A friend recently sent me a notice of an upcoming conversation in London between the abstract photographer Lynn Stern and the Scottish writer William Boyd. I had to look up Stern's work but I've been a huge Boyd fan since reading "A Good Man in Africa" over 30 years ago. In the notice, Boyd is quoted as saying that we “go to photography for images of reality.”
Taken literally and narrowly, this statement is true but, as I'm sure Boyd would agree, the broader relationship between photography and reality is far more interesting, complex and disparate. Case in point, the content and meaning of Stern's abstract images are often vague without her interpretation. Also, heavily Photoshopped covers of Cosmopolitan models are scarcely more realistic than Picasso's "Weeping Woman." And in general, how much realism is lost when our 3-dimensional world is smushed into a two-dimensional photograph.
For that matter, what is reality? It certainly isn't bound by our limited senses. High-speed, long-exposure, macro/micro and infrared/ultraviolet photography isn't less real just because we can't see the way a camera sees. One could easily argue that photography itself changed our perception of reality forever.
I love being surprised when my visual memory of a scene is completely different than the image that appears later on a monitor. Here are two of my favorite surprises from a recent walk on the beach. The first scene was a tiny sand-gully draining into a pool of water reflecting a rock that ended up looking organic and viscous. The second was a small pile of stratified and weathered rocks that looks much more solid and three-dimensional than I remembered. Creating images that enhance, enlighten or challenge our day-to-day reality is one of the great strengths and joys of photography.