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Truth vs Real vs Accurate

“All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”

-Richard Avedon.

berry_33-911x613I was pondering this quote today. Been having a lot of rain out here in the Northwest and rain is very conducive to pondering. It is also conducive to seasonal depression, eating lots of cookies, and the desire to clean out your office – maybe not in that order. So, to avoid the first two, I embarked on the third. Cleaning my office quickly morphed into thumbing thru stacks of old and much-loved photography books. Scribbled on a piece of scrap paper and tucked into a book by Salgado was this quote by Avedon. Got me to thinking deep rainy day thoughts.

Back in the day, “accurate” photography was probably more likely the norm. Verisimilitude was expected. Pre- photoshop, pre-digital era, there was an assumption that what was shown in a photograph was “real”. As in physically accurate – that if you were there, you might have been able to witness the very same scene. Maybe not with the same clear artistic eye of an Avedon or Cunningham, but you could physically gaze upon that scene, that face, that object. Accuracy based in the physical reality was a given. No purple filter skies, no added or removed animals, no HDR. So in one sense, accurate or real was more of a given in a photograph.  Now, as then, getting to the “truth” is altogether a different task.

Truth, capital T truth;  I am going to have to leave that definition to philosophers, physicists or saints. Small “t” truth I am willing to wrestle with. So should you. I think with each photograph you take you can be clear and very aware that you are picking out a particular piece of the story to share. I am going out on a limb, but I think perhaps the point is that your photograph doesn’t tell the whole Truth. It likely doesn’t even tell the lower case truth. When you put something in a photo, you must also by definition leave something, a whole lot of somethings, out. Wala! No Truth. So, what to do?

Find the truth in the slice of the story you want to share. In my photograph of this wood carver, I couldn’t tell the whole story. I don’t know the Truth at the center of this man’s existence. What struck me was that given his physical challenges he found a way to overcome. He was completely unable to use his arms and hands due to a severe palsy, but somehow he was able to control his legs and feet in a way that allowed him to make carvings. I don’t know how he felt about his challenges. I don’t know anything more about his life or how he felt about his life in general. I don’t know any big T truths about him.

What I did know, and set out to capture, is that I found him remarkable. I was moved by the human spirit to persevere. I was touched by his ability to take another route to creating. I was forced to wonder what I would do if confronted by the same situation. So while I don’t have the truth of the whole story, what I have in this photograph is a very small slice of the story that rang true to me – not him – but me. I think all photographs tell us as much – or more, about the photographer as they do the subject.  To find, honor and share those small slices of truth is what I hope my photography is about.


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