“Perception is reality,” as the saying goes. I first heard that many years ago in a business environment. The context may be different now, but it’s still something that I ponder frequently.
We assume that the world ‘out there’ is exactly as we perceive it to be, solid and stable, but that is not generally the case. (Just ask Neo, from The Matrix.) Instead, our perceived ‘reality’ has to do with our own internal position, our perspective. There’s a good, digestible article on this from Scientific American Mind, Looks Can Deceive.
Photography can give us an excellent opportunity to challenge our notions about the world around us. While many people think that photography should only capture the world as-it-is, taking an image also presents an excellent opportunity to play around with our most basic assumptions. Some people might look at this image and say things like, “That’s just too weird.” Or, “That’s wrong.”
Kids do this all the time. As a child, did you ever hang upside down on the monkey bars? (Are those death-trap monkey bars even still legal?) Did you ever lie on your back in bed and hang your head over the side? Perhaps it’s because the child hasn’t spent decades conditioning their thought processes to match what they perceive with their senses. At any moment children can pretend that they’re a pirate, a Jedi knight, a princess, or anything else that the mind can conjure up, and to their unconditioned minds it seems completely real.
We seem to lose that ability, that playfulness, as we get older.
As I was flipping through the images taken on our recent autumn trip, I ran across this set from Flagstaff Lake, one of my favorite places. I ran it through the usual steps, and when I saw the result, I thought, “Meh. Same as many others I’ve taken there.”
Then, in a fit of playfulness one night, I flipped the image. Bam! Perhaps it was my state of mind at the time, but it completely messed with my well-conditioned perspective of the place I think I know so well. Suddenly the image took on a new dimension and meaning, and I couldn’t neglect to publish it, even though it bears substantial similarity to other images.
Interestingly, I did the same thing on an image of an egret, in Masnavi. I sent that image off to the print lab for a client, and when the print came in, someone at the lab had flipped the image into what they thought was the ‘correct’ orientation! For my purposes, of course, this was a complete “mistake” and I received a re-print from the lab, with the “correct”… no, wait… “incorrect” orientation.
Hell, now I’m confused.
That’s the point.
We’re free to challenge our most basic assumptions. We’re free to play around with the reality that’s presented to us. We can change things by simply altering our perspective a bit.
Why don’t we do that more often?