The Power of Pure Photographs
I have always been drawn to photographs. Last year I invested in a good camera, a Pentax Kx Digital SLR and I also bought a long lens. I have been snapping pictures with it almost every day since. Except for the basic operating instructions and troubleshooting, I have never read the owner’s manual. Sometimes I think that’s improvident, and sometimes I think that’s inspired.
In this day of digital photography, you can no longer trust photographs. There was a time when a photograph could be positive evidence that something was real. With a whole lot of equipment, you could doctor a print, but the negative was untouchable.
In 1878 Eadweard Muybridge experimented with chronophotography, which used a series of cameras set to go off successively as the moving subject passed by. Leland Stanford commissioned Muybridge to do a chronophotographic study to prove that Stanford was correct when he said that a galloping horse has all four feet off the ground at the same time. The proof was in the picture. Indeed all four hooves do leave the ground at the same time. (Mr. Stanford collected on a bet with one of his cronies because of this photographic evidence.)
Of course now, photographic retouching is part of the art form. However, veracity is not.
I’ve taken thousands of pictures in the last year with my trusty Pentax. I have about twenty that are truly good photographs. (Maybe I should read the manual?!?) And if I wanted to know which f-stop or setting I used to get that result, I couldn’t tell you what they are. I am a (very) bush-league photographic Jackson Pollack. There is something kind of magically elusive about capturing a moment and being stuck with it. You have recorded a moment that is forever caught in time just as it was, and never will be again. With no recreations, deletions or improvements possible, or in my opinion, necessary, it is the last ephemerality in our molded and manipulated world. I’d like to hang on to that for a while.
That is not to say that I don’t enjoy the benefits of Photoshop from time-to-time. I certainly do. However, fixing and perfecting every shot and not recognizing that there is beauty in actuality seems to me, a sorry loss.
Here are some of my unretouched best.