Monday, 15 April 2013

The Passage of Time

The passage of time is an ever-present paradox to the photographer. Whether it be the representation of time passing using photographic means (the two examples here are attempts to address that), or the fact that every photograph only ever shows the past - photographers, consciously or not, are always constrained by time.

The composite photograph left illustrates one of the ways in which still photography can demonstrate the passage of time. This sequence shows how the apparent position of the setting sun changes throughout the year when viewed from a single, fixed viewpoint. The movement of the sun is very hard to distinguish on a day-to-day basis, but when viewed all together, its changes in position become readily visible. This sequence shows the view towards the Southern Lakeland Fells from Kendal Golf Course.
("Golf - a good walk spoiled"; Mark Twain).

In the opening paragraph of "Camera Lucida", Roland Barthes remarks on having seen a photograph of Napoleon's brother, Jerome, taken in 1852. Barthes was amazed to realise that he was "looking at eyes that have looked at the Emperor". He later states his opinion that a photograph is evidence that "the thing has been there"; painting can "feign reality"; spoken or written language can deceive; but it can always be said of a photograph: "That Has Been". 

The nature of a photograph is such that it causes light from the referent (the original real object or person) to create its image in the photograph. When the image is eventually seen by an observer, by you or I, then that light from the referent, delayed by a period of time (in some instances years, or even decades), finally reaches the spectator. Barthes describes a photograph as "literally an emanation of the referent".

The triptych image above shows another variation on the theme. In this instance, the changes in shadow and highlight over the course of a day alter the appearance and visual impact of the tree. Choosing the right lighting (or being fortunate enough to stumble upon it) can make a big difference to the success or failure of an image.

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