Taos Drumming



“A photograph isn't necessarily a lie, but nor is it the truth.” Martine Franck

Recently I read about a politician who was furious with a photographer who took photos of a rally.  The rally was in a gym and not very well attended. The photographer got way back and showed the politician in the huge empty gymnasium with a handful of supporters.  The angle and place he took the photograph made it look far less attended than it was. The same politician praised another photographer who got right in the middle of the attendees and who photograph made the rally appear packed. Neither photographer altered the image in Photoshop, Both photos gave radically different impressions of the same event, both only showed partial truths.

I am a cynic when it comes to looking at photos.  Not because of photoshop and any artful digital manipulation but rather I know you can lie with your camera simply by choice where and how you shoot.  I can take the most slender model and by posing her and angle of shot make her look obese. The opposite is true. There are hundreds of tricks to help someone look more slender long before you edit.

This is one of my favorite photographs.  For one thing, I adore the place. The Taos Drum Company.  They produce some of the best drums and give tours of the process.  They also have a great many handcrafted items. It’s like an interactive museum.   The teepees and wagon sit behind the place and I can spend hours with my camera picking out angels and details.

This shot is most interesting to me.  If I would have widened my view just a bit, you would see the highway and power poles and wires to the left and modern buildings to the right.  If I stood just a bit taller you could see other buildings behind hidden by the teepees. In this very narrow, extremely selective view, it is almost like I found a window in time and the modern world fades away.

This oddball ability of the photographer to choose an angle and stance in doing so alter the perception of reality seem mirrored by human psychology.  During my years of doing social work, I watched clients engage in magical thoughts over and over. “When I win the lottery…”, “Eventually his love for me will make him stop drinking…”  I could give hundreds of examples of how choosing an unrealistic view of any situation crippled the people I worked with and kept them from living full lives. I say that full well knowing I do the same thing.

I read one time and I wish I could find the quote, that the richest place on earth is the cemetery. For buried in it are the unaccomplished brilliant ideas, unwritten bestselling novels, unfinished masterpieces of art.  When my health declined, I got busier in an attempt to get some actually accomplished. In the last few years, I have watched several close healthy friends pass away. That got me even busier. Buddha is reported to have said something along the lines of “the problem is you think you have time.”

Photographs are all untruths and truths mixed together much like my perception about life.  The trick is knowing how much is my choice and then artfully making that choice in both the photograph and in life.

“...photography can lie as convincingly as literature or painting. The angle, the selected content, the assumed context.” Edmundo Desnoes