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One flawless Californian summer day, my uncle and I went on a photography excursion. In the moments I spent with my uncle my entire view of photography changed. He explained to me that photography is the art of capturing something beautiful that ordinary people pass from day to day. Each time I take a photograph his words run through my mind. I live my day-to-day with viewfinders for eyes; always looking for that small, poignant detail that goes unnoticed. Photographers are special people. They are able to capture not only a physical being but also emotion. That emotion is instilled into a tangible object, a photograph. I can look at a photograph I once took and begin to laugh, cry, and sometimes both.
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A photograph evokes a memory; a time and place specific to the object. When I look upon the first picture I took of my father and his father I am reminded of how heavy the camera was and too big for my four-year-old fingers to grasp. It was so difficult to lift that I nearly cut off both their heads in the final product. Photographs encompass memory and emotion, yet there are moments when the sole purpose a photograph holds is to be aesthetically pleasing. This selection does not go unnoticed but is better served as a collection of photos categorized into a coffee table book for guests to busy themselves. Photography is deceivingly simple, yet philosopher Roland Barthes in a selection from his book, Camera Lucida, does not view photography as such. He simplifies photography to the extreme, to its purest form, truth. Photography is much more.
When I take my camera out on a sunny day I do not search for specific objects that are sure to instill certain feelings in on lookers. I feel that the emotion of a photograph comes from the photographer. If the photographer is affected by the situation, the photograph will transfer that affection. A photograph is meant to connect with the world, show what others cannot see. Non-conscientious people become mindful of the outside world due to the effortless transition of emotions from a photograph. Barthes somewhat agrees with the raw truth of emotion but does not outwardly support the emotional aspect of photography. The fact that a “photograph’s essence is to ratify what it represents” can be construed to inadvertently confirm emotion in photographs (3). However, Barthes makes no mention of a connection of emotion in photography. Emotion is overly complicated to fit in his simplification of photographs. Happiness is one of the easier sentiments to experience from a photograph. It is easy for a smile to transcend a piece of Kodak paper and on to an outside face. Taking happy photographs is also an effortless task. It is simple to take a snapshot of a person opening a birthday present or excited to see an old face. The simple nature of taking the photograph and the joy involved transcend the paper. However, my photographs serve a larger purpose. I use the time alone as a chance to meditate. Being alone with my thoughts, walking in the sun, noticing hidden beauty is my ideal time. Due to the calming nature of my walks, my photos emanate tranquility. The solitary chair covered in fallen leaves emanates welcoming warmth. The open face, the striking wear of the wicker provides a weary comfort, beckoning a tired stranger to sit down. The highlighting sunlight impresses a wonderment on the unsuspecting. As if the soul of a person continues to rest in that chair. Overall a sense of comfort and peace sooth the onlooker, liberating the stress embodied in everyday life. That is the meaning of photography, to transfer emotion. Photography provides an outlet for my daily stress and in turn I create placid photographs that can take other people to a more serene atmosphere.
A photograph can say everything that took place in one instant. That power has the capability overcome someone when glancing at a photo. Many of my photographs capture special moments. When I gaze at a photo I journey back to that specific moment, feeling each of my senses come alive. This ability is incredibly forceful and is “nonetheless superior to everything the human mind can or can have conceived to assure us of reality” (Barthes 4). Truth is the bare minimum of a photograph while memories are a minor fabrication of that truth. Photographs help to jumpstart the mind into memory. Yet Barthes believes that photographs are “never, in essence, a memory” and that they “actually block memory, and quickly become a counter-memory” (6). The thought is that when perusing past photographs, a person does not actually experience the memory. The memory does not exist. It is merely instilled in that solitary photograph. If this holds true then why are photographs often used to start conversations over childhood memories? Why do many people experience a “jump start” to the memory when peering upon a childhood photograph? I would not be able to remember distinct details of my numerous trips without the use of my photographs. My memory is hazy however with the support of a picture I can remind myself that the Eiffel Tower is lit every night or that there once was a blizzard in Issaquah. I cherish my travels and enjoy marking them with countless photographs. The most common way a photograph is valued is through memories of vacations and journeys. There is a reason why families constantly take pictures of children at birthday parties, plays, musical events, to be able to bring back specific memories years later. Quite often when a family is reminiscing there is a photo album present. This is not coincidence. The presence of photographs allows for the memory to start. The memory may become fabricated yet that one instance of the photograph will hold true. The photograph allows a person to take a journey. When I look at a photograph I feel I am traveling back in time to that instance. There is no better feeling than being able to relive the “good times”. Photographs enhance the experience.
