Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine's: True at First Light

In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weed-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked plain. You have walked across that plain in the morning and you know that no such lake is there. But now it is there, absolutely true, beautiful and believable.

~ Epigraph from Ernest Hemingway's True at First Light

The phrase 'true at first light' came to mind when I saw these sunrise scenes unfolding before me at Chagar Hutang, Redang.

* * *

Eric Peris says, "Don't worry too much about what people think of your photographs. If they don't like your pictures, it's their problem, not yours."

He says, "Look at pictures in books and magazines, but don't copy them because they have been done before. Do something different. Be a rebel, but not a rebel without a cause."

We met over lunch on 28 Jan with Aunty Sheila, Alan and another friend of theirs.

In the week that followed, I decided I was ready to be a rebel with a cause. A rebel against the current trends in which cameras are vested with so much power. Against 51 AF points, against 5 frames-per-second, against high ISO and fancy lighting and more megapixels than you can wrap your head around. Even, against flawless metering.

There must be some room for error.

Photography should not be about the ability to compensate for bad light—unless you are a journalist and you don't have a choice under some circumstances. If the light is poor, why bother shooting? Go where the light is already great, because there, no matter what, the pictures will always be awesome.

* * *

I saw this quote on Sam's blog yesterday:

"Why didn't I learn to treat everything like it was the last time. My greatest regret was how much I believed in the future."

~ Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

It's so true. And I don't want to let this year slip through my fingers as I often have allowed the years to. There is no future—the future is now and everything I do in the present becomes whatever I imagine my future to be.

In Africa, Hemingway writes, a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon. That which is true now, may not be true later, or tomorrow, because by then we would have changed and it would be too late to recapture what we felt, and knew, to be true now.

The time is now, and this is the year to act.

* * *

And then there are the people you love, across seas, across mountains.

I can never forget 2006.

A place where everything was unexpectedly possible. I don't think it would be an overstatement to say, once again, how much I owe to you for recording that video, but most of all for being there.

For always being there.

It was my 'Lemon' moment.

A man captures colour
A man likes to stare
He turns his money into light to look for her

Bono was writing about the experience of seeing video footage of his mother in her childhood, about how we seek to immortalise our experiences in photographs and videos.

And when I see myself again, I see her. Now I know what Eric Peris means when he says that he is in his photographs, because she was there with me in the captured light.

* * *

Photographs replicate reality, it would seem. But I think it is more accurate to say that photographs distort reality. A thing is true at first light, and a lie by noon, because you are not the same person who saw what you saw when at first you saw it. And when others come to see what you claimed to have seen, they naturally do not see it either.

The first photograph, the colour photograph at the top of this post, represents the light I saw, the sunrise I experienced. But if you—or someone else—stands where I stood, looking in the same direction at the same time, expecting that light, you would not find it.

I actually like the black-and-white sunrise better. Mind you, this was not converted from a colour photograph! I shot in on B&W film, on a different morning.

The colour photograph is closer to what I saw, but then it is a little too real and leaves too little for the viewer's imagination. Good photographs, like good novels and good art and good music, should always leave room for the viewer's imagination, should always draw the viewer in, and to do so they must never say too much or say things too obviously.

That is why black-and-white, by stripping the world of colour, forces us to engage with the photograph on a different level. Why is shooting in B&W different from shooting in colour and then converting to B&W? Because the photographer himself must also engage the world on this other level, and before stripping the viewer of the crutch of colour, he must first strip himself.

Colour is illusion, colour is distraction.

But amidst all the changing, swirling colours of life you have been as consistent as black-and-white. You have always been there.

1 comment:

onegodonemaster said...

The third section of this post reminded me of this song by Yes: