o sure, We know what photography is!
But, do we really?
From the latin roots for light and writing, we get the feeling that the original use of photography was to trace objects in the real world by standing inside of a huge camera. Using a pinhole, one could create a really accurate shadow of an object outside of the camera to appear unside down inside of it. One could then trace the object in preparation for a painting.
Eventually, someone figured out that a canvas could be prepared with a special light sensitive substance, so that a permanent image of the object could be transfered to the canvas without the need for the artist to trace the shape of it.
We have improved our light writing since those days, and now weild the power to write repeatedly, or even continuously! We have dispensed with the chemicals and the light sensitive coatings. So what more needs to be done to write really well with light? It seems that the thinking is all done, and it is time to just make some files!
Not so fast! I have been writing with light for half of a century, and i can tell you that there is more to it. It is a little difficult to think about, but i will write it down if i can.
First, there is the nature of light itself. Light is a crazy, crazy thing! It barely makes sense, and shows us that our ideas about the universe are pretty much poppycock. A magnetic field and an electric field trading energies very quickly, at right angles to one another, and proceeding through space at a finite speed that sets all of the parameters of our physical universe? Wow!
In one way, 'light particles' exist on their own, and have a given amount of work that they can do. In another way, light exists as a collection of synchronized waves traveling through space together. The particle or the wave description must be used depending on the circumstances, and the math is entirely different!
What this means is that we dont know what light really is. We are missing a piece of the puzzle. It is alright, because we know a lot about the behavior of light. We know that it makes the universe of atoms possible, by allowing an electrons to change it's orbital distance from the nucleus. The light particle is the energy 'change' that the universe must pay so that electron can fall toward, or be driven away from the center of that atom. If the electron comes to a new orbital shell closer to the center, it has less energy. A light particle comes out of the atom to make up the exact difference. The shells are rigidly shaped, due to the special granular nature of energy. Since these kinds of transactions must work both ways, the same flavor of light particle may strike the atom, and be just enough to boost an electron's orbit to the higher state. The light particle goes away, and the electron takes a higher orbit.
So, that is how light is 'born', or how it 'dies'. One must understand that there is no difference between the birth and the death of light. In other words, if you focused a very small camera inside of an atom [you can not do that !], it would not be possible to tell if the camera was going forward and backwards when one viewed a single event. that is how such small events are. Electrons and particles of light have no individual identity. Each one can be any of the other ones. They can not be told from one another. Together with the idea that one can not really tell the direction of time from watching particles of matter and particles of light perform together, this gives some pretty formidable questions about the reality of matter and light!
What about the stuff that enters the eye, or the lens of a camera? I mean, it seems to be organized in some clever way, and to provide useful information about the universe. We can get our brain, or a computer in our camera, to make sense of the light particles that have entered the respective chamber. We know how the light particle was formed. But, how does the light particle convey information about objects in the field of view?
That is where things get really interesting. Objects 'out there' can absorb light particles, and have their atomic orbits given additional energy, or they can emit particles when the orbits decay. If we are seeing them, the atoms are being struck by light particles, and giving out other light particles. In addition, light particles may bounce off of the object [reflect] in ways that are understood pretty well.
In most cases [outside of a mirror], we do not see the light that originally struck an object. we see the light that it did not want to absorb. The 'color' of an object is really the energy of light that is rejected by that object! The energy of light that was exactly right to lift an electron to a distinctly different orbital shell was kept by the atom. What is cast out, to be 'seen', are particles of light that were not used to lift electron orbits in that bit of matter.
so, light particles are not directly outlining the objects that interest us. The process of looking at objects, or photographing objects is more indirect that we At fist had imagined! It gets a step more indirect after the particles reach the sensor. We still have to organize the particles, and make 'sense' of them! After all, the particles are useless for doing work, other than lifting electron orbits in surfaces that they have struck.
Let that impinge on your mind for a moment! A lot of light particles came into your eye, and they warmed it up in a certain way. And somehow, your brain learned something about the world outside of itself. It can predict things, and choose behaviors that will lead to good experiences. Similarly, a camera can store patterns in a computer chip that have something to do with the world outside of the camera's darkened chamber. unlike the products of the human eye, the camera's patterns can be shared among advanced tool users. This is remarkable, and can be seen as a kind of dream that may be shared. It is another magical thing like the uttering of organized sounds and the recording of those utterances. It allows humans to share their consiousness with other humans over time and distance.
Human thoughts have energy if they are organized. They can do work, and must be paid for in some way. Organization in one area leads to disorganization somewhere else. I mention this because it bears on the question, should photography be done at all? This is a very difficult question, that asks other questions. What is life for? It is OK to look around, or use devices to look around, while humans are hungry or in pain? Is one here to carry water, or to play around on the internet? Grow food, or hide in a soundproof room and play computer games?
As a verified busy monkey, this author has found that some kind of busy course of action is needed. It hardly matters what exact course that it is. Simply digging holes in the ground and filling them back up would probably work just fine. Fooling around with light particles seems pretty harmless. I dont know. You choose!
- alf randell
- I am a fine art photographer and filmmaker. Lately, I have been doing panoramic images of the Canyonlands area, and printing them using archival materials. These large images are placed in work cubicles and homes, and can sometimes briefly transport the viewer to a contemplative location.