Truth, as described and discussed in this post, is an abstract. As such, it functions more as a mirror rather than a constant. The perception of truth is subjective and personal, and I dare argue it cannot be objective, since there will always be some value put onto it through our understanding of it. What I write about in this post is influenced by one author in particular, but there are others who are important too. My main focus here, and in posts to come, is truth in photography as an art form.
Before I start discussing truth, I want to do a quick re-visit to Don Miguel Ruiz and his book, the Four Agreements. In this book, Ruiz discusses how our perception of the world, of our reality, of what life is and should be, et cetera, begins with what we learn from our parents. Our perception takes shape through the agreements we make with our parents, expanding to siblings, extended family, friends, teacher, partners, collegues, et cetera.
I find this crucial to have in mind when discussing truth. I would also like to stress that I am not discussing truth as we perceive, interpret and understand it through the eyes of the law (for example). Even under the law, the truth has value, while the abstract remains free of agreements.
So what happens when we apply this to the process of looking at a photograph?
Let’s first spend a moment on thinking of who are involved in this photograph. And let us remember that each individual has his/her own set of agreements/values following their gaze.
The first to consider in this equation is if there’s a person in the photograph. If so, that person or those individuals, hold the first agreement on what is true in that very specific moment. The people in the photograph are the ones closest to that abstract truth.
The second to keep in mind is the photographer. The one who sees the image, crops, composes and frames it within the boundaries of the photographic images (ie; the outer limits of the negative). The photographer chooses what s/he wants to expose from that specific moment in time, when and where something specific happened. The photographer makes a lot of choices that, in one way or another, will effect how we percieve the photograph itself.
The last piece of the puzzle is the spectator – you or I, when we actually look at a photograph, whether it is in the paper, on a website, in a book, or a family album from long ago. Each spectator has her/his own set of values and agreements that strongly suggests how s/he percieves and understands the photograph.
As you can see, the notion of being objective when looking at something and claim it to be true, just cannot be done. There are too many layers of subjective perception, interpretations and understanding to sift through. Our view of the world is effected by the culture we live in, by generations of family, knowledge and interests, the technical level society is at, how we celebrate Christmas and our birthdays, and so on.
And these differences are not only present in the spectator, but also in the photographer and the objects in the photograph.
So I ask the question; where is the truth? How can we percieve truth in something hidden under so many layers of conceptions?
Truth is nothing but a mirror that either confirms or question that which we already understand as true. For that reason, I find it extremely important in the analysis of photography, to always remember that what we, the spectators, think that we understand, is not necessarily true, but rather a concoction of beliefs from the time period and culture it was photographed in. Equally important is it to remember that our own understanding of what we’re looking at is just as effected by our own time period, culture, knowledge, understanding, et cetera.
With humour, one might say that the understanding of a photograph is a cultural chock.
Another way of talking about it is to simply say – different perspectives, or just plain different. While our own universe may circle around us, the actual universe contains more than ourselves.
With practise, this way of understanding reality becomes second nature. I pride myself to see my abstract mind as constantly turning in 360 degrees, always trying to see and understand as many perspectives as possible.
More on photography and how to analyze them in coming posts!