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Priceless Photos
When a picture is worth far more than a thousand words
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)     Print Article 
Published 2006-11-22 07:03 (KST)   
Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's first Everest ascent would not have mattered if they had returned from the world's highest mountain without celluloid evidence of their being on the summit. It's possible that other climbers reached the top of Everest before Hillary, George Leigh Mallory for one. Without a picture we, who weren't there, can never know, and mystery is not the substrate for legacy.

I have twice used up rolls of film only to open the camera and find nothing inside. In the one case, I shot plenty of pictures of friends of mine on a gorgeous holiday (Llandudno and beyond), and only a short time later they got engaged and married.

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At the time it was heartbreaking to have no record of those halcyon days. The other film was meant to be filled with pictures of a bicycle trip I did through the Cotswolds, with a few more photos of pubbing with friends in Bristol. Those days also represented the first shift out of a miserable post-breakup segment. Opening the camera to find no record of those breakthrough days was just sickening. It was as if reality itself had been wiped out.

Man walking on the moon brought us powerful images too, and here we reach a point where reality and fiction seem interchangeable. The images of man on the moon were priceless too -- because they represented, in the end, the final evidence of a powerful mission. But arguably the most priceless photos ever taken were also the most expensive. Without them, of course, people could hardly share (or believe)in mankind's greatest triumph.

Of course, there are some salient arguments that indicate that the moon landings never happened (flapping flags and conflicting shadow angles).

And there are those that believe that our fixation with photos -- as a kind of Technicolor truth applied to paper -- leads to our being doubly gullible. Advertisers and marketing moguls are at the forefront of this psychology. Fast food is made to look bigger and better than it really is. Magazine people appear to be so perfect as to be an alien race incompatible with the ordinariness of ordinary Earthlings. And even when it's just us taking photos of each other, there's a degree of falseness and posing involved.

Composition, color and a sense of proportion are just a few elements of an artistic photograph.
©2006 Nick van der Leek
As an enthusiastic photographer, I am keenly aware of the truth versus fiction of this craft. The best photos, in my opinion, are those that you get through happenstance. At the time they seem incidental, even unimportant. But when removed from that context, they speak more clearly than any man about a classic human condition, or about what it means to live on the Earth.

It's tricky, and invasive, but the best way to capture the subtleties of human emotions is to photograph people who are being themselves, not trying to represent themselves being themselves. The best photos need no cropping, touching up or coloration. For a simple reason: you've managed to capture reality.

In Alex Garland's The Beach, Richard explains why he travels without writing anything down, why he chooses not to snap photos wherever he goes. When you have traveled a great deal, especially in a sleep deprived state, it becomes increasingly important somehow to be in the moment, because in the next moment, you will have left a place, and its people, that you will never see again. Like Richard, I feel you cannot absorb or connect to a place from behind the lens of a camera, or by adopting a point of view behind a pen or keyboard. There is only that moment, and when its truth soaks into our system, it does so better than a picture or words. Sometimes it's a daydream. Sometimes it's just simple observation.

Photography comes into its own when one is older and wiser, and perhaps more cynical. When you revisit places you visited long ago, you may find you need to care about them. If you're armed with a camera, the blase been-there-done-that approach becomes far more functional and interested. For priceless pictures, first be there, first connect to a place, or a person, and then pull out your camera.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nicolas van der Leek

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