Change is Hard

Question: OK – so I don’t want to change a background in a photo. I don’t believe in that for me – it’s not my style. If you guys want to do it, fine, do it. But where does that leave me?

Yes, change is hard. It seems to me, though, that it is harder for photographers than it should be, or need be. The above statement is made all too often today.

But we are engaged in one of the creative arts where change and experimentation are necessary companions to this process. Creativity requires us to explore uncharted waters, both within ourselves and outside of ourselves; otherwise creativity is stifled.

Philosophically speaking, ‘time’ and ‘instant’ are extremely meaningful in an image; i.e., the image fights change in this regard in that the image represents a frozen moment in time, never to be replicated. An image documents a 1/125th of a second that once existed and it continues to represent that even after the subject itself is gone. These are relics, if you will – ones that tell us that, yes, we were there! It was real.

Photography is all about change. When you reflect on things, especially on images taken over time, change is explicit in them. A changed mood, a changed body, a changed landscape, a changed society – these things are important mileposts for us – and they tell us things about ourselves, about where we have come from, even about where we are going.

To get fixed on NOT CHANGING is ridicuous. Most of the cells in our bodies are undergoing change and replenishment as we speak. Within the course of a single year, our entire body’s collective of cells are new cells save for a very few; yet almost magically we retain our familiar shape and face and emotional presence in the face of that dramatically changing biology. Think about that!

The photographer’s eye

Many things serve to capture the photographer’s eye, or jog his or her memory, even as they arouse tenderness or consternation, or admiration.

But what we capture on film [or digital media] is already filtered by what we, the photographer, was feeling and seeing at the time that the shutter button was pressed.

When we later explore that image we see things that conflict with the vision that we had, and voila! we remove them. This is not a contradiction. It is the photographer’s creative effort to seek some synergy between what he or she saw and what the outcome reflects.

Even in documentary or news photography, what the photographer sees is a mere fragment of the scene at hand. The photographer, on location, makes instant decisions to focus on this or on that, or to enhance this or that subject by the lens in use at the time. If we want to represent distance and wholeness we reach for our wide-angle lens. If we want to portray a sense of urgency we try to capture motion, the moment as it was happening. When our goal is to capture intimacy we reach for yet another kind of lens.

Photojournalism has helped to make the scene more explicitly real than it is.

For example, in a war a photographer has many directions to choose from. He or she could show the Marine lending a helping hand to a small child; he or she could show the pain of agony on an Iraqi face; or the utter destruction from a bomb; or even the flowers that still wave in the wind despite the chaos around.

These things are choices that a photographer makes. They therefore do not explicitly reflect an accurate scene. They merely represent the photographer’s unique inclination or world view.

If I were in a war scene, I would try to capture the human side of the war, not the technological power. You would do something different still.

That is the way it is with photography. It offers a unique way for each of us to communicate with the world around us.

 Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC USA

A view of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC – the above image was made with a 16mm fisheye lens to portray the wall of names as if it were the earth which is home to all of us, regardless of our country of origin.

Artistry extends our photography, in that an artistic approach allows us to move our images from real to surreal, from actual to fanciful, from stark to gentle – even from natural to the philosophical, and more. If the artist manipulates a part of the scene to accomplish this, so be it. It is a creative option. It is just another brush stroke.

What is missing from photography today, especially when you look at all the equipment-driven magazines and eZines out there, is a sense of the person behind the lens. Yet this is what photography is all about, not the equipment that a photographer yields.

The equipment, like the painter’s brushes, merely offers solutions and options that allow the photographer to reflect their vision.

I sleep better at night knowing that I have so many wonderous tools at hand for communication purposes!

Surely you do, too, eh?

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