Photographic Realism, an Attempt | Bernd Stiegler | Montag, 20.02.2012


Perhaps photographs stemming from worlds invisible to the human eye are precisely those that we tend to perceive as real. The realm of the unseen is often the most “real.” It is a sphere that we endow with such trust due to the appearance of its images, that we not only allow ourselves to be guided by such photographs but we also use them to make consequential decisions.Even in the early history of the medium the capacity of photography to “see more” was a significant factor. Photographs offered viewers a richness of detail that escaped the eye in daily routine, and magnifying glasses were used to properly take in all of the details of the image. Later, snapshot photography taught the eye about rapid movements; astrophotography discovered the endless expanse of space; X-ray photography peered into the body; spiritualistic photography claimed to be able to document manifestations of the paranormal; and time exposures made it possible to observe the life of a plant in a series of fast-forward images.

Photography seems to be the most “real” when it literally enables us to see something. We then trust such images, believing in them as a depiction of reality, even if one can often discern nothing more than a few dots, a hazy form, or a wavy line of light on a black background. We believe doctors when they inspect such images, astronomers when they read images of the Hubble Telescope as red giants and white dwarfs, or biochemists when they interpret the thousand-times enlarged images of a cell. We agree to operations, are amazed about black holes, and examine macro-photographs in biology books and exhibitions. Photography plays with us a game of “I see something you don’t see,” and we have no chance of winning. But nevertheless we can program photographs, calculate their appearance, reduce the density of visual data, so that we ultimately only see what is relevant.

Photographic realism is closely linked to the invisible.