Let's just cut to it. There is no truth in photography.
At least that's how I see it. Of course, there's varying degrees of truth, how much depending on the genre of photography we are talking about. In my world of landscape photography, pure truth doesn't enter the equation. I treat my landscape work as art. My photos are an artistic expression. The camera is my tool of choice.
It's akin to painting. A painter chooses what subjects to include in her painting, the arrangement of subjects, the color palette, the point of view, what subjects are exaggerated or downplayed, the level of detail... the list goes on and on. The brush is the painter's tool of choice to create his art.
In my photography, I often use wide angle lenses which severely distorts perception. An otherwise smallish foreground subject takes on a massive proportion in the frame. And background subjects are pushed away, becoming much smaller than reality. The reverse is true for long lenses. Distances become compressed. Mountains that are miles and miles away appear almost stacked one atop another. Far from the truth.
I also post process my images. I push color, exaggerate detail, selectively sharpen, dodge, burn, blur, clone, retouch, etc. etc. etc. I personally like to maintain a natural level to my photos, something that is ultimately believable, perhaps teetering on the edge of realism. Nevertheless, my photos aren't truth. They're a version of the truth – a truth blended with emotion and recollection.
Now... contrast landscape work with photojournalism. These photographers are documentarians, capturing the happenings of the day without large doses of post processing, or removing distractions, or adding light or altering color (or at least that's how it should be for a journalist, in my humble opinion). However, the photojournalist still shaped a truth. She chooses what moment to capture. The moment is part of the story – but maybe not the entire truth. What happened just before the photo? Or just after? Are the apparent roles of the subjects in the photo the same day in and day out? He also chooses what is included the frame and what is excluded. She chooses what lens to shoot with. And each choice can have a profound impact on the "truth" delivered
Have you ever gone shooting with a group of, say, 5 photographers? You're all shooting the same location, and you all come away with something different. Five different versions of the scene. Each photographer has their own version of the truth.
And then there is the viewer. We are all unique, the sum of our singular experiences. Those experiences shape how we interpret the world around us. What I see and feel when I view a photo will be different than what you do. And those feelings and emotions will change over time as our life experiences grow.
Have you ever looked at a photo years later and felt something completely different? I have, and what's changed is me. Incidentally, there's an excellent South Korean movie called JSA. The film begins and ends with a single photograph. And the emotions the photo evokes at the beginning of the film are wildly different than what you feel at the end of the film.
A photo is a version of the truth. It's shaped by the photographer and the viewer. We all perceive the world differently, recount events from our own perspective, have our own unique take on our environment. And that's OK.
All of life is a version of truth, isn't it?
/ June 2015 /