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Sep 14, 2013

Does a Photograph Capture Reality?

A Sense of Timelessness  - looking south from Agawa Bay, Lake Superior

In this photo, the horizon all but disappears in the clouds. We find ourselves staring off into nothingness. There's a steadiness, a sense of timelessness. It was always this way and always it shall be. Except that nothing stays the same along the shores of Lake Superior. The light, the wind, the waves, the weather, the skies, are continually changing.

A photo does stop time. That's one of the neat things about still photography. A photograph suspends time showing us only that which is framed, from one point of view, under certain conditions of lighting and depth of field, at one point in time. It is intriguing to contemplate what was happening before and after a photo or, what was happening outside the frame of the photo. What if, for example, a different photographer made a photograph of the same subject matter at the same point in time? Would we have an identical photo?

As with art, the impact of a photograph is determined to a large extent by the mind of the viewer. Some people think that a photograph captures reality in a way that a painting, or a drawing, or words cannot. They may also think that a movie is more 'real' than a novel. How can that be? When I read a good novel, the images in my mind are often more powerful than any movie might portray.

What is reality? We have this notion that it is out there, separate from us, in some objective universe. But ultimately, no matter how much help we have from instruments of perception, from sophisticated technology, our minds must find ways to comprehend that which we are perceiving. The mind takes the raw input and subjectively attempts to make sense of it. This happens with the photographer as the photograph is composed and it happens again when a person views the photograph. And in between the idiosyncrasies of film or digital processing change the image in ways we rarely contemplate.

Does a photograph capture reality?

You can purchase a fine art print of this photograph here.

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