Let’s Talk about Truth in Advertising

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.Photos: My HDR 1

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.Photos: My HDR 2

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.Photos: My HDR 3

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.Photos: My HDR 4Photos: My HDR 5Photos: My HDR 6

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.

Digital illo: Editing Digital Art [Rumpy]

Editing my own digital art is simply a more complicated version of what I do with photos in order to make them more like I “see” them in my mind’s eye. I’m pretty sure Rumpy would agree that no matter how well-meaning we may be, we are all bound to see things from our own perspective.

Point of Origin

Photomontage: Kid StuffSapient Sources

What Mother said carried no weight—

Dad said the same? Then it was great!

What Dad pronounced we’d all reject—

Then Mother said it? Yay! Correct!

It’s funny, no? But true, of course—

Belief depends more on the source

Than on the facts and evidence—

If only trust were based on sense

In my own heart and in my head

I’d just accept what Mother said—

Except, of course, when in the frame

Of asking if Dad said the same—

PessimOptimism

Graphite drawing: Self-Inflicted“Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.” It’s part of my credo, I guess, and may well have been aided in its development by doing those hilariously futile duck-and-cover atomic bomb drills of the Cold War era. And the air raid drills—we lived in a Ground Zero area near several military bases, strategic coast, and a handful of Nike missile sites in those days—fire drills, earthquake drills, tsunami drills, and later when we lived in the midwest, tornado drills. You’d think we’d all have grown up incredibly paranoid after such stuff in childhood. But I think that besides being remarkably resilient, kids use logic on such daily puzzles far better than they remember how to do when they hit adulthood and have been taught their prejudices, and are much more easily distracted and blinded by grey areas.

I don’t remember ever believing that crouching under a flimsy little wood-and-steel desk would save me even from the shrapnel of shattering windows and imploding walls in the event of an attack or large-scale disaster, particularly since I imagined the desk itself would become shrapnel along with everything else in the atomizing roar of a bombing. Little and naïve though we were, we had gleaned hints of the enormity of such things from our beginning school studies of the world history of war (skewed to our own culture’s view, of course); no matter how grownups think they’re shielding kids by sanitizing and limiting the information the wee ones are allowed to see and hear, children are quick to notice the blank spaces where redacted information interrupts the flow of facts, and no adult is more curious than a child to hunt for clues as to what was redacted. Frankly, if there really is any use for an institution like the CIA in this day and age when practically anyone can find out practically anything with the aid of easily accessible tools like the internet, cellular phone, and, apparently, privately owned drones, along with all of the more traditional tools of spy-craft, I suggest that the crew best equipped to uncover any facts not in evidence would probably be a band of children all under the age of about twelve.

Meanwhile, we still have large numbers of people who think it prudent to withhold or skew the information passed along to not only kids but even fellow adults, giving out misguided or even malevolent half-truths or remaining stubbornly silent and in full denial about things considered too dark for others’ knowledge. And what do we gain from this? Are there truly adults among us who still think that even smallish tots can’t quickly discern the differences between a fable or fairytale, no matter how brutish and gory it may be, and the dangers and trials of real-world trouble? Does delusion or deception serve any purpose, in the long run, other than to steer us all off course in search of firmer, more reliable realities?

As I just wrote to my dear friend Desi, it seems to me that the majority of humans always assume a fight-or-flight stance in new or unfamiliar circumstances before allowing that these might be mere puzzles to decipher, and more importantly, we assume the obvious solution to be that whatever is most quickly discernible as different from self IS the problem. Therefore, if I’m white, then non-white is the problem; if I’m female, then male. Ad infinitum. And we’re generally not satisfied with identifying differentness as problematic until we define it as threatening or evil. This, of course, only scratches the surface—quite literally, as the moment we get past visible differences we hunt for the non-visible ones like sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs, and so on.

Unless and until we can change this horribly wrongheaded approach on a large scale, we’ll always have these awful problems, from petty playground scuffles right into the middle of the final mushroom cloud. The so-called justice systems of the world are set up and operated by the same flawed humans who make individual judgements, so the cycle is reinforced at all levels. Sometimes it truly makes me wonder how we’ve lasted this long.

Can we learn from kids? The younger the person, the more likely to blurt out the truth, whether it’s welcome or not. The subtleties of subterfuge are mostly wasted on children, who unless they’re engaged in happy storytelling for purposes of amusement and amazement, would rather be actively puzzling out the wonders of life than mucking about in search of evasive answers and duck-and-cover maneuvers. We might gain a great deal by reverting a little to a more innocent and simplistic view of the universe, one that blithely assumes that others are not always out to get us, that direness and doom aren’t lying open-jawed around every blind corner, and that the great powers of the internet and cell phones might just as well bear cheery tidings of goodness and kindness, and drones be removed from deployment as spies and weapons to work instead at delivering birthday presents to friends and packets of food to hungry strangers.

I’m not fooled into thinking any of this is easy to do, any more than any savvy kid would be, but I’m willing to believe it’s possible if more and more of us will commit to such ideals.

Fixity

“Why?” is a beautiful question, even though it terrifies most of us. A wise soul once said that the opposite of faith is not doubt but certitude. When we grow too attached to a belief and its perfect correctness, we disallow not only our own reexamination of that belief, which if it’s so perfectly correct should pose no threat to us and if it’s not, should allow us to become wiser and more faithful to our convictions; we also fail to show respect for the belief itself, if we are so fearful of its being exposed as wrong.

