Photographic Evidence

All photographs are lies. That moment preserved, formerly on celluloid but now with electrons, is gone for good as soon as the shutter is snapped. The camera doesn’t see as the eye sees. I was reminded of this during a mountain thunderstorm. I awoke early, coated with jet lag and the residue of my regular early morning schedule. It was still dark, but the reddish sunlight soon wrestled through a valley fed by a creek across the lake. The color was impressive, but my camera washed it out to a diluted Creamsicle orange. In reality the clouds were roiling overhead and lightning was streaking through a thunderhead like synapses firing violently in a massive brain. Thunder in the mountains can’t be photographed. Nor can it be forgot.

My work used to require quite a bit of travel. Before I would visit a campus I would spend some time on faculty pages, trying to put faces together with names. Impressed with how young these professors were, I’d knock on doors armed with foreknowledge of who might greet me. I wondered who these older people were when the door actually opened. It’s disconcerting to see someone age before your eyes. I would think back to the photographs online that had assured me this person would be much younger. The picture was a fossil. A moment frozen in time. The very next second after the photo capture that smiling face had changed. The best that we can hope for is a gross approximation.

Perceptions of reality, as all religions teach us, contain a healthy dose of illusion. While it contains ethereal beauty, this vision I’ve captured in my lens is only part of the picture. There is something deeper, more meaningful behind it. Photographs enhance memory. In the days before Photoshop they could be submitted as proof of an occurrence. They are a form of art. Whatever else they may be, they are also lies. Lies need not be of evil intent. Religions try to explain what some privileged individual realized was the truth. These who found a way of looking behind the photograph. The streaking lightning outside evades the slowness of my finger on the button. The thunder rolling and re-echoing through these valleys will remain in my head long after the sound waves cease to reverberate. Reality is more than it seems. Even my experience of this mountain thunderstorm is that of a single individual seeking enlightenment. Elsewhere others are up early, observing it too. What they experience may be something very different from me indeed. I have a photograph to prove it.

2 responses to “Photographic Evidence

  1. Hi Steve:
    Excellent observation. My thoughts along these lines have kept me from pulling out my phone / camera as much as I used to. The photo I could snap is, at best, a weary representation with pretty strict walls. I find that remembering the sight, along with the other senses (in your example, the sound of the thunder, the smell of the rain, the relative silence of the mountains…) provides me with a more perfect memory than “just” a photo. I still pull it out (particularly with people that I see infrequently or if I feel the photo would make a lovely desktop on my PC…), but I am getting better mileage from the memory.
    – Jeff

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    • Thanks, Jeff! You’re quite right. The ironic part, for me, is that I often take photos for the purpose of use on this blog. That usage is quite different from the urge to photograph something to remember it, or to “capture a moment.” It’s so much better to be immersed in the moment. I’ve never really tried to photograph lightning, but I am sorely tempted to try!
      Thanks for the comment!
      Steve

      Like

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