What does it mean to preserve a moment? We have the ability to do so, but do we have the capacity to understand?
Time is an alien concept. Einstein forever altered the way we think about it; without adjustment based on his theory of Relativity, our GPS devices could not be accurate.
Only through time Time is conquered – TS Eliot
Time changes everything. It degrades and dispassionately destroys, and it will kill everything we love. But it also allows creation; indeed is itself found in the very act of creation.
Photography halts time. By capturing an impression of light-waves and preserving them, we can carry the past into the present.
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. – LP Hartley
There is only ever the present moment and photographs that represent the past will only ever be simulacrum. They do not change as Dorian Gray’s painting did; but we look at them differently as we ourselves change.
Take a photograph of a child and they are enthralled to see themselves. The same photograph a week later will seem to be the same child in last week’s clothes. A year later and they will see a picture of themselves when they were smaller.
Think now about how you perceive photos of yourself as a child. And the photographs of your family as children. Those physical photos may have changed little beyond the usual fading, but the reactions to them have changed irrevocably.
This doesn’t just apply to photographs of people, but because our reactions to other people are normally strong, and because time writes boldly on humankind, people photography is a good example.
Preserve something seemingly simple in the present and context can infuse the photographs with a poignancy that no one would have imagined.
Snapshots of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre are now powerfully evocative; geographical photos of glaciers tell stories when presented alongside current photographs in which they have receded. Photograph a struggling local musician and they could be as successful as John Lee Hooker in a few years. Everything is changing.
Painters and sculptors strove for realistic representations of the world. A camera achieves their aim in a millisecond. Photo-realism in painting has moved on.
Your camera is a remarkable tool. Technical competence ensures that when you capture time, you do so as best you can. We are used to photographs of The World Wars in black and white, because that was the medium most readily available. Black and white photography can be very moving, but those few colour photos of the War really make the experiences real to us.
Learning camera techniques is like learning how to mix paints and shade drawings. It is an important part of the craft. I read voraciously about photography and practiced for years in an attempt to better preserve the world; I’m still doing so.
Chances are, you are too. It is infuriating to find that your pictures don’t accurately represent what you saw at the time. The camera sees differently to you; most photography tuition aims to teach you how to take control of your camera.
Holistic Photography covers this, but also differentiates between using your camera for preservation and for expression.
Many photographers get caught up thinking photography is just a craft for accurate preservation. They are interested in megapixels, camera models and high dynamic range images.
Many photographers are artists who have picked up a camera and are interested in mood, emotion and novelty.
The first group know a lot about photography as a craft but often produce technically perfect but uninspiring images.
The second group don’t think that the camera matters and that learning about depth of field control and resolution is for geeks; so they end up with poor quality pictures.
The first photographers were painters who used chemistry to create images. Photography is a blending of the immiscible; science and art.
Strive for the most accurate reflection of the present moment in your photography. To see clearly and capture without ostentation may seem too straightforward, but it is a perpetual challenge, and the simple clarity in your photographs will set them apart. Hemingway’s writing is a good example of this.
Photography for preservation should contain as little of the photographer as possible; you are there in your choice of subject, moment and viewpoint.
Preservation need not be static. A successful panning technique will allow you to preserve the suggestion of motion. The goal is to capture a moment, and it might be that movement is part of it.
Preserve detail. Learn how to get the most out of your camera in combination with your chosen lens. Use a tripod if necessary. Get closer; show more.
And most importantly, especially now; be truthful. A picture of a girl with her ‘imperfections’ removed is no longer the same girl. Remove litter from landscapes by hand, not with a computer. Or leave it in. Preservation should be objective and unbiased.
Holistic Photography delineates preservation from expression with good reason. Learning to see begins with an acceptance of what is actually there.
Use the techniques presented here to help you master your craft. You want the camera to become an extension of your own eyes.
Faithfully preserve the current state of affairs and the present arrangement of objects; what is everyday now will be history tomorrow.
The skills that you are learning will transform your ability to use photography as a personal medium for EXPRESSION.