Standing fixed in a position of faith is only impressive if that belief can be defended in a calm, intelligent, reasonable conversation with someone who doesn’t yet share the same convictions. A shouting match or the refusal to discuss respectfully is as likely to convince and convert an unbeliever as punching someone in the nose is to prove that you’re smarter than she is if anyone’s questioned it. It’s more useful to ask, whenever any disagreement arises, whether one is genuinely defending one’s belief or just feels personally threatened. Egos so often get in the way of rational, logical conversation when we reflexively mistake the call for proof or persuasion of our beliefs for personal insults. It might be useful to remember that when someone asks for evidence of something we cherish as fact, we could give them the benefit of believing that they really want to know why we accept it as truth. A genuine discussion might actually lead to common ground.

It might also, if we let it, lead to greater insight on our own part. The dispassionate process of a logician is aimed not at debunking everything in sight but stripping away falsehoods and irrelevancies and fallacies to expose the facts in the matter. Truth can withstand all questioning. It trumps politics, rants, bullying, diversionary tactics, disinformation and pure human foolishness, if we dare to examine all of the input carefully and patiently and with respect for those who may have so far missed the mark. A reasoned and quietly stated truth will finally have more power than all of the smoke and mirrors that deniers propagate and cling to, or we will have to admit we’ve lost more than our own convictions.Digital illustration from photos + text: Zoanthrope

It’s Always The Other Guy

I prefer not to think of my own guilt or culpability if there’s any way it can be avoided. Surely this is a universal characteristic in my species, but it doesn’t make that admission any pleasanter. It’s lousy enough to think of myself as being quite so continually fallible and messy as I am without having to admit that it’s probably avoidable much of the time, and definitely not something I should just let slide or pretend I don’t have to attempt to amend. Being imperfect is crummy enough in itself, and when I look at my shortcomings and think of what I should be doing to let go of them and, presumably, to repair their damage, it’s more than a little bit overwhelming.digital illustration

It’s all well and good to sit and read a rip-roaring murder mystery novel and cluck with self-satisfied disapprobation at the terrible things those awful people do in it, but if I think I’m all spiffy-clean and untouchably innocent I’m just as deluded as any. I may take some delicate form of self-righteous umbrage should anyone dare to note that I’m not so much better than the petty criminals I love to decry in that movie I just saw, or to think myself piously, wonderfully holier than the lowlifes on the evening news who have done Such Terrible Things I can hardly bear to mention them, but what I conveniently disguise to my own satisfaction as trivial and wholly excusable imperfections might just as well be the crime of the century if they harmed another person or set something in the world off kilter, however indirectly or unintentionally.digital illustration

While it galls me beyond words to see other people painting over their own horrible inward rot with every excuse in the book or, as is the amazingly popular pastime among our kind, by blaming everyone except themselves for whatever’s wrong in the world, I hate to be reminded that I so often do the same. Mea culpa is easier to say than the plain truth of it in my mother tongue: I did it. I was wrong. I am sorry. I will endeavor to make this right. But at some point, whether all of the Other Guy suspects are ruled out or not, my own guilt should find me out, and I should be willing to stand up and confess.

If I don’t, my beloved sisters will eventually remember what I got up to ‘way back when we were small, and will finally tell on me. And I’ll have to admit to everybody that I was really hoping someone else with a slightly itchy conscience would’ve stood up and taken the blame for my stupidity and wrongdoings before I had to come out into the spotlight. Well, I did it. Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure I was the rotten fool that messed up so royally, and I do apologize. The truth of it will surely be revealed. I hope you’ll be gentle with me, as it’s just possible you know how it feels, too.

Things I Tell Myself

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…and whatever you do, think of your glass as half full. You’ll tolerate your self-criticism better, put it to more positive use, and still remain thirsty for truth, goodness and happiness.

A Faraway Look

Looking inward requires the most thoughtful, clear, exacting kind of sight. It requires both the power to see great distances through any number of intervening obstacles or distractions and the will to pay attention to and accept what’s seen. These interior distances can present the greatest challenges in our lives. And when they’re conquered, having presented the greatest risk, they can at last offer the greatest rewards. Braving this adventure into self is often frightening and intimidating far beyond the terrors offered by ordinary, real life adventures ‘on the outside’. May I always be willing to take the leap.digital illustrationI wrote that thought down some time ago, and while it’s often played out in my life in a vast number of ways and to differing degrees, it seems to have come to the fore once again in a particularly pointed way. Every time I reach the crossroads I have to decide: do I dare to do what I really think I need to do? Do I want to do what I need to do? I know that other people are always undergoing these same challenges, most of them deeper and more perilous than my own, but I also know that every one of us worries and struggles and imagines and aspires uniquely, and that no one person’s journey is truly untouched by any other’s. And the more other people that I know are affected–directly or indirectly–by my decisions, the more I will wrestle with the inner process.

All of the standard stresses of existence that plague those of us fortunate enough to be beyond the most basic survival questions of food and shelter will continue to try us as long as we do exist. Health, work, age, finances, relationships, memory, strength, purpose: how we do fret and fear and puzzle our way through them is the ongoing test of our self-worth and contentment, and in turn, of our ability to give to others. Will I come out of the day on the plus side of any or all of these valuables? What decides it? The only certainty, for me, is that the need to address such questions never ceases.

Now let me close my eyes and go to work.