Saturday, March 7, 2015

Photography Is A Lie

Photography Is A Drug - Stallion Springs, California
This photograph is far from reality, but the message is true.
Photography is a lie. In fact, all art is inherently dishonest. "Art is the most beautiful of all lies," said composer Claude Debussy, best know for the song Clair de Lune. "And although people try to incorporate the everyday events of life in it, we must hope that it will remain a deception lest it become a utilitarian thing, sad as a factory."

A common phrase is "photographs never lie." You've likely have even heard of "photographic evidence." But those are not true. All photography is dishonest from the outset. The lie has begun even before the image was captured.

Cameras are incapable of seeing the world as the human eyes see the world. Choices that the photographer makes, ranging from equipment to settings to composition, make photography a biased endeavor.
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Don't let this photograph fool you--all that is standing of this building is what you see in the image.
Let's take a look at lens choice, for example. Wide-angle and telephoto focal lengths will distort the scene, often quite significantly. Some "standard" focal length lenses have distortion, too. Even a standard focal length lens that is free of distortion cannot take in a scene as the eyes do. This is because the brain can piece snippets together to create a larger scene in one's mind.

It is impossible for a photographer to be unbiased starting with the choice of lens. There are so many other factors, too. Aperture effects depth-of-feild and sharpness. Shutter speed effects motion blur. ISO effects the cleanness of an image. White balance effects the tone. The sensor or film choice effects the dynamic range. What will be included in the frame and what will be excluded must be determined. All of these decisions and many, many more make an image biased, and this is all before an exposure has even been made.

Once a frame has been exposed there are even more choices that the photographer must make. There are seemingly endless post-processing options (whether film or digital or both), all of which further bias an image.
Old Life, New Life - Victorville, California
You didn't know that I pulled this branch off of tree and held it in place for this image.
Even if a someone took special care to ensure that a photograph was as unbiased as possible, it would be utterly uninteresting. It would look bland and without direction. It might look similar to a Google "street view" scene, but even "street view" is biased in a number of ways.

Art is a lie. Photography is a lie. It's all dishonest and full of deception.

What photographers can and should do is embrace the lie. The dishonesty is advantageous. The deception is helpful.
Circular Abstract - Atolia, California
What is this? It's difficult to tell because it is not a true-to-life photograph.
It is through the photographic lie that the photographer expresses truth to the viewer. It is within photographic dishonesty that the photographer explains what is indeed honest. It is within the photographic deception that the viewer is helped.

It is the photographer's job to speak something to the viewer that they otherwise would have missed. Perhaps it is a direct message. Maybe it is a question that leads the viewer to something new. Whatever the message is, it's the photographer who must create the nonverbal communication found within the photograph. The better the communication, the better the photograph.

Because photography is a lie, the photographer can do whatever he or she sees best to create the communication found within an image. There are no rules. The only rule is that the photographer must create strong communication in order to create a strong photograph.
Abandoned Boot - Mojave, California
I didn't find this boot standing like this. I placed it there. I messed with the colors in post-processing to make it took cross-processed.
There are no rules or limits. The possibilities are endless. The only limit in photography is the photographer himself or herself. In photography, one can create whatever he or she wishes, no matter how far from reality it may seem to be.

That's the great thing about photography. It's the reality in the mind of the photographer that matters, not necessarily "reality" itself. A photographer can make anything real that he or she wants. The photographer can make an image look the way that he or she thinks that it should look. It doesn't matter if it is true, because truth in photography is impossible, impractical and irrelevant. Instead, one can create the most beautiful of all lies: art.

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