Monday, August 1, 2016

A World That Isn't

We are creating a false existence, everyday on social media I see examples of it. A world that isn't real. Hyperbole has become our proffered reality. It was once said "You can believe what you see" but this is no longer the case. As a photographer for many decades I have tried to capture on film, and more recently in bytes, what caught my eye in the world around me. Landscape photography was my preferred format, and I would share my best images with others, in print or in slide shows. Freeman Patterson, a mentor in this field, once said that if he had 2 or 3 images in a roll of 36 pictures that he considered great images he was satisfied that he had done well. That meant waiting for the right lighting, being in the right location, and having the settings on the camera perfect for the image one was trying to capture. I'm talking about those eye-popping pictures that seem to jump off the page or screen - the rare images that captured the beauty of nature in a way that did justice to the scene as experienced by the photographer.

These days there are amazing pictures posted on social media all the time, everyday astounding images fill our feeds - but they're a lie. Almost every image that you see has been enhanced in one way or another. The built in cameras that come with smart phones means one never has to be without a camera - but the apps that capture the images on our phones also enhance them, deepening the colour and contrast, because the app writers know what kind of images appeal to us, lots of colour and strong patterns. The picture above is an example of that - I took this with my iPhone from on top of a building in downtown Regina. The storm cloud was truly big and beautiful, and worthy of a picture. The image is close to what it looked like in real life, but the colours are a bit more intense and the contrast more striking than what my eye perceived. But it makes for a great image.

This is mild to what I see people do with digital enhancements, using programs like Adobe Photoshop to make the image more appealing. The law of diminishing effect is at work here, in order to make one's picture stand out from the others the temptation is to use more colour saturation, or higher contrast. Soon those images seem plain in comparison, so even more manipulation of the original image is rendered. The images no longer represent reality, but instead a hyper-reality that doesn't exist... but it sure gets a lot of like on one's Facebook page! Will we get to the point where we give up looking for beauty in the real world, and simply respond to endless false images on computer screens? Does that matter?

Perhaps not so much with pictures of nature, but it certainly matters with politics and people. We now live in a time when reality is manipulated to suit the individual. If something seems right due to one's biases, then it becomes truth - facts no longer matter. What feels right must be right, and we gather around ourselves those whose feelings are similar to ours - this is particularly easy with the algorithms of social media programming. We are fed what we like, and soon this becomes our reality. But the reality is false, and we are being manipulated. For example, our social media feeds are filled with stories that provoke fear, and paint the world as a place saturated with violence and danger. However if one looks at statistical information the truth is we are living in a time when crime rates are significantly lower than in previous decades (there are of course anomalies, but generally speaking this is true from a purely statistical analysis). But like enhanced photos, we are drawn to the exaggerated information that calls out to us from our screens. It's time to resist.

The best way to resist is to explore the world, the real world. Go outdoors, go to new places, meet new people, sit quietly in the midst of nature, look and listen carefully. Discover the world that is, as it really is. Consider this a spiritual pilgrimage, a search for truth, a worthy vocation. 


  1. I agree but please know that the picture(very similar to yours) which I put on instagram is not enhanced. At least not intentionally. I too took it with my iphone and selected no enhancements. Guttormson

    1. That would be a similar situation to my photo, not intentionally enhanced, but the iPhone does a little enhancing automatically. I would like to see this shot of yours, you should post it on Facebook.