Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Dog's View of the Dinner Table

When my daughter was a baby, Rusty, our beloved Golden Retriever, loved to sit next to her at the dinner table. Every time she dropped some food unto the floor, Rusty would snatch it up. At the end of the meal, Rusty would stick her nose into the high chair and clean it up. That was a decade ago, but while at work yesterday, I visualized a re-creation of those moments. Rusty is no longer with us, so I decided that I (and my Nikon D80 camera) would play her part.

Once I was finished with the photo, I posted it online and titled it, the “Dog's View of the Dinner Table.” I called my daughter over to get her thoughts on the photo.

She looked at the color photo and asked, "Dad, why isn't it in black and white?"

I said, “Because I think it looks better in color.”

She said, "But dogs can't see color."

Well, that was a good point…and one that I think has broader photography-related implications. Is the purpose of photography to document reality or is it an art form? Does it matter that dogs can't see color?

The camera captures what is in the viewfinder. From this perspective, a photographer is in essence documenting reality. However, there is a level of artistic control which affects the image, rendering it very like or unlike what is seen in reality. The photographer controls what he wants the viewer to see in the photograph by framing an image to include (or exclude) specific items. A zoom lens compresses perspective and effectively “crops” what one would normally view with two eyes open. The photographer also selects an aperture to control the depth of field, again controlling what the viewer sees. He selects a shutter speed, which controls how motion is displayed in the image. The same applies to the selected film choice (affecting color rendition, contrast, etc.), ISO, and the specific exposure selected.

So, if photography captures reality and is an art form, when is a photograph no longer a photograph…and when does it become just an art form? Are you scratching your head with that question? What I mean is, how much manipulation is “allowed” to a photograph after it’s captured before we need to call the photography police? In today’s world of digital photography and PhotoShop, for example, one can make power lines disappear from a beautiful landscape, replace a frowning child’s face with a smiling one, add clouds to a cloudless day, add textures, convert a photograph into a watercolor painting, etc. I believe all of these manipulations have its place in the art world, but at what point do we lose the essence of the original capture and transcend “photography”...effectively transitioning into another art form?

Okay, I’ll let you ponder that last question. Perhaps a discussion on religion and politics would be less controversial…

I'm not sure if dogs can see color, but if not, here's the physiologically correct photo.

Dog's View of the Dinner Table

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