Using a camera to reproduce what our eyes see is a technological challenge that seems to get easier every day. But putting into pixels what your heart feels as your finger hovers over the shutter button – now that’s a different story.
For those who have worked with me, such musings may seem a-characteristic. I’m a very technical person; someone who loves figuring out how to make something work, and not sleeping until I do. Be it a camera, computer or new piece of software, technology has a way of making my brain happy.
Even still, as I write this, I’m carrying around a nearly four-year-old iPhone. I guess…technology for technology’s sake is not my passion. I’ll be the first to jump to the next new thing, but there’s one caveat: I should need it in my work, in my art. For me, imaging technology is the tool I use to share with others the world as it appears to me. It’s my version of the painter’s brush; the musician’s instrument.
Sometimes the client or the project calls for capturing “reality.” But we’re not really capturing “reality,” only an image of it. Using every tool of technology and technique, we attempt to convey a moment’s unique visual experience to someone not there. Was this not the initial promise and allure of photography…to be able to share an experience of the eye? It remains a worthy goal of the camera-person, and done well, it is magic.
I remember clearly the moment I learned that Picasso’s early paintings were wonderfully true-to-life. Only later did he choose to explore and focus on the abstraction of life. For a while, this left me puzzled about what defined an artist. At the time, I strove to re-create reality using pencils and paint…and almost missed out on what I now see as the artist’s greatest gift: expression.
I also vividly recall when I realized it was time to pick up a camera. Surely the knobs and glass and rules and film would help me wrestle this reality beast a little more forcefully. At one point, I was drawing a scene lit with a candle – a common art school exercise – and struggling at recreating its “realness”. Somehow, I thought a camera would make this easier. So I learned the tool. Easier? Not so much.
Almost two decades later, and low light situations still have a way of driving me crazy. But I’m not about to write a camera review touting ISO limits or lens speeds. Nor am I promoting a preference for ambient light vs. flash vs. continuous. Though to make any photograph or video all of that tech stuff must happen, and to tell the truth, to me it’s fascinating. But even more satisfying than understanding the technology, is using the camera to tell a story, share an experience, offer a new perspective or sometimes just coerce a smile.
Ahhh, the smile. As the old saying goes, heating with wood warms you twice – first when you cut and stack it, and later when it burns. Something similar happens with photography, when it comes to smiling. When I work with people, I find there’s a smile on my face during the shoot, and often on the face of the subject. Then, later, in the editing process the happiness, success or passion in peoples’ eyes brings another smile. Later – and this is my hope – a smile will soften the day of the person who sees my work. That’s a lot of smiles.
Unfortunately not everything brings a smile. Documenting our world with photography and videography can reveal many truths: truths and realities that do not bring smiles. In many ways, capturing life’s realities on film, digital, still, or video may be photography’s noblest goal. Photography can educate, inform and inspire. It can also bring people to action, begetting change: Perhaps an even nobler goal.
Yet as a photographer, reviewing this year’s work, I can’t help but notice I was lucky enough to be around a lot of smiles, and things to smile about. For that, I’m thankful.
photos © 2014 Victoria Weeks/Verglas Media