Where is the world interesting?

Let’s first dispel the myth that photography is an objective means of conveying “truth”. The camera stupefies our perceptions of reality, laying waste to all but a two dimensional stack of pixels. So how much can you really glean from a single image? Not much it seems, unless the photographer’s good. However, it’s commonly understood that photographs are not supposed to convey a whole story, but rather distill it into fragments for manageable consumption. I’d much rather get my information from a few pictures and an article than watch a four hour 360° video of a senate hearing.

If the act of taking a picture negates all opportunity for “truth”, then true photographic documentary is essentially impossible. However, this by no means detracts from the brilliance of photojournalism. The skill and genius come from the ability to create a shot conveying as many “truths” of a story as possible into a two dimensional image. For example this image:

 
 Credit: https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/v-j-day-kiss-times-square-1945/

Credit: https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/v-j-day-kiss-times-square-1945/

 

Taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt, it tells the story of happiness and joy following the end of America’s role in WWII. Even without context we can infer a pure joy in the kiss, an emotion supported by another smiling sailor in the back left, and a woman in the back right with a seemingly similar sentiment. Many people fill the streets, indicating an important national moment. Even without text a story unfolds from the image. However, many questions remain unanswered. Who’s the guy? Who’s the girl? Where did they come from? What are their stories? Was the kiss consensual? (Apparently not, as inferred from Eisenstaedt’s description of  “a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight.... I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse”.) This image also lacks color, creating a false representation of the world’s natural state and undermining the photographer's quest for truth. I’m nitpicking, I know. I can’t deny this photograph’s genius. However, from the fundamental limitations of photojournalism we can discover some of this genre’s greatest assets.

To create an image is to create one’s own version of truth. How close it resembles reality is up to the photographer. An expectation of accuracy regarding photographic art still remains, though most people now see the opportunities that come with image manipulation. We must understand the full potential of the technology at our disposal. Apps like Lightroom, Photoshop, or even just Instagram filters provide the tools to transform a raw image into a personal rendition of reality. Pete Turner created images which truly encapsulated this idea of photography, using the tools at his disposal (in 1964) to completely transform the world in which he lived.

 
 Credit: https://davedye.com/2017/11/09/hands-up-whos-heard-of-pete-turner/giraffes-pete-turner-1964/

Credit: https://davedye.com/2017/11/09/hands-up-whos-heard-of-pete-turner/giraffes-pete-turner-1964/

 

This photograph is called ‘Giraffe’, though the giraffe is the only thing that remains ‘normal’.

It’s fun to apply this idea to a photography outing, observing not just the immediate physical space, but the potential where there appears not to be any. Colors, shapes, perspective, and many other elements can all be reconfigured with the use of easily accessible softwares. But one must remember that the creation of an image all starts with the composition itself, the keystone to any great photograph. Before you start messing with all the colors and filters and such, try to first manipulate via the camera itself. Different angles, lenses, and framing are the fundamental tools for crafting an image.

The ability to manipulate and add and subtract from a still image provides limitless opportunities in the already saturated world around us, giving the photographer a means to construct a more personal truth, one not defined by the earth’s natural state. Reality’s alright, but I like mine with a little seasoning.

Oliver

USC PhotoComment