Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The erosion of memory

The power of the photograph to document places and events cannot be disputed. How close is this documentation to reality? It isn't as close as you might think.

Photographic film distorts brightness and color. Because film has a small dynamic range relative to our eyes, it compresses the range of darkest dark to the brightest bright creating lower contrast, resulting in an object in a photo being less visible. The amount and type of distortion depends on the film used and the way that it is developed. With color film, longer durations make scenes look brighter and short duration make them darker.

In addition to the distortion caused by photographic film, camera optics must be considered. Lens choice affects spatial relations. Wide angle lenses cause distortion because the lens is closer to the subject; telephoto lenses compress objects together. The angle at which a photograph is taken also impacts the relative size of objects at different distances. Perspective errors are caused when an image of a 3D world falls on a 2D plane.

When we examine the reality of the photograph, it becomes apparent that many changes occur from the time you focus your camera to the time you look at a photo and even after that point depending on the viewing conditions. Some information is altered subtly and some is lost depending on the quality of the technology and the skill of the photographer.

Looking at an image captured by a camera is still the next best think to being there. That is why I took almost a 1000 photos during my two week stay on the grounds of Birr Castle.

The process of reality erosion had already begun when I chose certain photos to initiate my responses to reading Birr Gardens. When we remember a place or an event without a photographic reference even more information is lost. The more time that intervenes between an event and our effort to bring it to mind, the more information is lost. That is the reality of our memory of experienced events. This is a constant element in my work and it plays a prominent part in my new explorations.

My art process physically reflects the erosion created in our memory by the passage of time. I begin each piece with several photo transfers of a particular place in the garden. I consider this "the real". I then begin through a series of manipulations using paint and organic papers to alter the photo transfers to reflect what I can actually remember of the specific place. I'm finding that only certain salient points remain.

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