Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Time, Space and Photography

A photograph is a two dimensional image of a three dimensional subject, frozen in a moment of time.  The frame renders a mere slice of space in that frozen moment, selected from an infinity of choices, perspectives and angles.  The image thus preserved (flash frozen, as it were) then takes on more reality than the actual subject.  Some might say it even tastes better than the original.

Consider this tidbit. Susan Sontag, in her 1977 book, On Photography, cites a 1974 advertisement for a book of photographs by Ansel Adams:
The creations of man or nature never have more grandeur than in an Ansel Adams photograph, and his image can seize the viewer with more force than the natural object from which it was made [p. 130, italics added].
There is the claim, if not the promise, that an Adams photograph can capture more of the essence of a subject than the real life encounter.  If such a statement sold books for Adams, and enabled him to take more pictures, then I can overlook its outrageousness.

It is either grossly hyperbolic, or perhaps Adams did possess some kind of supernatural power with his camera.  If so, is there something in this that generalizes to all photographic images, no matter how mundane or ordinary?  May we mere mortals aspire to accomplish the same with our own images?

Elsewhere in that same book (p. 104), Sontag insinuates that "photography is the reality; the real object is often experienced as a letdown."  She also observes (p. 62) that "photographs have bcome the norm for the way things appear to us, thereby changing the very idea of reality, and of realism."

No wonder the smart phone is the normative way to encounter an event these days.  At a recent visit to the Georgia Aquarium, it seemed more people were looking at the fish on the back of their phones than directly through the glass walls of the tanks. Their camera phones have become a kind of third eye, piercing through the superficial natural realm into something deeper and more significant.  Is the image-capture of the moment so much more important than the experience of it?  What has digital image-capture in the hands of hundreds of millions done to the way we experience and recall events?

I must admit that I'm no different from all the rest, except I have a DSLR hanging from my neck instead of a smart phone camera in front of my face.  My images are no more deserving of capture than anyone else's.  I just wish they'd get out of my way so I could have a better view.

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