Saturday, December 22, 2007

I live on a globe, but it’s flat outside my door.

The camera never lies is a generally accepted, if erroneous, truism about photography, that implies a photograph is an accurate historical record of a place or event. It ignores the influence of the photographer upon the captured scene through their subjective influence of selection and timing. A captured moment in time, another photographic generalization, addresses the timing issue but continues to ignore the photographer’s scenic selectivity.

For the most part photography is about recording objects. The picture of an object as an expression of a place or the interaction between objects as an event supports the idea that photography is objective. The emphasis is on the recorded object as an expression of a truth. But it is a static, one off truth and truth is a great deal more complex, as the title of this essay alludes.

In the 21st Century it is an undeniable that the world is a ball, space travel and NASA photographs confirm a globe, but my interaction with it, my day to day truth, is with a plate, a walk down the street confirms a flat earth. Two ideas that would seem to be contradictions happily co-exist.

Dichotomies such as this have fueled artists in the creation of their work from the secular scenes used to illuminate religious teachings via cubist renderings of three dimensions as two to the paradoxes that live at the heart of modern art. The art that comes out of conflicting ideas is facilitated by the artist’s ability to interact with their materials of production as much as the objects used for their portrayal. It is the means more than the ends that have enabled the exploration of the paradoxes.

This duality exists within Digital photography. On one hand is the captured image, a record of what was in front of the lens that can be rendered to paper or canvas, on the other, which informs the rendering, is a binary code that carries the information that is the photograph. Unlike the film negative it is an easily accessible and adjustable mathematical expression that stores the information.

The interaction with this information code enables the photographer to become directly involved in the creation of the photograph rather than just a recorder of the scene. Like the painter or the sculptor who can use their materials as much as the objects they depict to make their work so the digital photographer has been given this freedom.

The digital photographer is able to produce photographs that explore ideas and their relative and often contradictory truths. With these means at their disposal they can capture a flat earth and then inform it with global proportions.

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