Camera Work: The Suspension of Belief
In theater, it’s called the Suspension of Disbelief. The idea is that an actor has about 30 seconds, after the curtain rises, to convince you that, no matter what is going on in your life before curtain rise, now nothing else matters but what is going on on stage. Lose that, and you lose your audience.
A similar circumstance occurs in writing; that is if you don’t grab your reader’s attention in about 2 or 3 sentences, you have lost the reader. How many of us open a book in the book store to page one and decide quickly whether or not we want to continue?
The photograph, however, has the opposite problem, that is the Suspension of Belief. It’s particularly acute in photography but generally applies to other visual arts production. Then it’s called Realism.
We want to believe the photograph. In photojournalism, it is vital that you can believe it’s reality, so much so that there is a whole protocol involving the digital manipulation of the image. Where journalistic truth is not the goal, digital manipulation is now a big part of the craft. But wait! It is a photo, no? If so, then what’s to disbelieve? Is it a lie?
There’s the rub. It is and it isn’t. A lie. The truth. So, what is it?
The truth, it is an image. A photograph. Derived from a situation where a person stood with a camera confronting an event and, by skillful positioning, camera craft and post processing, produced an object that has the characteristics of the event presented, but no longer is that event. The photograph. If I said this is the event, it would be a lie. It is a likeness but it isn’t the event.
May 18th 1980. Mt St. Helen’s blew her stack. I traveled to the mountain to capture elements of that event. Here is the image that remains the singular impression that took over even the fact that a volcano was erupting. It is not the event. It is rather, a photo depicting a silhouette of a face at that point. From the place I stood.
I didn’t see it, in the cloud itself, or in the proof print. My SO did. She had suspension of belief, I believed I was seeing St Helen’s. So I didn’t see the face until it was pointed out. To this day, most people looking at the photo won’t see the face.
A note on Loo-Wit. She was a Goddess in the legends of the peoples of the Pacific Northwest .Legend has it she was The Keeper of the Fire, at what was a natural bridge over the Columbia River known as The Bridge of the Gods, today as Cascade Locks. Her job was to provide for fire to re light the flame carried by the nomads as they traveled across the Columbia. She was very beautiful and soon the male gods Pah -Toe and Wy-East became embroiled over her and started a war, which climaxed by the bridge being destroyed by their actions. The Great Creator, angry over this destruction and changed the gods in this love triangle to mountains, with Mt Hood as Wy-East, Pah-Toe as Mt Adams and Loo-Wit as St. Helens.
Photo ©1980Lawrence Hudetz All Rights Reserved