This is not a catchy title, well OK, IT IS a catchy title but it is also a quite literal statement. But it doesn't matter, as there is no such thing, as a literal statement. Confused? I don't blame you. Read on.
Let's think about 'Reality'. The definition of the word 'reality' according to Oxford dictionary is:
" The state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them. "
But how do things actually exist? I guess they do actually exist in a certain way, but who can describe this way? How can one transfer 'reality' to someone else?
Human communication is based on certain means, such as written, spoken or body language, and art. These means of communication are our tools in order to transfer information from one to another.
As far as language goes, there has been a debate since Ancient Greece, some 2000 years ago, whether it is a useful tool or not for humanity. The main argument about it not being useful was that a language, no matter how well is structured, still cannot describe accurately the truth around us. Words and sentences are just an interpretation of reality. They are just codes created by humans to best describe what is true, thus making us able to communicate between one another.
The same can be argued about any form of communication we humans have developed, including art. Similarly in painting and drawing, some elements can describe certain feelings or reality, in the same manner that certain chords and melodies can do the same in music. There is a whole science developed, semiology, that tries to do exactly that. This is because in art, there is no agreed coding on how to communicate reality or fantasy, giving the artists’ the illusion of being free to do what they want.
’Illusion’ here is not a random selection of words, so let me elaborate on that. You see, the means of communication, whether it is language or art, is the first filter that reality goes through in order to be transferred from one to another. We have so far agreed on that and we have seen that raw reality is impossible to be transferred through any means of communication. However, this is the simplest filter that reality has to go through. The second filter, the one that will alter reality significantly, is our own consciousness.
Fortunately or not, we are all prisoners of our own mind. It is a prison we have built for ourselves, a prison which we keep building as time goes by, fortifying it day by day, making it even more impossible to escape from. This is in our nature and we can do nothing about it. No one can escape from his own prison no matter how badly he wants it. I am sorry to break it to you like that, but if you think that life can be sugar coated and exactly the way you want it, well, you are an idiot. It is in human nature to always want something more in our life than what we have, which is a good thing. This is the main engine of evolution. If you are happy with what you already have, then again, you are an idiot. If you try to work your way out of your own prison, say with psychotherapy or self determination and will, what you are actually doing is building a new cell or a new wing in your prison and move in there instead. Don‘t get me wrong, I am not saying that to depress you, I think that this is a good thing. But I believe this should be our target. To be able to build the right prison to put ourselves in.
If you still are not convinced about the above fact, I can further assure you and close the deal. Making this prison is not just our conscious choice. Ourself has even certain defending mechanisms that create the basic structure of this prison. We all know we are going to die, as we similarly all know how minuscule we are compared to the universe. But we choose to ignore these facts. This is a basic defending mechanism of us humans in order to keep us going, to keep us think we are important and there is a good reason for our existence. If we didn’t have this mechanism, the human race would have been extinct, just because of our intelligence. So living in a prison is not necessarily a macabre fact, but it can be a good thing. We only need to use it wisely.
So let’s come back to our main subject. What is reality and is it actually a thing? Considering all we discussed so far, how can there actually be a reality if no one can describe it to someone else? How can reality be, if no one can know about it? A murderer’s mother will still think that her offspring is the most beautiful, kind being in the world. And why not? After all that is the mother’s perceived reality, so there is at least one consciousness that accepts this to be true. This therefore could be argued to be an equally true statement as to someone’s who believes the exact opposite, such as the victim’s mother. This is simply true just because there is no reality in the world that is perceived the same by two different consciousnesses.
So how can we apply this to photography? For starters, we have to accept that we cannot photograph reality, since as we explained there is no reality to photograph, but A reality. This of our own making. In photography, due to the means’ communication code we have to present what we have in front of us in two dimensions and within a certain frame. The aspect of two dimensions means that there is no way to present space as humans perceive it, but rather suggest it with tools in photography’s arsenal, such as perspective and bokeh among others. The restricted frame also means that we have to present our image within four boundaries -sides- of the photographic frame. Since as discussed we experience the world around us by looking through our mind’s prison cell, we choose what to include or, more importantly for photography, what to exclude from this frame. Two complete strangers sitting on the same bench, caught at the right moment in a photographic image, become lovers, whereas two lovers standing back to back become enemies. But that is a moment of a reality. The reality you see from your cell’s window. A small children’s bicycle transforms into a monumental eerie construction, larger than a house, just because Eggleston’s cell happened to be very near it.
More tools in photography present as new ways to present an image. Post production, black and white, blurred photos, motion freeze, high or low contrast are some of those.
Stop worrying about a reportage or staged photo. All your photos are staged. If you ask 20 different photographers to make an image of the same scene, you will end up with 20 different images. You can edit your photos as much as you want, or alter them as much as you want, as long as the result represents your own reality. That is because each one of us has a unique spectator seat in the world. Each one of us lives in his own parallel universe and is able to see only his reality. This is what the world of art wants to see, this is what can make you great in the world of any art. You just have to live in an exciting universe and show it to us!