Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Reality and Illusion

Art is an illusion - especially photography. It seeks to present an instant of real time in some way, either as a physical or an emotional presence. It captures that moment, a physical gesture or an expression of feeling by subject, or in more abstract work, a reflection of the artist's presence at the time of creation. To paraphrase Eric Kandel from his work The Age of Insight, it is an artistic reprocessing of reality.

Throughout art history artists used a number of devices to inject themselves into their work which, by so doing, contributed to the creation of illusion. If someone is looking at a work - which the artist has created by standing outside the the scene portrayed - and yet the artist's presence is there as an integral part of the scene, that presence defines the work as illusion. Painters like Vermeer and Velasquez used their own physical representation and their reflections in mirrors to do this. Van Gogh and many other artists consciously revealed themselves in their work by making their brush strokes and other constructs evident, and so drew the viewer's attention to the artist by including evidence of the process of creation.

As a photographer I'm often drawn to capturing images with glass in them: reflection in windows, objects or people on the other side of the glass, or combinations of both. I've used this technique often for images I post on this blog. As a photographer I live vicariously behind the camera and lens, and voyeuristically steal moments of life on the street. The image in this post clearly shows my reflection in the glass. And yet, sometimes the story unfolds without my visual presence: here and here. Often I seek to include myself in the image not with the proxy of a reflection, but more with capturing the expression of an interesting subject in reaction to my taking their photograph. It requires using a wide angle lens so that I can get close enough to the subject of the shot to make my presence felt, and yet be able to capture the street scene in which they are immersed. I used wide angle glass to get the shot here, here, here, and here. None of those images would really have impact I intended without the street environment in the image. But then again, sometimes I just can't get close enough fast enough, so a long lens is necessary. In that case, the price for getting close-in detail is the loss of the space around the subject, such as here.

While walking down Madison Avenue this past weekend I saw this couple sitting out on the sidewalk, totally absorbed in physically communicating with each other. Just as I approached to grab the shot the woman sensed my presence and looked up at me. There's little doubt as to what reaction I elicited.