On World Photography Day, here’s a tribute from an observer of an art that is so much about commemorating a transient moment in silence, in a way that past, present and future are entangled as an exquisite mess in the mind to produce a tangible result that’s redolent of it.
When I contemplate photography as an art form from my privileged position of a non-photographer, what strikes me the most is how beautifully deceptive it is to manipulate the mind to think of time as more than just a linear entity!
Before the past ceases to exist, in what we recognise as the real world, how it can be gently stowed in the form of nothing more than pixels, and the transitory nature of human experience can turn from panic to poetry through photography – all as a result of one of man’s greatest inventions: the camera.
“To take pictures is, simultaneously, to confer value and to render banal.” – Susan Sontag
And I think to extract a fleeting moment as it’s becoming past, by containing it in a pair of human eyes and with a camera that allows this magnificence, is more of a visceral process than just an art-form in the face of the moment’s mortality, which is eventually connected to our own mortality too.
What amazing times we live in!
Susan Sontag, an American writer and filmmaker amongst many other things, once ruminated, “The camera’s uncanny mechanical replication of persons and events performs a kind of magic, both creating and de-creating what is photographed. To take pictures is, simultaneously, to confer value and to render banal.”
Photographs are made in moments of intimate joy as isolated as the point in time captured.
And even if all forms of art were but imitations of nature, of the beauty that exists irrespective of our attention to it, we try. There is such human tenderness and fragility in the very attempt. It brings humility to a soul which then surrenders to wonder wordlessly, with no more than a tool called the camera making it want to conserve a sight that speaks in no particular tongue.
In moments of intimate joy, as isolated as the point in time captured itself, photographs are made. And whatever the subject is – a mountain or a lake, an animal or a bird, or a bustling street or another soul – anything can become an artist’s muse. And when certain eyes, with the aid of the camera, are capable of seeing something abstract, something transient that even the naked eye seems to miss without the lens, magic is mimicked and preserved, even as Ansel Adams’s words keep ringing in the ear: “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
Photography is a quest for something that lies both between and beyond light and shade.
When the shutter’s chirp becomes the most charming sound, silence follows as a profound internalised occurrence. Sometimes, magic is awaited to happen and sometimes it is missed; sometimes it reveals gradually and sometimes it’s lightning quick; how thoughtful a photographer must be when a stark, conscious choice is to be made between what should be captured and what shouldn’t, all in a moment’s daze!
This is a quest for something that lies between and beyond light and shadow, which is by no means exact.
I realise that this is always a search for what simultaneously rises from and drowns in colours, a search for what lies beneath what meets the eye.
This is about rekindling the mind which seems to feel newly and differently every time the same seized moment is revisited, about memories manifesting in different hues each time they are invoked.
A form of art that revels in its inherent suggestive quality and not in ascertaining, an art that becomes personal to every pair of beholding, curious eyes just as intimate as it was for the pair that initially spooled a moment off the fabric of time.
This is a form of art that births just as many stories as the number of minds observing it, mulling over it, revering it…and that is a tribute to itself, and to all photographers who make art, and to everything in the world that’s so attentively and gently beheld.