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Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
The Creative Source:

On Photographic Realism

Let me be plain about my opinion, there is no photographic realism. Never has been, never will be.
Only novices imagine that the picture they take is what they saw. The truth is they fill in the "blanks"
with their imaginations, they return in their memories to the setting, the shot, and they complete the
image with their emotions. The colors are different, the light is different. It always is.

Fans of film argue that it is more real than digital photography. They imagine that film is neutral, but
on closer examination, it is clear that different brands of film, and different types within each brand
each have different color biases. Is a color bias real because it is film? The entire line of thinking that
this brand of film vs. that digital camera is somehow more real. All photography is an interpretation of
the world in front of the lens.

This is as it must be. No camera, no method is equal to the challenge of getting everything perfect,
nor should we want it. The point of art is to communicate moments in the heart. It is not about
composition, technical accuracy, or anything else, per se, but effective expression. Our highest goal
is to create emotion with our work that recreates the emotional message that the setting offers.
Photographers see with their eyes, but they photograph with their hearts. Great photography
communicates the depth of the subjective experience of being fully human. It is art.

We now can take pictures, create images, that were not possible before without great gymnastics
during the film era, if then. We can create luminous skies, open up shadows, work with great color
depth, and interpret exposures, many different ways. Often, there are many different completely valid
interpretations, each with a different message.

Is photography photorealistic? No. Is it art? Absolutely. The best of photography is very good, the
worst somehow never communicates. Just as every new school of painting was judged invalid, or
trendy, each ultimately was accepted and incorporated in the broader stream of visual expression.

The point of photography is to capture what we behold in a way that inspires and communicates.
Our best work engages the viewer in an emotional dance that transports them. Our task as
photographers is to introduce our viewers to things they have never seen, and ideally, to inspire
feelings and thoughts that expand their experience. Photographic realism is beside the central point
of photography.
William Blake would have been a
great photographer. Read the
following quote and live it, and you
will have no need to read anything
I have to say.

"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your
hand, An eternity in an hour."

William Blake

Good photography is a matter of
the heart. Blake certainly nailed
how we should behold nature,
Joseph Campbell informs how we
should be guided in our journey.

Trust Your Path:

"When you follow your bliss...
doors will open where you would
not have thought there would be
doors; and where there wouldn't
be a door for anyone else".

Joseph Campbell

When we are in the "zone", the
heart and mind are one. Pictures
taken in this state speak to truths
outside ourselves, but the journey
is deeply personal, and it is the
source of our creativity and
individual expression.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you...while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

John Muir
Essays Top >  Photographic Realism    Mental Preparation 
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