He offered up a link to his own blog, and I stumbled upon another. I provide links below.
The blog post he offered up was about how to read photographs, and he dragged out the usual sort of thing, the kind of thing I've thought a lot about myself. It's not at all a stupid thing. He wants us to think of our time with a photo as an interplay of "form," "technique," "content," and "mind" all of which mean more or less what you think they do. This is pretty standard, and he has a notion that these various factors can be more or less important, on a photo by photo basis. Ok, fair enough.
In the post I happened over while while trying to re-locate the first one describes an experiment he conducted in a class. One student looks at a photo, and describes what they see, then they pass the photo to another student who reports on how well the photo matches what they were imagining.
One result of this experiment was that, he relates, everyone talks about content exclusively.
Weirdly, the lesson he takes away from this is, roughly, that everyone is wrong. Everyone ought to be looking at line, form, composition, and so forth. And so he laboriously teaches all his students to do that, instead of what comes naturally.
Which leads us around to my conclusion. What Mr. Ekin is doing here, and what photographers and photo critics by and large do universally, is to create and then operate within a more or less sealed ontological system.
The form/technique/content/mind system of objects and relationships is a perfectly fine thing to do. It's absolutely a way to think about photographs, or any other sort of made objects. You could think of dishwashers within this system if you liked, and evaluate them on those terms. This is an ontological system.
Evaluating dishwashers within this system, while absolutely possible, would probably strike some people as fairly odd, which begs the question of why it is then seen as a Great Idea for photographs.
Other photographers use similar systems including things like "accurate focus", "depth of field", "rule of thirds" and so on. Photo critics tend to use a system built mainly on "how much do these pictures look like other 'good' pictures, and what do I think of the photographer as a person."
You can build perfectly coherent systems of all these, and many more, types. There are many ontologies that can be used to evaluate photos.
The one thing they share is an almost complete disconnection from the real world. Mr. Ekin's experiment reveals what we all know: people don't care about anything except content, in most photos. More generally, each system of knowledge has limitations, it is applicable only within a specific sphere. The people who subscribe to each of them tend to be unaware, generally, that theirs is an ontology which is at best co-equal with many others, that it has limits, that it is not universally applicable.
You get people in photography forums desperately trying to connect the Golden Spiral to the way "people react to your photo" which is absolute balderdash: an example of attempting to demonstrate the universality of a "rules of composition" ontology for evaluating photos. You get people who think Michael Schmidt is the bees knees trying to explain the social impacts media photos and droning on about "visual literacy," which is basically the same thing.
I am, with my pieces on Petapixel, trying to bring a new ontological system into the world of photos, one based on what normal people actually see in normal photos. That is, content, and how we react to it. My system is no more universal than any other, but it is specifically crafted to systematize evaluating how photos might work socially or culturally; how photos work as media.
It's useless for evaluating how other photographers will evaluate your photos. It's useless for evaluating whether or not MACK is likely to offer you a book deal. It's useless for a lot of things. There are ontological systems that will do a much better job for you there.
My system, though, might just be a pretty good basis for understanding the way photos land in the real world, how they might strike regular people who look at your pictures. That's the plan, anyways!
The promised links to Mr. Ekin's blog: