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Between nature and culture: Jakob von Uexküll's concept of Umwelten and how photography shapes our worlds

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This article addresses traditional perceptions about photography's position between nature and culture and concomitant schools of thinking focusing pre-dominantly on the photographic image as a form of visual representation. Aiming to develop an alternative perspective it considers a biosemiotic approach and turns to Jakob von Uexküll's model of subjective sentient worlds (Umwelt) that critically dissolves the perceived dualism between nature and culture that has also underpinned most theoretical thinking about photography in the past. Today photography is largely embedded into social media platforms and their interlinked digital networks, which holds far-reaching consequences for a medium that in this current form can only be fully understood if it is considered as a form of embodied material practice. Aiming to understand some of the complex manifestations this technical evolution entails the article further considers the relevance of recent non-representational concepts arising out of cognition theory and cultural geography and uses the 'selfie' as a 'theoretical object'.
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Keywords: Jakob von Uexküll; biosemiotics; digital culture; embodied cognition; embodied material practice; ontology of photography; selfie; subjective sentient worlds

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000404375432 Griffith University

Publication date: April 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • Philosophy of Photography is a new peer-reviewed journal devoted to the scholarly understanding of photography. It is not committed to any one notion of photography nor, indeed, to any particular philosophical approach. The purpose of the journal is to provide a forum for debate on theoretical issues arising from the historical, political, cultural, scientific and critical matrix of ideas, practices and techniques that may be said to constitute photography as a multifaceted form. In a contemporary context remarkable for its diversity and rate of change, the conjunction of the terms 'philosophy' and 'photography' in the journal's title is intended to act as a provocation to serious reflection on the ways in which existing and emergent photographic discourses might engage with and inform each other.
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