Which leading 20th-century philosopher took this photo?

The surprising photographic legacy of Ludwig Wittgenstein

Published July 8, 2011 12:01PM (EDT)

Ludwig Wittgenstein is known above all for his groundbreaking work as a modern philosopher. But he was also an enthusiastic amateur photographer whose pictures -- from a "composite" family image to a jaunty shot of a friend posing as if he were in a gangster film -- are intriguing and revelatory.

Sixty years after the Austrian thinker's death, the Wittgenstein Archives (located at Cambridge University, where the philosopher studied and taught) have gathered some of Wittgenstein's own artistic efforts, along with other related photographs, for an exhibition.

The photographs have philosophical as well as artistic significance. An explanatory piece published by the university says:

The composite photograph [depicted in our first slide] could be said to mark the start of the development of Wittgenstein’s idea of "language game" and "family resemblance," that things assumed to be connected by singular common features ... are in fact connected by myriad overlapping similarities that weave complex networks, the possibilities represented in the fuzziness. Wittgenstein later uses human families to relate this idea, where "build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way."

For a full explanation of the exhibition, and more background on Wittgenstein's photography, visit Cambridge Research Features here. The images in our slideshow have been reproduced by kind permission of the Wittgenstein Archives.

By Emma Mustich

Emma Mustich is a Salon contributor. Follow her on Twitter: @emustich.

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