"People take pictures of the summer, just in case someone thought they had missed it, and to prove that it really existed..." - Ray Davies
The Kinks' People Take Pictures of Each Other, a song from their seminal 1968 album "The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society" has always resonated deeply with me. Why do people take pictures of people, places and things, or indeed of entire seasons, as protection against someone having missed them? Does photography really offer proof that these things, or anything else, really existed? I've never believed so.
To me photography has, at best, only ever provided us with the ability to record vague impressions of visual reality, no matter how sharp or technically accurate. The medium's limitations are obvious: a single point of view (our world consists of infinite POVs), two dimensions (sentient beings perceive most reality in three, or more), exposure over time (no such thing as a "single moment", more of a streak of moments), and infinite variation among the details of the technology itself that debase any serious notion of standards, consistency and reproducibility. These limitations are, of course, what also make photography so magical and facilitating to the artist.
I've always been of the belief that one cannot trust a photograph to prove that anything really exists or existed, but it can still be beautiful. In that sense, I consider photographic images to relate more to dreams than objective waking reality, and I think Ray Davies would have said very much the same about "The Village Green". That said, like pop music, the medium does work well to tell stories about the world, with the understanding that photographs only represent a distant echo of something that was seen though one person's eyes, as often as not a complete stranger, and are not to be confused with reality. The only reality I recognize, is the one I am experiencing right now.
- William Laviano