Last week, we talked about the ways in which photography lets us examine the diversity of life. That’s not the only way in which photography has changed our world, however. In a very real sense, this art form has made the world a smaller place, and as it has done so, it has also given us something else: truth and accuracy.
Some of us simply cannot make the brush or the pencil recreate what we see in our mind’s eye. Even among artists who can paint or sketch with ease, the finished work is still an interpretation of reality.
This isn’t the case with photography. It’s true that we can manipulate images in Photoshop, apply filters or even use lenses to create certain effects. But underneath the fancy camera work and post processing, there will always be a layer of truth. After all, every photograph starts with one thing: the real, live scene that unfolds in front of the camera.
That brings me to accuracy. We’ve all seen artist representations of courtrooms or other events, and I’ve had the pleasure of looking at art created by those who specialize in photorealistic techniques. While beautiful, these works can never have the perfect accuracy of a simple, unprocessed photo. Maybe the colors aren’t in a particular painting aren’t an exact representation of the real thing, or perhaps the artist took some liberties with the scene. A photograph, on the other hand, shows you exactly what happened, down to the minute details like fleeting expressions or blades of grass bending in the breeze.
These days, no one gives a second thought to our ability to look at things that are half a world away. But it wasn’t always that way. In the early years of photography, this was the element that captured the public’s fancy. A photographer in an exotic land could easily and inexpensively document the strange sights he saw, and send those images home to people who never dreamed they would ever be able to see such unusual things.
Even though we take it for granted, this is a facet of photography that will always amaze me. I’ve never been to an active battlefield, but thanks to brave photographers who have, I can look at the images and see the truth of war. I’ll never travel back in time to see the dawn of the twentieth century, but the wealth of historical photos from that era gives me a sense of what life was like. We can, all of us, look at famous landmarks, important events or even rare plants and animals that we may never see in person simply because there was a photographer present who took the time to document what he saw.
I can’t say what our world would be like without photography, but I am certain that it wouldn’t be the rich and colorful place that it is. If you’re ever at a loss for ideas or inspiration, remember that as a photographer, the images you create, have the potential to change the world and bring us all a little bit closer together.