Saturday, December 7, 2013

Time in Photography. A view into the nature of reality and the creative imagination.

Which represents time? The painted lines
or the reflected dots on the wet pavement?

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.*
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.
St. Teresa of Avila

The Santa parade is in full swing in the little town of Sidney, B.C. It is a wet, cold, windy night and the procession of vehicles and people is filled with with lots of coloured lights and movement: here is where the camera cannot help but be involved in the mysterious realm of time and motion and in the nature of reality itself.

Hold on, you say, this is simply a camera trying to cope with low light and movement and the operator simply has to snap away to collect a few interesting images. True to some degree, but what the camera dwells upon is directed by the photographer, what details are selected and how it is framed are all important. What we can imagine it to be, what we see as a potential final image, makes all the difference.

A scooter zooms in and out of the parade vehicles and I follow it as I press the shutter. The result, with its streaks of light, gives the impression of motion; it captures the energy of the moment and freezes it. A split second moment in time is chosen even though we can imagine that this image stands for but a thin slice of what is the scooter's path through the parade.

Behind all the bustle, an office building stands silently beside the wet street with a tree's shadow draped across its face. Here is time in another guise, still and grave, dreaming of who knows what, but the camera has caught this moment and has focused our attention upon it. It takes but a short time to take the image, but we know that the building and its light has more permanence and exists within a longer period of time. Even as dawn breaks the building will still be there. But the moment captured within this image is still unique, if only because no one else may realize that this is worth seeing in quite this way.

The parade troops by and I use a transparent DVD disc in front of the lens to centre our attention. The parade takes on a nightmarish hobgoblin quality, as thought time has pushed aside its normal face to show a glimpse of another disturbing dimension,; we glimpse another possible aspect of time because of the interaction between the rapidly moving and changing subject and my particular 'take' on the event.

A woman walks past, her sad face distorted by movement to become anyone at all; a reject image for sure one might think until one arrow of light is seen, being driven into her chest. Saint Teresa is pierced all unawares by the arrow of heaven, here on this Santa Parade evening. At this precise moment in her life she has been lanced by love right before our eyes, thanks to the camera. And, thanks to my interpretation, this ordinary fragment within an hour long event assumes a more complex meaning*.

After the parade has already moved into past time, down at the seaside the wind waves below the lighted dock roll shoreward. I prop my camera on a post and take a long exposure. Even so, the resulting image is dark and difficult to understand, the waves have merged into a haze of repetitions, averaging out the individual ones and even the pilings of the dock have shifted towards the insubstantial. Time is captured over several seconds, and shows us present time stretched out so we can see another aspect; how the present moment is really part of impermanence.

Change is the only true constant of reality and by selecting pieces of time with the instrument called a camera we can observe that our solid material world is never still, is ever changing. Our minds assign meaning to the passing stream, gives solidity, but all flows past, ourselves too caught swirling within its waters. How beautiful that stream really is.

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