Today’s post may wander a bit. My thoughts revolve around the impermanence in life and the illusion of permanence that cameras bring to us. The three photos (above right and individuals further below) are taken on a glass plate with inks and paints moving across the field of view at various speeds. In some cases faster and others slower. There is calm, turbulence, peaceful, chaos or soothing colors. All appear to be frozen moments in time. A hidden truth that I am working through in my mind is that this is an illusion.
Often we look at a photograph and think about it as an event that was a fixed moment. That is simply untrue. Vacations, life events, poignant views and moments are all good examples that permeate our lives. When we view an image it is a fragment or slice of time. There is a start and stop to that moment with time passing within that interval. Therefore it is an interval and not an instant. In general, the thinner the slice of time, the crisper the image. Thinner slices also mean a tendency towards a darker image as less light passes through and strikes the surface of the film or charge coupled device (CCD). To gather more light, we extend the interval which causes more blurring. Looking back at early photographs, most show ghostly images moving in the back or foreground. People, cars, machines, smoke all moving across the image, yet we think of it as a static capture of what was happening. Everything moved (in color) before, during and after the shutter opens and closes. They are tendrils or threads of history move forward into what is now our past.
Using f-stop, photographers can change the depth of field, and allow more or less light to strike the film or CCD. I will leave film speed for another day. This ability to manipulate the depth of field can impact our sense of intimacy with the object of the photograph. A flat landscape can appear peaceful, quiet, contemplative or serene. Change the f-stop and the flower in the foreground becomes far more relevant than the towering mountains which recede into the blur akin to an impressionistic painting. Clouds move, winds blow and time presses onward. Yet the magnificent photograph records movement as streaks and blurs or nearly stop action distortion of reality. The compendium of photographs that abound are similar to our memories, accurate, but distortions of the reality they capture and help us recall. Doesn’t take away from their beauty, simply belie something else.
Manipulating both sets of variables, there is an undeniable truth: immediately before and after the shutter opens the river of time, and light, floods by and through both us and the camera. That torrent will never stop (setting aside quantum theory). It is a consequence of our inexorable journeys in our individual, sometimes shared, futures. Impermanence. At times subtle, imperceptible, it is never idle. Time moves in all directions within, through and in between our lives. The events that are associated with time’s passage are often a calm steady flow and occasionally as swirling, chaotic or disorienting sequence of events. We can try to anticipate, control and understand those events. Rather than controlling the events, is it better to manage how you land, find your footing and reorient oneself to find the path forward? We cannot slow, speed up, stop or redirect time. We can manage our response to this swirl and quickly find calm within ourselves.