Arts

At the Edge of Colour There is More Than Light

The camera deceives. It captures light and gives the illusion of having captured sight. The difference is illuminating. Have a look at this stag horn sumac.

Not only is it a pattern of nerves against the sky, but to the camera it is black, or very. nearly so. I made these images because it wasn’t black at all, but grey. The fruits are a deep red on their stalks.

It’s not an issue of contrast and a poor light metre. It’s that the device is measuring light and a human brain is viewing energies of excitement in organic cells. It’s not actually measuring light, but something else. Here, let me show you the rowan down the road, to illustrate a little of what I meant.  First, the rowan as the camera recorded it:

I promise, that was mechanical foolery. It looked more like this (after a bit of foolery of my own):

I say “more like” because it was not precisely like that at all. Those berries were glowing with redness and intensity, but without the brightness the camera recorded. And it’s not just red. Here’s the colour again in its green phase:

Again, it was glowing intensely, without brightness, as were the red berries below:

I turned on the flash, and the camera splashed its light all over the choke cherries along the old canal:

I got closer…

And thought, heck, that’s no darned good. That’s not it. So I made a comparison again, just for fun. First, with the flash:

And then without:

The red is there, but scarcely picked up by the camera, although it was dominant to my eye. Same with the sumac. Perhaps you can just make out the red below?

Well, daylight helps. Here’s a picture from a couple years ago:

Now, imagine that intensity without luminosity. Just as the camera accentuates the light to make its story, so does the eye accentuate colour as something-other-than-light, to tell is. The haunting thing is that it does so in the full light of day as well. Here’s another old picture. Like the ones above, it is also all wrong. In the light of day, the intensity I noticed at dusk is present as well. The camera only poorly glossed over it, while at the same time bending the image to fit the focal length of its lens. To my eye, it was all in focus, in terms of light, and all in focus at the same time in terms of colour, and they were not the same thing.

Not that I’m complaining. Photography is pretty useful stuff, but it doesn’t portray either the world or the human experience of it, and especially not the actual thing that the human visual sense can measure. After all, the German glass lens is leaving its trace on the above images, just as the biological lenses, nerves and receptors are doing in the view I have. The view I have, however, is not an image. It is a recognition and a presence, a moment of the seeing-being-what-is-seen. What’s more, the same view changes with the seasons. Cameras can only measure that at precise points. This, for example:

Or this (well, imaging the red actually showing up properly):

The difference is dramatic, yet the human eye sees through the distance without wavering. On the edge of sight, we see things that exceed our consciousness. That’s beautiful.

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