A photographic image manifests a “likeness” to the real by bringing into existence an otherwise fleeting moment in time. By the simple release of the shutter speed, time, with all its wonder is captured. Through this instrument, reality is recorded, and with that comes a huge responsibility for authenticity. The camera, as far-fetched as it may sound, validates reality. Therefore, the making of an image, or the re-creation of reality, is not subjected only to the photographer. Photography creates a strange tension, for the first time between the originating object and its reproduction there intervenes only the instrumentality of a nonliving agent. This limits the photographer’s intervention to a mere decision on what to frame of reality. However, once this decision is made, the object, which is the photographic image, is freed from the limitations of time and space that govern it. It becomes a creation of an idyllic world that has its own temporal destiny.
In this 2-D flattening of reality, the past is framed. Through this “tangibilizing” of the ephemerally intangible, endless questions arise. Questions that concern the impact of the maker on the object, the way in which the object is received by the viewers, and the objects presence in eternity.
A photographic image is fuelled with endless possibilities. By reincarnating a moment in reality, it creates a world that does not abide by the constraints of time and space. The camera captures the present but promises that moment a place in eternity. Unlike painting, which carries a symbolic resonance to realism, photography exhibits a likeness so profound that it can be legitimately labeled as real. However, with this likeness, the subjectivity of the photographer is compromised. In painting, the artist approaches the canvas at a tangible distance, and with this closeness his personality enters into the process of composition. The painting is literally a part of him; since every line, every brush stroke, every hue is determined by its maker. However, in photography, no matter how close the artist approaches the object, there will always be a machine forbidding tangible closeness. The only thing within the photographer’s control is what to frame of reality and the purpose he has in mind. This poses two limitations, one that deals with the selectivity of the world in question, and the other deals with the subjectivity of the artist. By choosing to frame a fragment of reality, the photographer risks a visual rupture due to the absence of totality. What he selected may be visually disturbing, incomprehensible, or even offensive to the viewer. This may be compared to any form of art, where the artist makes a conscious decision to frame a part of totality. However, unlike painting or drawing, photography has the irrational power of bearing away our faith. It promises us realism for our conviction. Therefore if a painting is visually disturbing, our feelings of condemnation are aimed at its maker, while in photography we cannot direct these feelings at the photographer because he is not the maker of reality. Therefore we are left dissatisfied with reality. An example is the world press photos that embody suffering and trauma. Looking at and through the faces of sorrow, we feel disgusted at humanity, rarely do we associate these feelings with the photographer. This is because, although there is a selection of reality, this selection usually aims at depicting the general. Although this decision is made by the photographer, there is clearly a lack in subjectivity. In capturing time and space, two elements that are beyond manipulation, the photographer always absorbs but rarely gives.
The lens of a camera is manufactured. As banal as it may sound, it is stripped away from sentiment and subjectivity, all that spiritual dust and grime with which my eyes have covered it. It presents the world with all its virginal beauty; however once it is associated with the photographer’s touch the camera loses its “virginity” by giving birth to a photograph. And with the birth of this photograph, like the birth of a child, its starts to pile up preconceptions. These labels are then interpreted differently once they encounter an audience. This ability of the photograph to accommodate to the wishes of a universal audience is a powerful component of photography. It can be perceived by anyone, and through its perception it is made visually legible no matter how obscure it may be. This is because, as humans, we have a tendency when faced with realism, to decipher all possible codes in order to rationalize our vision.
In surrealist photography, the photographer’s presence is more apparent in the photograph. This movement tore down the boundaries of expectation by merging reality with the imagination. Its power lies within its ability to daunt the viewers with the possibility of another reality; a reality that trivializes time and space by opening up a doorway to endless interpretations. This reality can more or less be attributed to the making of the photographer. It is through the investment of imagination and manipulation through techniques like solarization and multiple exposure that such an image is created. These aspects, imagination and technical manipulation are pre-determined by the maker. However one can also argue that the initial moment captured is independent of the photographer, therefore is only partially the making of the artist. Since there is no real distinction between fantasy and reality, surrealism tends to destroy reason for an unreasoned order. In other words, surrealist images can be perceived as an amalgamation of the photographer’s intent and reality as it presents itself. It is this fusion of the artists whimsical subconscious desires with the unyielding nature of time and space that creates an “absolute reality, a surreality”.
The making of a photographic image preserves eternity through a moment’s spiritual rebirth. This world, which is captured by the impartial lens, presents reality, it does not re-present it. This notion is more interactive when a person is captured. Encountering a frozen face preserved for infinity is both sorrowful and thrilling. You start to wonder whether the person is looking at the lens or through the lens, but it is rarely assumed that the person is looking at the photographer. This demonstrates the limitations of the artist, in that his “creation” has less to do with him and more to do with the relationship between the image and the person encountering the image. The faces in the photograph are gazing into the future, awaiting reciprocation from the anticipated viewer. This fact, coupled with the degree of realism is what makes the viewer wonder about the faces identities. Whenever we encounter an image we have a deep yearning to know who those people are, but rarely on who took their picture. This is because, as humans, we are more prone to invest in the visibly concrete, the “reachable”, rather than in the “unreachable” abstract. It is for that reason that a photograph, a synthetic product made up of chemicals, ironically, has an uncomfortably power ability to manipulate what we consider most sacred, our emotions.