For my ‘O’ level photography exam in the early eighties, I was tasked with creating a series of photographs that investigated the adage ‘the camera cannot lie’. What a great question. I had a fabulous time photographing my friend on a motorbike, from every angle, making a portfolio of black and white photographs showcasing the creative possibilities facilitated by Cokin star-burst filters, multiple-exposures, outdoor flash, wide-angle perspective and other camera-tricks of the time. My images explored the more literal and technical ways of altering reality; for a sixteen year-old, still finding his photographic feet, they were a reasonable demonstration of skills. In retrospect though, I could have been a lot less blatant, more creative; which probably explains why I only managed grade ‘C’.
‘The camera cannot lie’ is a phrase of uncertain origin, paraphrased in several citations throughout the 19th century. The advent of photography brought the realisation that we could document reality with a previously inexistent degree of accuracy. Easel painters started to blur reality using more impressionistic styles, worried that hyper-real photographs might put them out of business, but they need not have worried. Within just a few years of it’s invention, photography was providing a way for creatives of the time to remould reality. Less than 5 years after introducing the world to photography, Fox Talbot, influenced by classical art, had already become a virtuoso of compositional metaphor and iconography. The idea of a photograph as art, rather than simply document, is therefore as old as photography itself.
All the same technical tricks remain available to us in the digital arena, but one of the joys of creative landscape photography comes from finding original ways of altering reality. Making subtle alterations, either in-camera or in post-processing, adding an air of mystery to our images, can sometimes persuade the viewer to linger and strengthen their engagement. For my image this month, unusually, I had no need for filters to facilitate a minimalist long exposure, because it was made at night. Our cameras continue to ‘see’ for a long time after we have lost our visual interest. I have ‘seasoned’ my image by removal of the horizon in post-processing, completely reshaping reality and pushing the image into the realm of the ‘dreamscape’