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The Mind Makes the Picture Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

24 July 2019

We don't like to repeat ourselves but looking at the illustration accompanying this piece, you might thing so. Another iris? Two of them? What giveth?

Two Irises. Canon Rebel XTi with 18-5mm kit zoom at 34mm, captured at f5.6, 1/2500 second and ISO 400. Processed in Adobe Camera Raw.

Well, it occurred to us that another image of our backyard irises would subtly suggest another discussion inspired by our reading of Eugene Delacroix's Journal.

Last month, we published Truth Idealized on the concept of "truth idealized." We thought it spoke volumes about what photographers are chasing.

This month, as we neared the end of the Journal, we came across an actual reference to photography itself. So we couldn't resist sharing it with you. But we're breaking it into paragraphs so you can catch your breath:

When a photographer takes a view, all you ever see is a part cut off from the whole: the edge of the picture is as interesting as the center; all you can do is to suppose an ensemble, of which you see only a portion, apparently chosen by chance. The accessory is capital, as much as the principal; most often, it presents itself first and offends the sight.

One must make more concessions to the infirmity of the reproduction in a photographic work than in a work of the imagination. The photographs which strike you most are those in which the very imperfection of the process as a matter of absolute rendering leaves certain gaps, a certain repose for the eye which permit it to concentrate on only a small number of objects.

If the eye had the perfection of a magnifying glass, photography would be unbearable: one would see every leaf on a tree, every tile on a roof, and on these tile, mosses, insects, etc.

And what shall we say of those disturbing pictures produced by actual perspective, defects less disturbing perhaps in a landscape, where parts in the foreground may be magnified in even an exaggerated way without the spectator's being offended, save when human figures come into question?

The obstinate realist will therefore, in his picture, correct that inflexible perspective which falsifies our seeing of objects by reason of its very correctness.

Fun to dine, it would be, with Delacroix. Assuming you could get a word in.

He labors under the illusion that the photograph can't help but draw an accurate picture with no vote about the crop. Except, you know, the optics distort the foreground.

But we forgive him that naivete. Because he subsequently sums up for us what exactly it is that makes an image work:

In the presence of nature herself, it is our imagination that makes the picture: we see neither the blades of grass in a landscape nor the accidents of the skin in a pretty face. Our eye, in its fortunate inability to perceive these infinitesimal details, reports to our mind only the things which it ought to perceive; the latter, again, unknown to ourselves, performs a special task; it does not take into account all that the eye presents to it; it connects the impressions it experiences with others which it received earlier, and its enjoyment is dependent on its disposition at the time. That is so true that the same view does not produce the same effect when taken in two different aspects.

In other words, the mind edits what the eye sees. It sees what it wants to see. It imagines it has absorbed what the eye presents but it kneads it like a dough until it can be shaped into something it finds appetizing.

The question for photographers, especially as they evaluate their tools, is how to persuade the mind, not merely the eye that takes anything in.

When you ask that question, topics like corner sharpness or dual memory card slots (or even, yes, megapixels) seem rather trite and silly. The stuff of children fighting over toy soldiers in stead of grown-ups diplomatically staving off conflict.

But we digress.

We only meant to point out that this image of irises was taken with completely different gear than the previous one. You may have seen them, however, as similar.

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