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A Photographic Challenge
by Jim Austin
You can’t depend on your eyes
when your imagination is out of focus.
~ Mark Twain
Illusions infuse our image making. And we tend to believe illusory myths about our photography, despite a lack of factual evidence for their existence. Why does it help us to challenge our photographic illusions?
Without a seismic shift in our beliefs, our old norms and practices can become delusions. Rigid myths challenge photographers who value fresh, creative art. Illusions in our imagination can be insidious when we cannot progress beyond them. They limit our growth and make our work stale.
focuses on three of our current flat-earth illusions in photography. The
images seen here,
selected from my series about illusory ideas in photography, were chosen
to address a central problem in photography. The Problem--Rigidity of
Illusion One: Our Brands and Label Make Us Better Photographers
artificial distinctions that are meaningless
Sitting in front of our computer screen, we can't see other photographers. If we could, we would be looking in a mirror. Our separateness, I believe, is but another illusion. We are a democracy of photographers, and so we have more in common in the ways we feel and see. We see another person's picture, and think, “Yes, I made one like that.”
Sharing and laughing more, and building bridges of harmony between ourselves and other photographers, become vital parts of our image making. It really does not matter what gear a person is carrying. When I photo walk with friends, we take less gear, and more grins.
is the mind, passion, spirit and story-telling we bring alive with our
photography. What we carry in our brains, not our hands, defines our photography.
What we carry in our brains, not our hands, defines our photography.
cycle of a monarch butterfly, from egg to caterpillar to
Gear itself is not the illusion. An over-emphasis on gear with a firm conviction that it makes one a better or more important photographer is the illusion. Idolizing gear is the illusion. Making photographs with digital and/or film, it is easy to fall into a trap of trying to define oneself by techniques: “I'm a commercial photographer”; “I'm an HDR photographer.” These ideas can handcuff an image maker. Similarly, defining a photograph as pure, natural or “straight out of the camera (SOOC),” limits its meaning.
In my early teens, I used film and printed in the darkroom. Later, I added digital. Now I use film and digital capture, a scanner, and make images that never see the enlarger. Change is inevitable. How we define our vision does not have to over-emphasize our tools.
Does this mean we should not concentrate on a pure approach of using one set of tools? Of course not! Many of the great photographic artists have done so successfully. I only suggest that we do not judge others by the camera they have in their hands.
Illusion Three: The Decisive Moment
We cling to
an illusion that there are special,
All moments are unique. There is no decisive moment. The geometry of a scene is continually changing, so there are no right and wrong captures. I photographed this sphinx moth over nine weeks in the summer. After many tries, I increased the shutter speed and added fill flash. The image did not work as a picture until the moth flew in front of a naturally dark background.
We usually ask what the exposure duration or shutter speed was for a picture. It is always a lifetime, because the thought that goes into it takes years. This is what worldwide nature photographer Franz Lanting meant when he said, “The exposure was 41 years and a 30th of a second.” Often, the time spent thinking about how to improve our images is the most meaningful. The illusion is to define our images by the speed of the camera or the exposure metadata. We can instead progress from seeing to vision when we slow down and consider ways to make images more compelling by attending to better light and composition.
Why does it
help us to challenge our photographic illusions? How would we behave if we
still believed today that the earth is the center of the solar system? Beliefs are
powerful. If destructive ones are left alone, we risk having them orbit our
vision as delusions. Challenging our illusions and our photography can
evolve as the caterpillar progresses to become a butterfly. The picture is
the thing, not the metadata behind it. Split seconds do not count over
time. What matters is the curious mind, persistent passion, and the
story-telling spirit we choose to bring to our photographs.
Images © Jimages.com:
1. Brooklyn Bridge, New York City
2. Monarch butterfly, Cape May New Jersey
3. Ammonite and Eye, Layered in Adobe Photoshop CS5.
4. White Sphinx Moth in flight, Denver Colorado.
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