Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

May 05 2010

Escaping imagination

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” -Hamlet, Act I, scene V.

There’s been a lot of fuss over Photoshop’s new CS5 software, in that it apparently lets you manipulate photographs so easily and realistically that even the camera that took them wouldn’t recognize them afterward, if cameras were actual sentient beings that could hold intelligent conversations. Which they aren’t. Yet.

While I see no end to such trends in photomanipulation, which will seemingly replace actual photography, I think that photography will continue mainly due to one thing: Our imaginations. That and our ability to get what we want. Ok, two things, but they’re really the same, i.e., they’re terribly limited.

The thing is, no matter how many times you’ve been to Disneyworld, our imaginations are sadly limited, often lacking when compared to reality. Getting what we want is often not as good as getting something else, something better that we hadn’t thought of. How many times have you gotten what you thought you wanted, only to find it somehow lacking? The reason for this is that we often don’t know exactly what it is about something that makes us like it. It could be some subtle combination we don’t consciously notice.

Says Tod Papageorge when interviewed by Alec Soth: “My argument against the set-up picture is that it leaves the matter of content to the IMAGINATION of the photographer, a faculty that, in my experience, is generally deficient compared to the mad swirling possibilities that our dear common world kicks up at us on a regular basis.”

Some of the best filmmaking has come from filmmakers without the resources to put exactly what they want on the screen. They’ve been forced to tell their stories instead through other means, using what they have instead of creating what they think is best. Look at what happened when George Lucas could put his exact vision of Star Wars on the screen instead of being restricted by technology and budget.

The same goes for photography. To me, the most boring photography is the kind you have to set up for, in studios, with lights all exactly so, according to some ideal you either saw somewhere or even something you came up with yourself. The photographers get exactly what they want, and most of the time it’s boring. Even shooting outside the studio is boring when you have a set idea of what you want. It will only become even more so once you’re able to do this effectively in Photoshop.

But reality, comprised of “all the things in heaven and earth” as it is, almost always surpasses our imaginations. To me, truly inspiring photography comes from managing to somehow grasp some of this, using all of your talent and inspiration to wrangle it into an image that conveys even just a portion of the amazing things we all witness but few recognize, and even fewer can convey.

Some have intimated the programs like CS5 will allow people to manufacture such works with their computers, but while this may work on the superficial level, I still think that our sights should be set higher, outside the limits of our philosophies.

posted by Poagao at 5:41 pm  


  1. I see it more as just an extension of what the camera does — doesn’t matter what you do to an image, its still your imagination that decides what the finished article will be, no matter how fancy the camera, no matter how sophisticated the software.

    Comment by sandman — May 10, 2010 @ 12:05 pm

  2. The difference is that the more you can do to manipulate an image, towards actually even creating an image, the less it becomes your reaction to reality, less perception and more creating something from your imagination. You could argue the benefits of both, as well as the wonders of our imaginations, but that seems more suited to other media; the photography I’ve always admired most is more the former than the latter.

    Comment by Poagao — May 10, 2010 @ 12:19 pm

  3. Have you been reading Susan Sontag recently? I have, and I’ve just reached a part that reminds me of this post — something about how, for most, the photo is the reality.

    BTW, what do you think of the Olympus wide? I’ll soon have to write about it so I’d like to hear your impressions.

    Comment by persimmonous — May 19, 2010 @ 8:42 pm

  4. I haven’t read Sontag in a while, but it’s possible that something I read resonated in the back of my mind.

    The Olympus wide is nice for focal lengths, but is pretty slow and almost makes me wish I’d gotten the EP2 instead of the GF1 for the IS for low-light shooting.

    Comment by Poagao — May 19, 2010 @ 11:58 pm

  5. Really good post.

    Comment by Michael — June 6, 2010 @ 10:30 pm

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