Photography Without Authenticity / With Authenticity


Since the beginning, photography has provided us with a referential image to look at and interpret. We derive meaning from that interpretation. Never mind that the image doesn’t depict true reality – in other words, nobody is confused about whether they are looking at a photograph or through a window to reality. This fundamental difference, referential vs. reality, starts us down a path that continues to chip away at authenticity.  With the growing proliferation of photoshop filters and image editing tools, we are moving farther and farther away from authenticity. Given the success of software that filters and modifies images, there is a case to be made that most people prefer images without authenticity. Abstraction is defined in terms of opening up pathways for interpretation. As we alter imagery we are opening up interpretations for that imagery. Taken to the extreme, we end up with Picasso painting style photography and a complete separation from authentic imagery.

Referential imagery could also be labeled left brain imagery because it is generally where abstraction is processed in the brain (language, logic, analytics). With images on smart phones, the images seamlessly integrate with text. Never mind that they are tiny representations (small screen). We can easly interpret the small sized representation of someone’s face. That’s because we are interpreting the photograph from the beginning. We derive the meaning and emotion from it through that interpretation. However, just like with a good book, once you’ve seen it or read it you are ready to move on. There is a genuine feeling that given even a fleeting look that you have seen all there is to see in a photograph. Eye tracking studies point this out. The eyes focus on a few places within the photo and then the brain is satisfied.

So, does this mean that image authenticity isn’t important?

I think the opposite is true. Abstraction only makes sense when there is a deep appreciation and understanding of what is real. Realness is the frame of reference from which abstraction can be derived. As we are flooded with more and more referential imagery we have less and less experience of realness from which to even process an abstraction. This is a partial explanation for the growing lack of interest and lack of importance placed on any particular image.

Then the question becomes: What exactly is an authentic photograph?

My opinion is that it must be a photograph that has a comparability to realness. We have two eyes and we perceive the world with space and dimension. Our “seeing” is a real experience and reality imagery could be labeled right brain imagery because that is generally where emotion, creativity, color, and recognition are processed. When we are emotionally engaged looking at real things we create a frame of reference and support our fundamental perceptions about our existence and reality. This is a foundation for our being able to process referential imagery.  So, to engage our right brain an authentic photograph should mimic reality as much as possible. It needs to depict space and energy. It needs to mimic what we perceive in reality when we look around at the real world as much as possible. But equally important, it must engage because it is something worth looking at. Something that holds fascination and wonder. It should offer an experience and be emotionally engaging where the story of the photograph can be experienced in a right brain way. Then we can use that experience as a foundation for looking at referential imagery.

This has tremendous ramifications for education and simply expanding the horizon for our ability to referentially interpret information. In my own experience looking at AMPED 3D imagery of human skulls, a foundation steeped in experience was created. Now, as I look at regular pictures of skulls, I have a different and expanded appreciation for them because I can interpret the meaning in a broader sense. I acquired a frame of reference by experiencing an authentic photograph (AMPED 3D image).

This builds the case for creating AMPED 3D images of things that we don’t necessarily experience or see in our daily “real” lives. It also builds the case for capturing a moment in time that can be experienced in the future in a way that gives us a frame of reference to better understand our past.

Given the above, some might think that practically anything would be a good subject to photograph using AMPED 3D technology to create an authentic photograph. The problem is that the technology has its limitations. As with all art, it is difficult to achieve consistent results that deliver the promise of the medium. The image has to first engage because it is something inherently interesting. Only then, can the experience of looking and perceiving happen in a meaningful way. There is more to it than depicting space. It has to be accurate to a point where any inaccuracies are dismissed. It has to engage a feedback loop where the more you look, the more you see reinforcing a desire to look longer and see more. This doesn’t work for everything.

The process of thinking through subject matter for authentic photography isn’t trivial. It took me many months to understand the amazing potential of tattoos. I now see that for skulls (there is a very keen relationship to tattoos coincidentally). Other subjects are certainly possible, but I haven’t fully understood what they are… yet.

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