Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Capturing The Spirit

Inch Strand, Dingle
After I’ve photographed something I feel an affinity for it. I’ve captured some of its essence. American Indians avoided having their picture taken because of a superstition that photos captured their spirit and would impede its travel to the spirit world after death. Think of the common phrase I just used: “having their picture taken.” Why do photographers use that phrase? Is something really being taken away?

Maine Coast
I think so, but the taking doesn’t diminish the subject. Rather, picture-taking supplements or strengthens it. Putting a picture on display spreads the spirit of the subject more widely as it imprints itself in the minds and souls of however many others focus on it. A good photograph should evoke a feeling in the viewer — something like what the photographer felt when he or she framed the picture and snapped the shutter.
Sumac in Autumn
Photographs have over-filled my 500 gig laptop. The overflow is stored on the cloud, wherever and whatever that is. It’s hard to trust something I cannot see and do not fully understand, so I store raw versions of all my photos on two separate hard drives each stored in a different building, but I only do that every couple of months. In the interim, I’ve taken dozens of shots to which I’m emotionally attached. Smaller, jpeg versions are stored on “the cloud” every time I download them, but I’m still nervous about losing them somehow.

Photography has only been around less than two hundred years and less than that in digital form — only since 1957. The first digital cameras for consumers were sold about twenty years ago. I understand how images were recorded on cellulose and then printed on paper. I’ve used a darkroom and smelled the chemicals employed in the process, but I don’t understand how a digital sensor works nearly as well. It’s been explained to me but not much sank in.
Evan's Notch
I like it though — very much: no chemicals, no darkroom, no bulky equipment, making multiple copies instantaneously. Sending them across the country or around the world is just as easy. Editing is a breeze once you learn the procedures. Competing camera-manufacturing companies are putting out equipment capable of taking pictures in lighting conditions that would have been impossible only a decade ago. Maybe best of all — costs keep going down. We can snap multiple shots — dozens, hundreds even, and discard those we don’t like at no expense. 

Good Book
Rarely do I photograph people, except for loved ones. Of them, I take many shots and then share with family and close friends. Cropping, editing, and categorizing the hundreds or thousands I take in a year brings each of them before my eyes many times — even before others see the pictures. Whether my subjects are looking into the lens or they’re unaware I’m photographing them, I see into them. So do others who view the images.
Willard Beach
Most of my subjects are comfortable with my constant shooting at family gatherings. They're so accustomed to me holding a camera they don’t seem to notice anymore. One of my grandsons who was three years old at the time got very annoyed, however. “You don’t have to take pictures of everything!” he said indignantly.
“Oh, but I do!” I responded, “especially people I love.” That didn’t persuade him and he began to hide his face when I was around with my camera until I negotiated with him. For a quarter, he would allow me unlimited shots for the rest of the day. After getting the coin he wasn’t aggravated anymore and after that, he stopped demanding payment. He’s six now and last week I photographed him and his siblings as they flew kites. He asked me to send him a copy of himself flying his kite for his iPad. I was happy to oblige, of course.

During my first visit to Ireland eleven years ago, I was struck by how many
people I saw on the streets of Dublin looked just like people I would see in Boston. From the open top of a double-decker bus, I used a telephoto lens to photograph iconic Irish faces. As I shot several dozen pictures, I was surprised to see that more than half of my subjects sensed I was looking at them and looked right into the lens. It was uncanny. How did they know? I was perched well above the street and they were on a busy sidewalk.
Kezar Lake Morning
After many decades taking many thousands of pictures, I can only conclude that there’s more going on than a mechanical, optical, chemical, and/or digital process. There’s something emotional and spiritual happening as well.


CaptDMO said...

Oh sure, it STARTS with scratching something in the dirt.
But the wind and rain take it away.
Then there's drawing on the walls, takes time, and burnt sticks, and that still wet stir stick from the "plant pounding rock".
EVERYONE KNOWS (at the time) what that image means!
Paint, brushes, ink, quill, assorted nibs, LENS, "reverse" film, Polaroid,
1 and 0, and of course ALL the assorted ancillary preservation and storage!
"something emotional and spiritual happening..."?
You bet, BIG time, some more than others. In the end, except for SOME anomalies in the continuum, graced with an extension, Mr. King's Langoliers get it ALL.
But for NOW.....

Anonymous said...

Tom, Bitcoin is the new money transforming from paper to digital. There are so many parallels in your article, the older generation not understanding how it works, not trusting something you can't hold in your hands, but never the less slowly realizing the benefits, like instantly sending unconfiscatable money / value anywhere around the world. Cryptocurrency is digital photographs in 1960. Food for thought anyway.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Good post, Anonymous, but I'm discouraging anonymous posters, even deleting anonymous posts.

In the future, could you use a name: your own, or you can make up one and use it consistently? I'd appreciate it.

covercharge said...

From now on I will be called covercharge.

covercharge said...

I have been reading your articles since close to the turn of the century, first in the Conway Daily Sun and now online since I no longer live in the Valley. I always enjoy them, keep up the great work and thank you.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Thank you Covercharge.