Thursday, June 16, 2011

Behind The Lens by Matikas Santos

Every time I look behind the lens, the dirtiest, thinnest, grimiest, most obnoxious stray cat will look like the most beautiful thing on earth. A chair, an empty bottle, a soda can, a plastic cup, a window, a road sign, a flower, a cluttered desk, the sky, stairs and even the reflection on a mirror; any little thing that I take for granted in my daily existence can possess incomparable beauty once I see it from behind the lens.

I never received any formal education about photography, unless you were to count the arts elective that I took up in high school. I don’t know how to develop pictures in the dark room. I don’t know who invented the camera or where it was invented. I didn’t know the purpose of photography. I don’t know anything at all. The only thing that I learned during those art elective classes in high school was how to take pictures and even those were just basic and fundamental techniques. How I stumbled upon the true meaning and purpose of photography, I can only guess.

My first few photographs were “by the book” so to speak. I simply followed the instructions and advices of my teacher. Never put the subject in the exact middle of the frame; always adjust to suit the light; always try to go for a slightly higher or lower angle relative to the subject; and so on and so forth; these were the advices he gave about taking pictures. I followed them whenever I could. But actually that’s all I did. I didn’t experiment with angles or the lighting or the composition, nothing; I just followed instructions and seldom asked questions. Later, after a few years of applying them over and over again, I would realize that these things, these fundamental and basic techniques, are not just the basics of photography, they are the core of photography. What I thought before to be just simple guidelines in taking pictures properly now become the wheels that make photography move. A slight change in the position of the subject within the frame can say isolation or connection, action or stagnation, conformity or anonymity. Low angles looking up at the subject suggest power, divinity, supremacy and even dominance; while high angles looking down can suggest oppression, weakness and misery. Light, brightly or dimly lit, and placed in the proper location, can stir emotions like sadness, fear and anger. All of these combined, enable pictures to touch the human soul in a way that no other thing on earth can. Hence the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

The first camera that I held was not mine. My mother borrowed one from her officemate so I can use it. When she had to return it, she would look for someone else to burrow from. She borrowed and returned cameras, at most, 3 times, before I had a camera that I could hold on to indefinitely; but it was still not mine. It was from an uncle of my cousin that was a geodetic engineer. It was broken due to a long time in storage, but was repaired then passed on to that cousin who was taking up fine arts advertising. He dropped and stopped school for about a year. So I borrowed it from him since he wasn’t using it anymore. Now that I had a camera in my hands for an indefinite time, I felt a sense of freedom to experiment and explore the capabilities of photography. I started taking pictures of things; little things, big things, weird things, out-of-the-ordinary things, normal things but from a different angle/point-of-view, things that are seen everyday but nobody pays any attention to, even things that I didn’t know why I wanted to take a picture of. And then it just came to me, I don’t know when or where or how or why, but it just came; the true meaning of photography was right in front of my eyes.

I noticed that when I would look into the viewfinder to take a picture, it would be the only thing that existed in the world; I can isolate something from everything else. The entire world would be reduced to what is inside the frame, then I could focus on just one object, any object that is inside, and look at it for no other purpose than to search for beauty. It sounded so good, that I had to swear a couple of times just to get off being dumbstruck. This, I said to myself, was the soul of photography.

But what is beauty? Sure photography is isolating and focusing on an object to search for beauty. But what is it? What is beautiful? What exactly am I searching for? I was stumped. Beauty has no exact definition. Everybody has their own idea of what is beautiful. It varies with every culture. There is no one meaning of beauty. But would you believe it that the answer came to me as unexpected as the first?

I saw another thing that is very similar to beauty, that everybody has their own idea of what it is, and has no exact definition; Art. Art is very opinionated. Everybody has their own meaning of what art is. Art is one’s point-of-view, one’s perspective. The same goes for beauty. Hence, what I am looking for in photography is my perspective, my opinion of what is beautiful. So in taking a picture of something that I perceive to be beautiful, I am expressing my opinion of what it means to me. Art is a means of expression as well; it will always go hand-in-hand with photography.

Photography is an art form, no less. Taking a picture is not very much different from painting a scene, writing a play, writing a novel, making a sculpture or even in composing a song. You need a perspective that you want to say. Every picture that I took is my opinion, my perspective; it is what I see behind the lens.

I believe in this meaning/purpose/ideal of photography so much, that I have incorporated it into my life. I now look at life differently. My daily hour-and-a-half commute from home to school is no longer monotonous and boring; because now I keep looking for the tiny everyday things which make good pictures.

Photography does to life what a camera does to an object; it isolates life and allows me to look for beauty within life itself. With photography in my life, I don’t need a camera anymore to look behind the lens.

Creative Commons License
This work by Matikas Santos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Philippines License.

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