Musing About Photography

It occurs to me that, when I take photographs, particularly photographs in remarkably beautiful settings, my purpose is to seize the moment, to make it endure.  It is not just the image I want to capture, but the way it feels to see what I see.

I have never taken a photograph that succeeds in meeting my intentions.  I can attribute part of the reason for falling short to my lack of skills with a camera and part to the limitations of the equipment.  With better skills and a better camera, I am certain I would come closer to making an accurate photographic record of the experience.  But I am just as certain there is no combination of camera and photographer that can truly capture the majesty of “being there.”  And, as I think more on this subject, it is not just the uncommonly beautiful experience that escapes the camera; even the mundane wonder of an average moment remains elusive.

I have seen stunningly beautiful photographs, images that testify to both the exceptional skills of the photographer and the emotional allure of the subject of the photograph.  And I’ve seen paintings that attest to the artist’s technical skills and creativity, as well as painting’s subject.  Both the photograph and the painting are symbols.  Good ones can evoke visceral responses, physical sensations in parallel to one’s emotional reaction to the image.  The best a camera can do is to produce a visual symbol of an experience, something that can either spark a memory of the experience in those who shared the experience or kindle creative imaginings in those who didn’t.

The preceding paragraphs arose from my thoughts this morning about the photos I took during our recent trip to west Texas, especially Big Bend National Park.  As I looked through the images in my camera, I compared my memories of what I had seen when I took the pictures to what I saw before me on the screen.  Some of the images on my screen triggered my recollection of the experience more clearly than others, but none of the images could possibly compare with the actual experience.  Then, I looked at other photos, more mundane images of things like plants in my backyard and city street scenes.  Though the photos were in most cases poorly composed and inexpertly executed, they triggered memories of what I experienced when I took them.

Now, after having given this a bit more dedicated thought, I am leaning toward the following conclusion: no photograph can truly capture an experience because it cannot record the sense of touch and smell and taste and all the other elements that “being there” involves.  But excellent photographs, like excellent art, can evoke sensations of experience. The rest, the ones like most of mine that don’t meet the standard of good, much less excellent, still serve the purpose of triggering memories and the emotions they carry.

With all of this having been said, I still want to get a good DSLR camera and take classes on how best to use it to get the results I want.  And that is my thought for the moment.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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