Can a photographer make truthful images of reality, or is that nothing but a beautiful myth? When photography was invented almost two centuries ago, our concept of reality was rather simple and roughly equivalent to the world we see. All of it seemed more or less accessible to human beings, even if it might have taken some adventurous traveling. Space and time were absolute certainties.
Today our sense of realism has ditched the mechanical universe of Sir Isaac Newton, and scientists seem to agree that most of what is going on in physical reality (like 96%) either consists of totally unknown dark matter and dark energy or is to be conceived as a vast sea of information we cannot see. Either way, only a very tiny fraction of the whole universe can be detected directly and is visible to eye and camera. Moreover, the appearances in our human perception don’t reveal anything from other levels of existence, like the whole spectrum of electromagnetic waves extending far beyond the narrow band of visible light, or the constant shower of neutrino particles traveling freely even through solid rock. This pitiful little range of visibility is reduced even further when photographers necessarily make different choices about what to include and what to exclude at the time of exposure, based on what they want to visualize. When so many aspects of reality remain totally unseen or, at best, ignored, how could a photographer’s vision still be realistic and true?
And yet, I think our vision can still be truthful, but nowadays it naturally relies far more on the mind’s eye than on visual perception. Since Einstein’s discoveries the concept of reality has quickly evolved from an overseeable world of physical experience to a vast and rapidly expanding universe of thought and imagination, not only in science but also in art and in our culture as a whole. That’s why I think it’s still possible to make images that represent something genuine but it will be something only seen in the mind, like an idea or a vision of a plausible world. That would be a truthful record of an inner reality, even when it shows some resemblance to our illusory world of visual appearances.