Truth and the camera

What is truth? I can’t pretend to answer this in its complex philosophical entirety, but I could try to talk about my memories of a walk at sunset. I did this walk alone. I did not meet anyone at all. I carried a camera. If I hadn’t used it, the only truth would be my memory of the walk. The core of that truth is that my mind was roiling when I started, and at peace when I finished. The truth of the images from my camera should then capture the events that changed my mind. It was the sunset and my attempt to capture that fading light. The deliberate concentration on a problem I could solve was what settled my mind.

The mind is very fickle, turbulent, strong, and obstinate. It is like the wind, impossible to control. … When all desires vanish in a state of thoughtfulness, when the inner self is satisfied within itself, then one is a master of a stable mind.

Dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna, Bhagwat Gita

If you had little time, you could be satisfied with the simplest part of the truth, that a walk during a nice sunset put my mind at rest. The featured image would be enough. Nice lake, wooded path, colourful sunset. Restful. But that story hides a further truth. The image did not appear by itself. I worked at it. First, by selecting a viewpoint: have I got enough of the water? No, move a few steps. Now? Yes. But the colours in the camera are not what I see. So I’ll have to recreate them in post-processing. The featured photo is both memory and process. That is a larger truth.

Uncovering the image inside the shadows is hard. The inset in the image on the right shows what I could do quickly. Doing better than this might require a lot more time than I’m willing to spend.

But there is more to it, of course. The idea of capturing the reflection of the sunset in the lake came out of an idea which would not work. I took a photo of the fiery sky, the one which you see above. I meant to bring out the details from the darkness in software. That works often enough, but I realized that might not work here. So I would need the back up that you saw. I was right, and my earlier experiences taught me the necessity of the backup. I was completely immersed in the sunset I was participating in. So much so that I had dragged a part of my past into this sunset, forced the larger me to take part in that.

The truth that capturing what my eye saw required more than the software in the camera came a little earlier. As the sun set, the last lights fell on leaves high above me. My camera could not capture what I saw. If I zoomed into the leaves, the background became black. If I took a wider shot, then the dazzle of backlit leaves disappeared. So I decided to take the wider shot (the one on the right), then crop and edit it to get what I really saw (the shot on the left). The truth is the entirety of these photos: that it was concentration on what I saw, being in the moment, while being anchored in the continuity of myself that settled my mind.

But why was my mind unsettled to begin with? Because I had spent the golden hour of the day looking out on a brilliant landscape through the windows of a moving car. Separated from the world around me in this way, being able to connect only through random shots taken with my phone, I had been reduced to the role of an automaton. Was I merely a CCTV camera, programmed to record what came into view? A photograph is not just a record of what is in front of you, but a result of constant evaluation of many possibilities, discarding most, and capturing what is the truth in the mind’s eye. A photo requires a still mind in knowledge of itself, and a seeking towards an expression of that knowledge. That’s a zen truth, isn’t it?

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

28 comments

  1. A wonderful stream of consciousness K.J. 🤗 I’m a great fan of zen truth in photography and getting out of my own way 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Many thought-provoking observations here. Art and artifice – the things we actually see but then find ways to translate/highlight to express inner dialogues. The art of seeing is a very complex set of responses, isn’t it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Really enjoyed reading this piece and your interpretation of what you saw and captured. It sounded like a peaceful walk but also one where you were deep in thought and in the process of creativity. Sometimes what you capture doesn’t reflect what you see in reality as you said, and right there and then you can experiment with different shots and angles which you can come back to later in post-processing. Some time ago I used to go out in the evenings and capture sunsets, and I’d make it a point to try to capture the sky and surrounds from different view points. I guess sometimes truth can be seen from different angles and in different forms.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What an interesting deliberation on the ‘truth’ to be found in both memories and images. Could it be true though, that the truth of a memory becomes distorted as the memory fades, or is what we remember always true simply because it IS what we remember???

    Like you I believe in the power of a photo edit to recreate an image as we saw it rather than as the camera saw it. Even the best camera lacks the sophistication of the human eye/brain relationship. I don’t hold with people who say we shouldn’t edit images because we then present a false reflection of what was there or what was happening at the time of the shot. Any photo we take is from the moment we press the shutter a reflection of what we are seeing and remains thus however we choose to edit it, because we continue to see that moment.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I would say my emotional truth changes with time, and sometimes that’s all that I can know.

      I agree about the editing of course. The eye (and its software) is quite different from a camera, and we would like to show what we see.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Every photo (and certainly every painting) is a “selfie.” When I’m painting, I’m often aware that I am trying to say something to another person, something beyond, “I saw this.” It’s paradoxically the most ego-driven and least ego-driven act I know. It’s “Look! I don’t have anything better to give you!” and “My vision is so important that I’m painting this, and I want attention.” If I ponder “truth” in the midst of that paradox, I think that’s where it is. You wrote this blog post, you added the photos, and posited your questions. That’s all lovely — and true. And…

    I owe so much to the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna. I encountered them in an exhibit at an art museum. I am very happy to read them speaking in this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I guess even the least “arty” person realizes this about paintings. But there’s still a lot of confusion regarding photos. Many people still think of them as records of an objective reality. The truth is, as you rightly pointed out, even the most “objective” seeming photo is someone’s intentionality.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Even more than that. When we put a security camera or a wildlife camera trap, there is an intention behind it which frames the photo. The intentionality makes it different from an “objective” point of view.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think so, too. The camera is placed where a person expects wildlife to go and arranged, pointed, a certain way. Then the images are “harvested.” I seldom that photos of the cranes any more for that reason, I think. I’ve watched them so much that it started to seem that my photos were photos of how I watch them, or something I want to show someone, or even stoking my own ego by what I see that others don’t. Painting a crane is a different thing, a depiction of a relationship that I have with a moment that had a crane in it, light, time and thought.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. A very interesting discourse I.J., felt almost like we were on the walk along with you. I must admit I do not think as deeply as you do when I am out photographing. Rather I try to be open to what comes along, doing my best to let my lens reflect my experience. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But I find even imperfect impressions still serve as an excellent reminder of of my experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. This walk was special, since the light was going so quickly. I saw intentionality, and a deliberate attempt to communicate a specific thought, also in the photos you showed.

      Like

  7. Insightful post I.J. My camera often, very often, does not capture what I see. And my mind, almost always, doesn’t remember it as well as when I was seeing it. Such is life, fading memories disappearing like tears in the sand.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Interesting discourse. And if you walk alone, the possibilities are wider. My problem is I am unable to take in moods and feelings to the full if I walk with other people. In that case I will have to walk behind everyone, for a feeling of being alone. Thank you for a great pondering post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The camera can never capture what is seen with the eye. Recreation can be done to a certain extent as you say but even them am certain what we see remains only in the memory. You seem to have had a good walk with yourself complemented with all the contemplations and deliberations.

    Liked by 1 person

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