Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph Blog Change is Hard – Dr. Ellen's Blog

Change is Hard

Posted on February 5, 2012 By

QUESTION: OK – so I don’t want to change a background in a photo. I don’t believe in that for me; it’s not my style. If you guys want to do it, fine, do it. But where does that leave me?


Change is hard. It seems to me, though, that it is harder for photographers than it should be, or need be.

The fact is, photographers are engaged in the creative arts where change and experimentation are necessary companions. Creativity requires us to explore uncharted waters, both inside ourselves and outside of ourselves. And the failure to do so stifles our creativity.

Still images constantly deal change, for they represent a frozen moment in time that is never going to be repeated, ever again. It documents 1/125th of a second that once existed and it continues to represent that even after the scene itself is long gone. These are relics, if you will: relics that tell us that, yes, we were there! It was real. I am real.

In contrast, an oil painting reflects more an era, not so much a moment in time like a photograph does.

When you study images taken over time, and across generations, change is explicit in them. A changed mood, a changed body, a changed landscape, a changed society, even changed photographer techniques and tools. These things serve as important mileposts for us and they tell us things about ourselves, about where we have come from, even about where we are heading both collectively and individually.

Even the cells in our bodies have finite life spans. They die off and are replaced with brand new cells all the time. While some cells have a very limited life span of only days to several weeks, brain cells typically last for the entire life of the organism! Despite such change and replenishment, it seems almost paradoxical that the human form can retain its familiar shape and face and even emotional presence in the aftermath of such a dramatically changing biology.

So to get fixed on NOT CHANGING is somewhat ridiculous, isn’t it? Change is a constant in our lives.

The Photographer’s Eye

What is captured on film [or digital media] is always filtered by what the photographer was feeling and seeing at the moment they clicked the shutter button.

When the photographer later explores that image, he or she sometimes sees things that conflict with the vision they had at the time a photograph was taken, causing them to sometimes remove an artifact in processing or in some other way change the scene. This is not a contradiction. It is the photographer’s creative effort to seek a kind of synergy between what he or she saw and what the outcome reflects.

Even in documentary or news photography, what the photographer sees is a mere fragment of the scene at hand.

A photographer on location makes instant decisions to focus on this or on that, or to enhance this or that subject by the lens in use at the time. When they want to represent distance and wholeness they reach for a wide-angle lens. When they want to portray a sense of urgency they seek to capture motion as it was happening. When their goal is to capture intimacy they reach for yet another kind of lens to best manage that task.

The techniques and tools of photography can even help make the scene more explicit or more dramatic than it actually was.

In a war zone, for example, a photographer has many options to choose from. He could show a Marine lending a helping hand to a small child; he could show the pain or agony in the enemy’s face; or even the utter destruction from a bomb or the flowers that still wave in the wind despite the utter chaos all around.

These are choices that a photographer makes. Therefore they do not necessarily reflect an accurate scene. They represent, instead, the photographer’s unique inclination at the moment he clicked the shutter button.

Does that make sense?

If I were in a war zone as a psychologist-turned-photographer I would strive to capture the human side, not the technical aspects of the scene around me. The engineer-turned-photographer would strive to capture scenes from a far more mechanical or mechanistic vantage point, just as a physician-turned-photographer would look for images unique to his medical world view.

And you would do something different still.

That is the way it is with photography. It offers a unique opportunity for each of us to communicate and personally interact with the world around us in a way that best reflects who we are as a person.

*Photo of the Vietnam Memorial by Dr. Ellen

A view of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC – the above image was made with a 16mm fisheye lens to portray the wall of names as if it were the earth which is home to all of us, regardless of our place of origin.

It is our artistry that allows us to move our images from real to surreal, from actual to fanciful, from stark to gentle; even from natural to the mechanical. If the artist manipulates a a scene to accomplish this, then so be it. It is a creative option, just like an oil painter’s brush stroke offers a creative option for them.

What seems to be missing from photography today, especially when you look at all the equipment-driven magazines and eZines out there, is a sense of the person behind the lens. The person using the photographic equipment is what photography is really all about, not the equipment itself.

Like a painter’s collection of brushes, our imaging tools offer solutions and options that allow us to express our unique vision of the world around us.

We should all sleep better at night knowing that.