The Enigma of Photography

Posted October 17, 2016 in ... Thoughts On Things

This is the second post of the series, “The Strange Art of Photography”.

What is the purpose of photography? The real world in front of the photographer will always be more accurate than any photographic reproduction that can be made. So why bother making the photograph?

The photographic artist, however, is not merely attempting to reveal the subject as it appears before the lens; an unadulterated copy of reality is not the goal. (This may be the desire of some documentary photographers. But most photographic artists have other ambitions.)

Often the goal is simply to emphasize some perception of the subject (such as beauty, color, or form). Another objective may be to reveal traits the photographer believes are hidden in the subject (such as personality traits in a portrait). Or perhaps the intention is to express some emotion, mood, or thought of the photographer. The photographer may even be grappling with greater truths about the world. In each of these cases, the photograph somehow becomes both less AND more “real” than the “reality” that inspired it.

The uninitiated believe that the expressive photographer is, at best, a good observer. They say that the photographer “takes” a picture–and effectively captures an interesting bit of the outside world. But in fact, the successful photographer uses our shared world to create a less concrete (and more personal) idea. Photographic artists never really “take” pictures. They “expose” something much more personal — a bit of their innermost thoughts.

Perhaps this is why the camera is such a mysterious imaging device. It is the only machine in existence that combines light collected from the front end and meaning gathered from the back. The images it produces are the enigma of photography.