom this attains. Existentialism Philosophy 

Duane Michals is an American photographer. Michals’ work makes innovative use of photo-sequences, often incorporating text to examine emotion and philosophy. He is noted for two innovations in artistic photography developed in the 1960s and 1970s. First, he told a story through a series of photos” as in his 1970 book Sequences. Second, he handwrote text near his photographs, thereby giving information that the image itself could not convey.

I like this particular sequence that he’s shot here of two mens reaction as they walk past each other in an alley way. To me these visuals seem to relate to the context of my documentary, which is focusing on lack of communication amongst people in a public place. This is a really nice idea as far as documentary through photography goes. Each shot has unique moment and yet it they bring together a nice little narrative.

Robert Frank, born in Zürich, Switzerland, is an important figure in American photography and film. His most notable work, the 1958 photobook titled The Americans, was influential, and earned Frank comparisons to a modern-day de Tocqueville for his fresh and skeptical outsider’s view of American society.

Frank spent several years in the mid 50′s criss-crossing the country and photographing all that was pretty, weird, or wrong with what he saw. His photographs range from many different perspectives showing cafe workers, homeless people, politicians and starlets living the American nightmare.

I like this particular shot of  the cafe worker, because she is unaware of his presence as photographer. This style of shooting is the driving tool for me, which is to have more freedom to shoot as much as I want and where I want. It also enables the subject to act as they normally would in a specific place and time; therefore you capture the true emotions.

Edward Hopper  was a prominent American realist painter and printmaker. While most popularly known for his oil paintings, he was equally proficient as a watercolorist and printmaker in etching. In both his urban and rural scenes, his spare and finely calculated renderings reflected his personal vision of modern American life.

Paintings such as Nighthawks convey a mood of loneliness and desolation by their emptiness or by the presence of anonymous, non-communicating figures. Hopper said: `I didn’t see it as particularly lonely… Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.’ Deliberately so or not, in his still, reserved, and blandly handled paintings Hopper often exerts a powerful psychological impact — distantly akin to that made by the Metaphysical painter de Chirico; but while de Chirico’s effect was obtained by making the unreal seem real, Hopper’s was rooted in the presentation of the familiar and concrete.

I think manipulating a scene and the subject to convey an idea is important. When I’m filming in a public place, I want to find those particular subjects amongst a crowd of people and try to highlight their existence in the scene and at the same time distance them from everyone else.

If Hopper was alive today, I’m sure many of his paintings will have the subjects texting on their phones or listening to their mp3 players.

Albert Camus was a French author, journalist, and philosopher of the 20th century. In 1949, Camus founded the Group for International Liaisons within the Revolutionary Union Movement, which was opposed to some tendencies of the Surrealist movement of André Breton.

Camus published the novel, The Stranger (The Outsider) in 1942. It was an immediate success and established Camus, incorrectly, as a major representative of the existentialist movement. Though Camus did not consider himself an existentialist; in fact, its content explores various philosophical schools of thought, including (most prominently and specifically) absurdism, as well as determinism, nihilism, naturalism, and stoicism.

The novel tells the story of Meursault, who kills an Arab in a reaction to the environment—the heat and glare of the sun. In the ensuing investigation, the law prosecutes Meursault for his failure to show proper feelings for his deceased mother, rather than for the crime of murder. Aghast at his apparent lack of love, they execute him.

Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the leading figures in 20th century French philosophy and Marxism, and was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism. His work continues to influence fields such as Marxist philosophy, sociology, critical theory and literary studies.


Satre’s famous quote on existentialism:

Existence precedes and commands Essence.’ (Jean Paul Satre, 1943)

I feel I have a better understanding of existentialism from a quote I’ve taken from a book called, Existentialism: A guide for the Perplexed, by Steven Earnshaw, where he states that…

‘…a philosophy that takes as its starting point the individuals existence. Everything that it has to say, and everything that it believes can be said of significance – about the world we inhabit, our feelings, thoughts, knowledge, ethics – stems from this central, founding idea.’ 

I’ve embedded this philosophy to my own project in which I’m taking upon my own individual existence and experience of being isolated when I’m walking while listening to music and applying it to everyone around me.


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