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Gazing at the vibrant photograph of the Eiffel Tower, I am transcended to a past time of traveling with my high school orchestra. I can feel the soft, brisk evening wind and hear the vendors trying to sell wine to couples trying to live in the romance that is Paris. I remember anxiously waiting, sitting on the moist green lawn, for the lights of the tower to sparkle and my chance to capture the moment. It seemed like eternity. Not only do I remember the Eiffel Tower but I also move through the memories of those amazing ten days in Europe. The fun that was had traveling in a city dependent on a language I knew nothing about. The seemingly random “drive by” gigs the orchestra played, the infinite amount of churches, the street people that the chaperones warned the students to not go near. These rapid memories all from one supposedly simple, verifiable photograph.
Photographs can be the most striking of all art forms. In traditional photography there are no digital tricks – fabricating the actual reality in the photograph. Due to the candid nature of traditional photography, people are compelled to accept the realism depicted in the art. The truth represented in a photograph is the essence of life, making the photograph worthy of the cognizance of the room. Yet a large amount of photographs are merely passed by and may strike up a minor conversational piece when the chatter has diminished. When people filter through my photographs many questions arise from the common base of “where did you find this?” My answers are simple: “That is just around the corner” or “It’s just a leaf on the ground” and occasionally “that’s your garbage can.” The average person grossly overlooks the details that photographs are able to capture. There is no greater joy than witnessing the moment when obscure details are seen by neglecting eyes. Opening people to an alternative way of observing life is a benefit of photography. I enjoy expressing ordinary aspects of life in an unfamiliar light as to bring a fresh understanding. Though not every photograph requires a hidden meaning. The only requirement is that the photo brings to light an aspect of everyday life that people glimpse over everyday. Most of these neglected details are gorgeous and when put to paper are a medium to alight the senses. Such a simple chemical reaction can hold so much life. A solitary broken rose bud being kept alive in a dish is ignored. However, once its image has been apprehended through photography that rose becomes the center of attention.
With the contrasting colors of vibrant red and the fading ceramic blue of the dish, the rose springs at the viewer, screaming its beauty. The contrasting colors that bring the photograph such life as frowned upon by Barthes. Black and white is the true color of photography, the original. He prefers that the “photographed body touch [him] with its own rays and not with a superadded light” (1). Barthes does not appreciate the illuminating effect that bold colors provide to the enthusiast. Black and white can have just as strong of an effect but it cannot strike the attention of a crowed room as easily as the differences between primary colors. Black and white fails at providing the passion behind a dramatic red or the depressing aspect of a deep blue. Photographs are meant to evoke these emotions in connection to colors. Even photographs of a towering wedding cake or a deliciously plated pair of lamb chops in a food magazine involve a connection to the senses. Without seeing the perfectly pink, medium rare meat, mouths would not water. Black and white photographs eliminate the passion and desire that color photographs instill upon a person. Photography’s ultimate goal is to heighten the senses.
Barthes takes a photograph and strips it bare of all meaningful expression, down to the solitary fact that photographs represent truth. Truth is ingrained in the definition of a photograph. However Barthes misses the key aspects of what a photograph is intended to provide. Photographs contain more than truth. Without the allure, the thought provoking emotion, or the spark that they provide for memory, a photograph would simply be an image on paper. It has been my experience through observing the affects of my images on outsiders, that photographs have the ability to enter the mind. My photographs are a product of my meditation, a reason to remember and feel. Admirers of my work are able to stare and slowly fall into a calming state. A photograph allows people to slow down and take a closer look into life. Through the expansion of small details, new outlooks on life can be established. This characteristic should not be ignored but embraced and honored. Looking at a photograph that has opened the eyes will jump-start a new way of living, always keeping a lookout for the splendid, minute facets of existence.
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