about making images

Stan Schaap

Can a photographer make truthful images of reality, or is that nothing but a beautiful myth? When photography was invented almost two centuries ago, our concept of reality was rather simple and roughly equivalent to the world we see. All of it seemed more or less accessible to human beings, even if it might have taken some adventurous traveling. Space and time were absolute certainties.

Today our sense of realism has ditched the mechanical universe of Sir Isaac Newton, and scientists seem to agree that most of what is going on in physical reality (like 96%) either consists of totally unknown dark matter and dark energy or is to be conceived as a vast sea of information we cannot see. Either way, only a very tiny fraction of the whole universe can be detected directly and is visible to eye and camera. Moreover, the appearances in our human perception don’t reveal anything from other levels of existence, like the whole spectrum of electromagnetic waves extending far beyond the narrow band of visible light, or the constant shower of neutrino particles traveling freely even through solid rock. This pitiful little range of visibility is reduced even further when photographers necessarily make different choices about what to include and what to exclude at the time of exposure, based on what they want to visualize. When so many aspects of reality remain totally unseen or, at best, ignored, how could a photographer’s vision still be realistic and true?

And yet, I think our vision can still be truthful, but nowadays it naturally relies far more on the mind’s eye than on visual perception. Since Einstein’s discoveries the concept of reality has quickly evolved from an overseeable world of physical experience to a vast and rapidly expanding universe of thought and imagination, not only in science but also in art and in our culture as a whole. That’s why I think it’s still possible to make images that represent something genuine but it will be something only seen in the mind, like an idea or a vision of a plausible world. That would be a truthful record of an inner reality, even when it shows some resemblance to our illusory world of visual appearances.

Images are the product of imagination and derive their value from what is being imagined. An old photograph in the attic has no meaning or value until someone finds it and recognizes a representation of an idea or familiar form in it. Only then does it become an image. Suppose there’s a world where billions of automatic cameras are constantly making exposures without a mind being involved, then no matter how many unseen recordings are being made never any image would come to life (my definition of a lonely planet).

Creation comes into being only by sharing. To create is to expand life. What lives in my heart inevitably seeks to touch another heart. Without a receptive reader, viewer or listener creation is not happening. Sharing makes creation real, otherwise it never goes beyond wistful intent.

Being retired now, I still feel like a child on a voyage of discovery. The novelty I want to discover most is the vision that seeks expression through me. I want to know fully what I really am, and photography has become my favorite language for letting the unconscious speak. Everything we make or do inevitably reflects the stream of consciousness we represent. We only have to become aware of it.

I happen to live close to a natural park in the dunes, where I love to roam and can open myself easily to every inspiration my mental eye could possibly need. Physically I don’t have to travel far anymore for an image to find me, and mentally I work hard not to interfere with the process, trying to be a useful vehicle for whatever wants to be expressed.

This web site is a medium for sharing my visual discoveries with you. Feel free to enjoy.

Stan Schaap

Castricum, The Netherlands