Inside this issue
The Illusion of Reality
Individualisation and subjectivation
Jan Zwilling is a part time nature photographer and writer and works towards raising awareness for wildlife research and conservation in his day job. Through his photographs and essays he attempts to tell thoughtful stories that connect nature, art and science.
Like hardly any other artistic discipline, photography is confronted with the expectation of being – or being able to be – "true to reality" and thus producing representations of this reality. In nature photography, too, the supposed adherence to reality is often treated as a high value. Heavily manipulated images, on the other hand, are separated from documentary as another genre. In this essay, I intend to reveal the complicated relationship between photography and reality as well as the multitude of illusions and misconceptions that can come across attempting to tie the world of photographs and the real world together.
For centuries, visual artists have used canvas, brush, paint, hammer, and chisel to give lasting form to their perceptions of the world. It is no coincidence that in looking back at these important works, we find that the artist is the focus of our attention rather than the subject, because the process of perception, reflection, processing and expressive realisation is attributable to the artist. Despite their different relationships to reality, for example between painters of the Romantic period, Impressionism or Surrealism, no one would think of viewing the works of art exclusively as images of reality – the accompanying circumstances of subjectification by the artist, through the limitation of artistic technique or social values of the time of creation, play at least as important a role as the "factual" nature of the represented subject. This applies without restriction to works of high culture as well as to profane commissioned art.
With the advance of photography from the middle of the 19th century onwards, this centuries-old tradition of subjectivation through art began to falter. The new technique allowed the creation of supposedly incorruptible, objective images of reality. While the first artistic photographs still attempted to emulate painting by means of technical tricks or elaborately staged backdrops, photography also established itself as a documentary medium around 1900 at the latest.