Friday, May 21, 2010

Something There That Wasn't There Before


After a very long day I sometimes like to go and look back at old photos I took.  I regularly will cull through my archive, but usually I just look at my edits, the choice stand out images from a shoot or trip.  However, on particularly bad days when I need to clear my mind I will crawl into bed with my laptop and slowly go through all my unedited pictures and truly relive the trip remembering each moment, sight, smell and sensation.  Tonight I went through my Arctic photos, remembering the pain in my ankles and forearms after leaning over the edge of the ship for 3 hours straight with a 500mm lens waiting for the right shot of a polar bear.  I remembered the very distinct smell wafting from the walruses that I could smell long before I saw them, and the sound the kittiwakes made at the bird cliffs when I cuffed my hands to my ears.  Looking back at the images instantly relaxes me and reminds me of how amazing our world can be, even on days when it can seem really scary.

One of the upsides to these occasional trips down photo memory lane is I sometimes will spot images that I originally dismissed on my prior edits.  Sometimes it may be an oversight since I take so many images, and sometimes I just see something there wasn't there before (cue the song from Beauty and the Beast, you know you're totally humming it in your head now!)  I didn't really love any of my vertical shots of the polar bears, but looking back tonight I really loved this one.  The bear looks so elegant in the background, its nose pointing straight ahead desperately trying sniff out the scent of a seal, and its one paw lifted up in a graceful lope almost like a dog, making the ferocious animal instantly seem more innocent and relatable.  I also loved the gradation of color from the foreground of the image where the water seems so dark it's almost black to the glimmer of turquoise ice by the bear, then to the background which is so covered in fog the ice seems to turn a hazy gray color.  In one small slice of landscape so many shades are visible, and even though the landscape both in front of and behind the bear look ominous it still gracefully walks on fighting for survival.

Roland Barthes writes that images have both a studium and punctum, the studium is whats in the image, what everyone sees (ice and a bear) but the punctum, this is the magic of an image, not all images have punctums, and some images will for some people, but not for others.  He says that the punctum is the "element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me."  The punctum is uniquely personal and it is how we connect with imagery.  That is part of what is so amazing about photography, it allows us to see a scene, not only a scene we may never get to witness first hand (like a scene from the Arctic), but it also allows us a small insight into how someone else sees the world, which we could never see with our own eyes.  We each see the world and can look upon the same scene in extraordinarily different ways.  That is how I came up with the name for this blog, Tourist in Reality, is from a quote by Sontag about how the magic of photography is that it allows us to become spectators in someone else's life, a small peak into how they see and think.  However, what's so amazing about seeing an image is that the experience is more then seeing into another person's mind, its delving into our own and finding a punctum, finding our own meaning and significance in an image.  That is why I don't usually write too much about artistic intent with my own images, if it is a succesful image, you don't need my interpretation, you have your own.  I wrote here how this image made me feel tonight, but you may look and see something completely different, or you may see nothing at all, as I did the first time I looked at the image. 


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