Photography and Physics

I remember reading somewhere that when certain aboriginal tribes first had contact with photography they decided that it wasn’t a good thing to have your photo taken because having your photo taken meant that part of your soul was also taken in the process. I think somehow they might have been right.

The Edges of a Dying Star

I’m no scientist, but I think that most scientists agree that all of us humans are made of cells, molecules and electrons/protons and some as-of-yet unidentified subatomic particles. Everyone looks solid for a reason that I can’t figure out; when, in fact, we are just a bunch of energy formed into a piece of matter that has the cumulative mass of all of our parts.

According to Einstein energy and matter are equivalent; and the equation E = mc2 indicates that energy always exhibits relativistic mass (mass is the weight of any particular matter) in whatever form the energy takes1 – or basically, wherever you go there you are existing as the same lump of matter and energy that you’ve always been.

I’ve never thought of myself, my solid self, as “energy” but if Albert Einstein theorized it, it has to have a bit of relevance. So, if we are indeed part solid (matter) and part invisible/visible (energy or light because the ‘c’ in the equation symbolizes the speed of light meaning that Einstein was using light as energy in his calculations), how much of ourselves is taken, stolen when a photograph is snapped? What happens when a photograph is taken? I think that light from the sun or an artificial source bounces off a subject, is reflected back to the camera, is flashed onto film or is digitized and the resulting image appears on a piece of photographic paper or a computer screen.

Is all that matter and energy that is reflected and ends up in a soul-stealing device the same matter and energy that is standing their posing for the photo? My first reaction would be to say, no – it is only a representation of reality. It’s only a record of a physical entity! But, after further reflection, I realize that all of reality is mutable and I think photography, especially digital, is a mover (transporter) of matter and energy.

Why are some photographs emotionally moving, while others do nothing to our emotions? If I framed in my camera a scene in Yosemite that Ansel Adams had framed years ago at the same time of year, the same time of day and at the same location I wouldn’t be able to duplicate what he achieved. Even if my photo were technically perfect in all ways, I wouldn’t be able to elicit from a viewer the same emotion that a viewer of an Ansel Adam’s photo might experience. Whatever my photo might elicit would be a product of how I see the scene.

On their way....?

Photographers have a connection with their subjects, whether they be landscapes or humans, that is unique to the photographer and it endures and transfers to the patron (via matter and energy) a truth about the moment captured. When I look at a Sebastiao Salgado photo of African gold miners or Ethiopian refugees, I can’t help but to see something in myself. I see the miner’s sweaty, muddy, muscular bodies moving up and down impossibly steep slopes to earn in a day what I make in a couple of minutes sitting at my desk. Subsequently, I think of how fortunate I am in my happy warm home with enough fresh food to eat and water to drink; in the next moment my gut churns knowing that another human is suffering and I can’t do a damn thing about it; and all this transpires because some guy aimed a camera at a scene and pushed the button thereby facilitating the transfer of matter and energy from one medium to another.

Though I’ve never been to an African gold mine, I know by looking at that photo that something isn’t right, that people are living too hard of a life. I’ve never been to Ethiopia nor have I personally witnessed starvation, but emotionally I get that those Ethiopians are starving. I might know the back story or just the headline before I see the photo, but the photo completes the narrative. How does this happen? How do I know what starvation and human suffering are via a photograph?

One could say that somewhere in us, in our genes we know what it is to suffer and we need only see an example of it to trigger our innate emotions.

I think it’s all of the above the transference and our genetic make-up, and if a photographer has a strong enough connection with his/her subject, then we are going to feel it and possibly live part of what they are experiencing.

Paul Allen Tipler, Ralph A. Llewellyn (2003-01), Modern Physics, W. H. Freeman and Company, pp. 87–88, ISBN 0-7167-4345-01


Matter vs. Form

“This preference for matter to form is the same as a man ignoring the shape and painting of a fine Etruscan vase in order to make a chemical examination of the clay and colours of which it is made.”

- Schopenhauer from Essays of Schopenhauer: On Authorship and Style


Individuality and Living in the Modern World

Money is concerned only with what is common to all, i.e. with the ex-change value which reduces all quality and individuality to a purely quantitative level.

-Georg Simmel, from the 1950 essay The Metropolis and Mental Life

This simple statement speaks of something that I’ve been trying to put into words for many, many years. When making plans for the future or talking to friends about trying to fulfill dreams, the conversation always comes down to money. Our individuality (distinctiveness) is whittled away through the mere transference of money from one person to another; Mr. Simmel exaggerates to make a point – we all have this in common, cash is the denominator. Money affords character, and it neutralizes it.

In one very obvious example, Lady GaGa is a unique performer and she is paid (a great deal of money) for her uniquity – but her and I, according to the above aphorism, are exactly the same. She can dream and create and become the biggest pop star on Earth, but she still has to use money to put a roof over her head. So, isn’t it ironic that, if we all have to use money as a way to quantify our existence, that some pretend money is individualism? This is avarice isn’t it? When money becomes everything, we lose a part of our selves. It just seems silly to me to devote one’s life to money.

