Marolt: The exchange rate of words and pictures
With inflation, a picture is probably worth more than a thousand words today, but the currency is counterfeit. Have you noticed? With so many people taking pictures with so much technology behind them, you literally can’t believe what you see anymore.
What got me thinking about this is that I watched the bike race roll through town last week — the first lap in-person and the other two on high-definition television. What I saw is indisputable: Snowmass Village looks more beautiful on television than it really is!
It wasn’t a day pretty enough to inspire you to hope it would never end, but it was good enough to make you happy you skipped work for the race. I caught the peloton clicking past Town Park to get the real feel for the event. Then I went home to see how the promoters wanted me to see it.
I tickled the tube with a remote radio wave and the race came to life again, only this time much better. The colors were so vivid. The streets looked so clean. The sky was the color you would choose from a book of sample swatches and the clouds puffed white on top and shone silver below. It looked as if the racers had ridden into heaven during the few minutes it took me to walk home. The visions of Aspen, Owl Creek, Snowmass Village and even Woody Creek made me want to live there — I mean here!
You know what I’m talking about. Everyday we walk past art galleries displaying expensive poster-size photos that are beyond believably beautiful. It’s the Grand Canyon! Wow! I’ve been there, but it never looked like that!
Spectacular photos are everywhere today. How do so many people get so many extraordinary photos of such ordinary stuff? If you play with Instagram on your smart phone, you have a pretty good idea.
You focus the lens on any ordinary thing and hear the artificial shutter click to let you know the image is stored on the hard drive. You look at it. It’s almost exactly as it looked to the naked eye — a work in progress.
It’s time to dig deep into the app. How’s the color? Adjust the tilt, the brightness and the contrast. Tweak the warmth, the saturation and the highlights. Monkey with the shadows, the vignette (whatever that is) and the shift. Sharpen or soften it, square it, and send it.
“Wow!” there is a good chance you will say to yourself when you view the final product. “Remarkable! Wouldn’t it be cool to see something like that in real life?”
It’s not just the artists and amateurs in the game, either. The pros know all the tricks, too. I look at real estate brochures and ask where the featured castles exist. After I’m told the familiar houses’ locations, I usually exclaim incredulously, “That’s that house?” I’m sure when potential buyers take that bait and show up to tour the real thing, the broker’s work is just beginning.
Brochures? Full of photographic tricks. Magazines? Don’t believe everything you peruse. How about authentic photojournalism in respectable news productions? If you’ve ever been to the actual scene of a newsworthy event after you saw it on the front page, you feel there is something missing.
Why do we take these fixed-up photos? Why do we marvel at them? One answer, I think, is because we can. A better answer might be that we must.
Some will say that this obsession with phony photos is part of the process of moving one more box of reality into the attic of our new home in cyberspace, to be forgotten forever. I will give you a less cynical view. What I believe is that we live in the real world that is revealed to us more frequently as being utterly, spectacularly amazing. We learn more about it more quickly and in more detail than ever before because of our electronic worldly connections.
Yesteryear we became aware how inadequately words described what we could capture with the camera. In turn, we have now discovered a plain old picture’s limitations in expressing what we actually experience. The truth is what has driven poets and artists crazy since the beginning of time: that the innate beauty in even ordinary things can never be adequately conveyed from one to another.
Yes, footage of the bike race may have made this place look better than it does in real life, but it can’t touch the incredible experience of being here in the midst of it. They did the best they could. We know what they meant.
Roger Marolt enjoys the era of juiced photos. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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