The magic of moments

Resting shopper wearing kimono, in Mitsukoshi department store in Nihonbashi
I was only wondering once again yesterday, why is it when people see what they think is a good photograph, they have to ask “what did you use to take this photo” or some other technical or mechanical question (see here for an example of this phenomenon, with no offense intended)? Presumably a person asking the question is attributing a large portion of the outcome of a pleasing picture to the equipment that was used to produce it. Often we hear phrases like “this camera takes good pictures”. I think we are all guilty of this.

Before we go any further, the only correct answer is and always will be: I used my head to take this photo.

So why is it that people feel the urge to go into the technicalities? Well, I believe it is for the same reason we always seem desperately wanting to know why an accident or crime happened, why someone died at a young age, why someone got rich or famous etc. It is to make sense out of events or situations that as humans make little sense to us intuitively. Maybe this is also why we have religion, to explain things. We want to know why. As humans, we always like to have certainty about something, an event, an appearance. Certainty is one of the most under-discussed subjects of life, I think. Some form of understanding makes us feel more comfortable, even though that explanation given may not be the truth.

It is commonly known that photographs are created behind the camera and not in front of it. If that’s news to you, then welcome to the ride. And it is said that at least as much of what happened in front of the lens happened behind it. And while the means of recording an image are mostly technical in nature and can be explained using the laws of physics and all, it is essentially an irrational product. Someone, the photographer, arbitrarily made a choice of space and time, and other factors that go into producing the image. Choices and decisions are one of the most under-discussed factors in photography.

What happens then is the magic that keeps making photographs and looking at them fascinating and challenging for us. And since it is magic, and therefore irrational and usually non-repeatable, no technical details will explain the creation of the image or its appeal, nor of any other artwork for that matter. Technique and tools only facilitate the magic’s happening, its manifestation. But technicalities take a lot less intellectual effort to understand (and to explain), when compared to the magic I described above. So people feel quickly satisfied with a response like “he used a Leica”, even though it hasn’t answered anything at all. Worse, the thinking stops immediately right there and then, and no real exploration of the photograph will occur.