Trial and Error: Reality

Photography and reality, it is a real love-hate relationship.

Yesterday I wrote about painting and a workshop I did in the dunes. Above, you do not see the stairs to these dunes.

This is not the road to the apartment I am at right now. The little circle on the building behind the trees is not the logo I discussed earlier. They are not the trees I can see from my window. That is not the building I am in. That circle is not even a circle.

You are not seeing Texel. That is not a nice blue sky you are seeing. There is not a lighthouse in front of your nose.

It seems all so obvious and I feel really lame for typing this out. But what you see in these images, what you see in any image really, is not what your eyes would see. And I am not just abstracting and saying this because you are only seeing pixels, or drops of ink on paper, or reflected light or anything like that. I say this because you are seeing the world through a machine; the camera.

A camera’s design is inspired by the eyes, but it is not an eye. You do not have two cameras like you have two eyes, for example. The eye is actually very limited in the way it works. Just have a look at this image from xkcd.com.

So you only see colour with a tiny bit of your vision. You can not see bright lights and dark shadows at the same time. You can only focus on one thing at a time really. A camera does not work that way. Colour is everywhere but a camera actually registers grayscale only. Everything can be in focus. With modern techniques, you can see the brightest bright and the darkest shadows in one image.

These are just a few examples. A camera sees in a completely different way than we do. Comparing a photo to what the eyes see is ridiculous, like comparing your old walkman to a live concert.

And it is not just the experience of the end result. The camera also determines how you capture this world. The Google Streetview images above are a great example. If you would look at the world like that, you would never see a human face again, or your own feet for that matter. The view a photographer offers you is both shaped and limited by technology.

People from the 1800’s might look solemn, majestic, stiff or very formal if you go by their portraits. But you can not really blame them. That is what you get if do not take into calculation that people had to sit really still to have their portraits taken. They were strapped to all kinds of aids to prevent them from moving. If you take a look at most imagery from our own time this way, than you might think we are really formal about our world as well, with our Google Maps en Google Streetview images. No closeness to be found there.

I am still not quite sure why I care so much about this whole Marshall McLuhan and his “every medium is an extension of some human faculty”. Because his books have sparked my interest in subjects like these. But maybe it is time I found out. Before I keep repeating myself and do not even know why.

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