Reality And Its Discontents ~

Recently I've been reading -- and re-reading -- an online article about the nature of contemporary photography by a man named Steven Mayes. He makes an elegant argument that it is somehow a radically different thing today than it was in the past, that "digital capture quietly but definitively severed the optical connection with reality." My meager blog-o-graphs here can do it little justice, you should read it yourself ( but, like all things photographic and with fresh coffee close by, it sets my mind off to the races. And what it's racing toward is the question of just how much reality did photography ever communicate in the first place? My though is, it never did.

For centuries, painters were looked to to provide visual authority. They were the press photographers of their day, in a sense. What did the King look like? What did those mountains out west look like? People trusted their accuracy and were informed by what they saw. But we know better now, and they should have known better then, too. Perhaps deep down inside they did. The King wasn't the übermensch astride a gallant horse; he was just another grumpy guy who needed his coffee in the morning (and who can't relate to that?). And those magnificent Albert Bierstadt paintings of the unexplored west, which utterly dazzled 19th-centtury eyes, were, well ... pure fantasy.

There are some who argue that the invention of photography freed painting from the the burden of visual reportage, thus making possible the eventual rise of modern, non-representational movements. Ok, I'll buy that. Where else would Impressionism come from? People went from relying on the "truth" of oil on canvas to the "truth" of colorless images on paper and glass. But here's the point: either way, it was always one person's attempt to define a singular point in time, using the technology available at the time.  I think it always told us more about the practitioner than the practice itself. We view an image through the lens of our own lives; whatever reality we may find therein is a construct of our own making. Photographs are not statements, nor even suggestions; they are mirrors.

And me? I'm constitutionally incapable of just letting a photograph be. I'll work that poor bastard to death until it starts to resemble some state of mind that I find agreeable. I always did that; digital technology just gives me wider options, but options were there all along. And reality? It's all in my mind.

But it's in yours, too.