Wittgenstein, Philosophy and Photography

Atrium Gallery, London School of Economics, 28th May-29th June

Prospect, 2nd June 2012

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In contrast to the image of the armchair-bound philosopher holed up in his study, Ludwig Wittgenstein was, at various points in his life, a soldier, a gardener, a teacher, a hospital porter, an architect, and, as a new exhibition at the LSE shows, a keen amateur photographer.

This exhibition, first shown last year in Cambridge, presents pictures taken by Wittgenstein alongside images by friends and relatives, and quotations from his writings and correspondence. The photos reveal a more playful side of the philosopher. In one, he has convinced a friend to pose like a Hollywood gangster in homage to one his favourite film genres (although he was a fan of trashy films in general, and westerns above all). Beyond the personal insights, these images are also philosophically rich, sometimes serving as visual representations of Wittgenstein’s theories. He created one image, for instance, by combining three separate photos of his sisters and one of himself.

The result is a ghostly composite portrait of what appears to be a single person—an eerie illustration of his “family resemblance” argument. Just as family members may look alike without all sharing one particular physical feature, so certain groups of things (such as games or artworks) that seem to be connected by a single shared essence are in fact linked by overlapping resemblances. But whether your interest is philosophical or biographical, this exhibition is a rare opportunity to see a different side of one of the great thinkers of the past century.

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