What is reality?

tumblr m7lgrdWQ2d1rp9syo - What is reality?

“Without art we would die of reality.”

This writing was spotted on a wall in Abbey Road, London, NW8.

As an existentialist photographer, I found this ‘reality’ thing an interesting conundrum. Will we really die if there is no art?

Reality is actually what we (or rather Kierkegaard!) might describe as fear and trembling. The earthquake, the deluge, the erupting volcano are real things but their presence and their anger gives us a terrible fear. That would be more accurately described as dread, and that is clearly existential angst. For these reasons we have to find ways to control the onslaught of reality.

The questions for us however is do we know what reality is? Do we have any idea whether photography is reality?

In a nutshell we create the world. We built our cities and transport systems and we have successfully manipulated nature into new formats to serve our desires. One of these new formats happens to be photography. The creation of photography ties in very strongly with an increasingly reified world. We swim deeply in reification and carry the breathing apparatus of reification everywhere we go.

It was thought that photography proved to be a useful tool with which to record the world about us. The fact is however, we do not know what reality is. We prop up our ideas of reality with tools like photography, music, design, art, culture, even God. We agree that photography is useful and find it gives us meaning. That is the important element of photography. It roots our fantasies in what we deem is a reality.

Let’s imagine a picture of a mountain – not Husserl’s golden mountain but a real mountain. The picture shows us the mountain in all its splendour.

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Any mountain will do – even a ‘gold’ mountain…!

OK we have established as a point of reference the real world out there. But how can we relate to this real world? It seems we cannot relate except through our many constructed essences and definitions of quality.

The point about (Edmund) Husserl is he’s informing us that a golden mountain has meaning, essence, but it doesnt actually have to exist. Basically within this leaning, we therefore find that our world has meaning, essence, but doesnt actually exist in the same way as the real world. Our world is hyperreal.

Now let’s ask of ourselves, does the real world need photography? Does the mountain need our photographs? No. It is us who needs photographs. We act out everyday happenings and occurences. We think we are doing these things purposedly, but actually there is no purpose to anything we do unless we believe there is a reason behind it. Our reasonings do not match reality. We live in a hyperreal world, so we have to invent reason and purpose.

We see an event and photograph it. We say we have a record of the truth, of the real thing. But is this so? Actually our events are constructed, timetabled, managed, directed, so taking photographs is just as equally constructed – even with those occurrences that seem random. Let’s think about it deeply – we carry a consensus that it must be reality, in very much the same way that each and every one of our societies deems money as being real. But we cannot understand further than this.

If we didn’t have photographs – or art, or culture in our worlds – we would go insane. The real world has nothing to offer us. Photographs, amongst many other things, offer us a means of escape from the dread and nausea that is reality.

Clearly without art, photographs, computers, supermarkets, cars, museums, art galleries, holidays, social networking, other tech stuff, even the more mundane stuff as jobs, qualifications, studying (!) without all of which we would most likely die of reality! We are starved of reality and drugged to enormous depths in fantasy. Whilst we might not be living in The Matrix, we are living in a world that does actually embrace elements of the philosophy found in that film.

In conclusion, we must therefore deem that without ‘art’, we will without a doubt die of reality.

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A golden mountain. Take one per day to prevent nausea/feelings of dread!

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