Simmel goes on to say “All emotional relationships between persons rest on their individuality, whereas intellectual relationships deal with persons as with numbers, that is, as with elements

which, in themselves, are indifferent, but which are of interest only insofar as they

offer something objectively perceivable.” The “perceivable” things are those things we can get with money.

Quantify: to give quantity  to something regarded as having only quality.

What about quality? If there were no money, would there be no quality? In the seminal western Zen classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the author thinks that there is an inherent quality within all things; his opinion is that quality is intrinsic, and this perceived quality is quantifiable only in the recognition and respect of it. In our world, we have to quantify quality with ducats, dosh and bucks. What would quality be without money?

To me visual art usually strikes a chord deep in my subconscious and then I receive an emotional reaction. I love those times where the reverse is true as in when I saw this photo of an Ai WeiWei installation on the Guardian website. (I’ve borrowed the photo for my blog for which I would like to thank Ai WeiWei, wherever he may be. I’ve also taken, verbatim, the caption as contributed by the Guardian.)

It is the Guardian’s point of view that Ai WeiWei is concerned with pointing out the disregard China has paid to history with this piece; I don’t think he would use disregard to protest against disregard – that would be cliché. I think he is readjusting our ideals about what should be considered precious. I saw this photo and immediately thought he was trying to deflect my attention, push it away from things normally coveted; he wants us respect and cherish humanity and expose the systematic nonchalant cruelty that the Chinese government shows towards humanity. He wants to illustrate that we are each a precious vessel; and via the use of various colors, that we are each unique.


Time and Us

The truth of Man is in the heart of eternity, the fact of it being evolved through endless ages. If Man’s manifestation has round it a background of millions of light-years, still it is his own background. He includes in himself the time, however long, that carries the process of his becoming, and he is related for the very truth of his existence to all things that surround him.

-Tagore-


Belief Part 3

It is that we are all made from the same stuff as stars; but reformed to eat, breathe, think and move. My mother believes that God made the world, but if I profess to be a part of God, even in the most oblique way, that comment would be considered as blasphemous. If such a God exists, how could it be that he/she or it made us, yet we are separated from he/she or it?

In the nature that I live in, I feel very much a part of everything.

In the rivers and the oceans I see the metaphor of the constant motion of life. Though a granite mountain may seem at rest, at work are many forces from the molecular to the macro-molecular – all moving like a solid, heaving ocean.

Where I live I can always know which direction is south strictly by looking at the way the trees grow. The ubiquitous wind of North Wales pushes trees to point north because the prevailing wind here, on Anglesey, is from the south. This is a practical and immediate way to know where you are; but maybe not where you were before this. This notable, physical manifestation of the wind is also an arboreal reminder of the fact that we are bent, shaped by our environment – no matter the type of tree.

I look out my window and see the clouds moving by as testament to change; water changing form. In that medium of ether between the surface of a body water to the clouds, I can see the arc of my life; I am the same person born to this world, but now I’m different by shape and the way I interpret light.

Finally, in other humans I see a mirror and in that mirror I see my frailties and my fortitude. If I criticize or praise another, it is only because I see in them what I want to change about myself or what I love about myself.

This is not an exhaustive list of the parts of nature with which I feel a connection, but it contains the elements that I observe daily. We are without a doubt god-like (or intelligence-like) in-so-much as we are made of that stuff which is everywhere.


Belief part 2

I’ve travelled my entire life. I’ve been to 20 countries, met and worked with every kind of person you could imagine. Through travelling I’ve learned more than I ever did at university. A great part of my character, of who I am, was shaped by my movements around this planet. I’ve always believed in what’s different, new.

However, passing through places, is not living there. The people I’m most interested are those that have never been out of their own country. They’ve stayed put, and they seem happy. How could someone do that, I ask myself? Stay in one place? I met a man tonight that could reel off the local history of 10 square mi. from the past 500 years, and go on and on. Not only could he tell me about relationships of the people that he has known, but he could tell of those that lived here before and before that. I’m so intrigued by the people who can live a life like that. What makes a person who has travelled so interesting? I’m more interested in the vested local, the one who knows all about his neighborhood.

That person drives the same roads to the same job every day, like he has for years; to me, that takes courage. Worse, he sees the same people and makes the same small talk that he has for years. I’ve never stayed at a job for longer than a one-and-a-half years and I’ve never lived anywhere longer than 5 years. My mania takes over and I’m driven by a belief that my love, serendipity, is going to deliver me from this existence of workaday hell.

Belief. Do we need beliefs? My beliefs, and there are many, keep me occupied with the idea that I’ve something to accomplish, finish. Why do I need to accomplish? If I’m a secular chieftain of the tribe of one (we are essentially alone), why do I need to complete anything but meals and bowel movements? Nietzsche was miserable in his belief that beliefs weren’t necessary. So, if we humans need beliefs as a reference point, as a carrot on a stick, we could be led into almost any situation and really believe it.

Where is your point of reference if it isn’t religion, society/culture, nature?


Belief?

You had not yet sought yourselves when you found me. Thus do all believers; therefore all belief is of so little account.

Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when you have all denied me will I return to you…

Friedrich Nietzsche


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