As she so often does, my amazing friend Celi brought up once again the question of what we photograph, and how, and why, and what it can mean when we do so. As an avid, inveterate and truly—in the old sense—amateur photographer myself, this topic remains of great and constant interest. In the present climate of world politics, especially our wildly messy and weird American version of them, we certainly become obsessed with the idea of which of us has a complete grip on The Truth (absolutely nobody, in my opinion) and how we wield it (selfishly and manipulatively, IMO), and whether we’re arguing about what is real in visual or verbal images it pretty much plays out the same. We’re all generally trying to express how we understand the world, and to convince ourselves and others that our understanding is the smartest or best one.
Me, I edit a high proportion of my photos, many of them very heavily—but rarely do I do so to many for outright imaginative purposes. Aside from the (at least) 2/3 to 9/10 percentage I cull before using, what I do keep is for illustrative purposes at least as much as for documentary ones, but my intent with my photos is always to show others how I see the world, not necessarily how the world exists in an empirical sense.
In my opinion, that was always the purpose of photography: even the most rigorous of news and docu- photographers have always only shown us what they choose, and are able, to shoot, and from their perspective. Heck, people were manipulating photographs (early “ghost story” and “fairy” photos, anyone?!) as soon as they could shoot them. Photos are no more concrete proof of Truth than are written or spoken words. Current politics and social interactions merely continue to confirm all of the above.
So last night I was doing my own version of HDR, wherein I meticulously hand-alter (albeit with digital tools) the light/dark contrast in various parts of shots to replicate what my eyes and brain do as I’m seeing the images live, and my live-in art critic commented on my play with the pictures. And then I showed him how, for example, the pictures I took while he was driving here through west-Texas and New Mexico storms this summer are ‘readable’ only after such an edit, and that if his eyes weren’t already making such adjustments on the fly he’d not have been able to see, headlights or not, to drive in such varied light as the storms make.
I know that when I photograph my own environment, I do so with constant awareness of my version of Clutter Blindness, too, which makes me not see or notice things that are constantly in my environment—until I’m recording that environment with my camera. What an amazing tool is the camera! But it’s only a tool, and the images we take with it only the things we’ve chosen to note or share in our own ways. I love seeing the world through others’ photos, artworks, and eyes; my reality is frequently shifted and enhanced by this interchange of ideas and experiences. But I’ll always think it’s best, whether in attempts at documentation and recording real-life happenings and visions or in entirely handmade and invented artworks, to look with my critical thinking and logical skepticism engaged, and know that what I see and what I perceive to be real are all as ephemeral and dodgy as the brain and heart can possibly make them.
Have you read Susan Sontag’s two books on photography?
Nope—but I’m guessing you recommend them! Thanks for the heads-up. Hope all’s well with you up in your neck of the woods. We’ll be back in June for BEMF and always look forward to our visits!!!
I find people are often too critical and opinionated and not complimentary enough of others photos or any other work. Its not what a third party thinks but what you think, don’t you think?
Have a beautiful week ahead darling Kath.
Much love and warm hugs to you from SA.
🙂 Mandy xo
We have enough to worry about in trying to quiet our *self*-criticism most of the time, don’t we! But it’s good to be reminded to consider people’s intent with their shared ideas, images, and such, and not just sense it all through our own filters and assumptions, so I hope that others will grant me the same consideration. 😉 Thanks for the sweet wishes, and I send love and warm hugs back to you, my dearest Mandy! xoxo, Kath
I love looking at others’ work and trying to figure out what they’ve done so that perhaps I could apply the technique or vision to what I’m doing. I never try to copy but always try to learn. Just don’t give me a lesson on my own photos in my blog LOL. I always wonder why people feel the need to tell me what I should or should not do. It *is* our own vision and art, and it is so subjective. Plus we don’t know the why’s of how it came to be…difficulties, choices, etc. I love this post and thank you for the beautiful images!
I do find it amusing what people feel free to critique, unasked, throughout life. Lucky for them I don’t have a violent streak, or even a squirt gun in my holster. 😉 I’m with you: steal from the best, and do my best, and let it go at that. Glad you found this theme familiar enough to suit *your* tastes! 😀
a squirt gun LOL!!!!!!! I love that. 🙂
Even the best digital sensors in cameras currently available to the general public are much less sensitive than our eyes, as you pointed out. As a result, I often find myself editing my raw files by bringing down the highlights and brightening the shadows. I almost always do that manually, but the HDR you mentioned can automate the process. I tried HDR a few years ago, but good results require a tripod, and I don’t like to lug one around with me. I know some camera models now do in-camera HDR, so that might be a compromise.
The only place I’ve tried using mechanical HDR is with my iPhone photos, and frankly, I think I do better stuff for off-the-cuff, handheld shots. Besides, why let the camera decide for me what to highlight and what to ignore? Goes against the grain of the very reason I do DIY-HDR as it is. 🙂 I know, preaching to the choir here!!! One of the many reasons I so respect your photography.
Regarding “my intent with my photos is always to show others how I see the world, not necessarily how the world exists in an empirical sense,” I’ll say amen, sister. Like you, I sometimes take pictures to document a certain plant or scene, but for the most part I’m looking for a way of seeing the subject that transcends its literal appearance.
To me, it’s not that different from people who criticize artists for either not-being-realistic-enough or the exact reverse, as though the critics had any idea of the process or intent of the work themselves. I prefer to chalk it up to ignorance rather than hubris, but still…. I pretty much consider the whole reason for being an artist as an attempt to express outwardly the universes I experience and create inwardly. They *shouldn’t*, by definition, match yours, or anyone else’s, exactly, right? 🙂
So wonderful to catch back up with your wonderful photos and writing. It has been far too long
My darling Cyndi!!!! Pardon my ridiculous slowness in responding, but I cannot express just how much it has delighted me to hear from you. I hope that life is treating you kindly these days and it’s not insanely cold up your way yet. Though for the latter matter, I have heard of quite a bit of snow and cold throughout the ‘upper regions’ both here and overseas; methinks the prognosticators who’ve said it’s going to be a long, cold winter may not be so far off base. Humph. I guess it’s all okay, so long as we keep as safe and warm as we’re able. So I send you big giant hugs to warm your heart, if not your personage, with great love and affection!
❤ ❤ ❤