photography Philosophy and Ethics homepage |Photography homepage



Most philosophy concerns words and meanings, arguments and debates. But wisdom is also a matter of perception and intuition. 


Images can sometimes convey what words cannot. We see in order to understand; intuit before the rational explanation becomes clear. And sometimes - best of all - we just stop and look, perceiving without any need for words.


This page offers my brief reflections on a particular image that has struck me in some way.


Share this with your followers on Twitter:


















Creating personal space...

Rooms say much about who we are: richly cluttered or minimalist, they express something of how we see ourselves as well as the objects and personal treasures we have accumulated in our passage through life. There are rooms in which we feel naturally comfortable, others which feel alien to us. Sometimes a room captures the history of a family.  Just such a room was the studio of Jan Buisman, a sculptor, writer and former curator of the Tylers Museum in Haarlem. This photograph shows just part of the huge and fascinating room within which we may  trace the remarkable history and creativity of a single family.  Personal space, and personal spaces, are - in my view - a key feature of feeling that we 'belong' and hence that we make sense of our lives in their physical context. Sadly a couple of years after ths photograph was taken, Jan Buisman died. His room is now preserved as part of the museum in which he worked for so many years.

But here, by contrast, is another example...

I'm always fascinated by the ways in which people carve out their their personal space and give it character. Here a humble caravan has grown into a country retreat. The owner clearly takes pride in watering the flowers and making the place special - a place to hide, or relax, or to remember happy moments with the family.

A sense of personal space, belonging and ownership is deeply instilled but frequently threatened in a modern, globalised world. Both the artist's studio and the caravan have a market value, but it does not start to represent their personal value. The question I ask is this: How is it possible to cherish and celebrate the particular without so elevating its status that it leads to the denigration of everywhere else? Nationalism finds its roots in just such rootedness; its sense of home in creating a place reflecting blood and soil.

To privilege one's own space is natural but also potentially damaging in a world where nothing remains unchanged for long, and where a narrow nationalism is almost certainly destructive in the long term.

Perhaps the ethical trick (although always a difficult one) it to follow Kant's first form of the categorical imperative - to accept that, in accepting a personal need to establish and cherish a special place as home, I should be willing to grant that to everyone else. The refugee deserves an opportunity to establish a base, a home, a place to grow and flourish, if they have been unjustly uprooted from their place of origin. The challenge is to both cherish what we personalise as 'ours' and also be prepared to share it.