Sunday, September 14, 2008

Truth in Photography?

I've pretty much been the kind of photographer who doesn't do much to his photographs. I'll crop, resize, adjust contrast and make sure the exposure is correct. It's pretty much the same whether I'm in front of the computer or in the wet darkroom. If I'm in Photoshop and want to do much more than that, I need to get out the books to figure it out. So far I've resisted the urge to modify anything, much less change the sky or add the moon to a photograph. I've always been the sort to say that a photograph is a truthful representation of what I saw.

Now I know that is not really the case, a photograph is more a truthful representation of what I wanted to see, especially since it's colored by the passage of time. I don't work on my photographs the minute I take them, whether it's digital or film. It's usually several hours later, sometimes days, and even a week. Even after I finish a photograph, sometimes I'll come back to it months later and decide I want to change something. I may have not liked the final product in some ways, whether it was the crop or the exposure. I may even rework the photograph based on the audience for it. The same image can be subtly reworked depending on whether I'm showing it in the camera club, hanging it for display, or printing it for a friend. In all these cases, I'm working on what I remember about the scene, aided by the image in front of me.

There is also editorial type decisions to make. Using the example of the image at the top of this article, it looks like a calm pastoral scene. Someone out kayaking in early morning or evening. Calm, quiet, peaceful. Exactly what I wanted you to see. The reality was somewhat different. It was a beautiful quiet morning, with mist rising above the water. What I don't show you was the other boats to his left and right, and the gaggle of swimmers to his right also.

This image was taken at a triathlon in town and he was one of the guard boats watching the swim portion of the race. I'm sure he was having fun, but he was working and probably not that calm.

Just food for thought.

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