What We See is What We Are

Ernst Haas once said, “The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” A photo can be great in many ways: the lighting, the subject, the angle… However, a great photo always has limits, that there is only one of them, and it is always subject to the viewpoint of the photographer.

It is not until I saw Exposure#43 that I realized how subjective and limited photography can be. Exposure #43 by Barbara Probst presents viewers two photos of same scale but different content. The first part is black and white. A woman appears striding across the screen. The background is full of landscapes tightly packed against each other. Her hair flows in the wind and her face is blurry. The  composition of clear buildings and blurry figure suggests that our subject is in motion, just like how city life never slows down a second. On the other hand, the second part of the art exhibits a beautiful scenery: deep blue sky, tranquil waters, and boundless valley. At the center of the image, there is a group of people. It is hard to clearly see what they are doing because they are so small in the picture in comparison to the the mountains and pine trees, but one of them is holding a camera so it is assumed that they are taking photo shoots.

With the strong contrast, Probst investigates the potential range of impressions of a single time and place. The two photos are completely different from each other: one is black and white, one is in color; one setting is urban while the other is in nature; one gives viewers a fast-moving mood, and the other creates a peaceful moment that is impossible to interrupt. These two images were taken at the same time to record a single scene, but two or more cameras were used to record from multiple angles. It is very hard to pull these two parts together and think of them as one, and the juxtaposition made me think outside the photo, of not only what is presented in the image but also what is around the camera at that moment.

Observing the artwork by Probst made me think. Now whenever I see a photo, I always try to imagine what else is happening at that instant, what are other possible perspectives, what are the photographer’s intentions, and what are my hidden biases.

Yvette Yu

barbara-probst-3

Barbara Probst, Exposure #43: Barmsee, Bavaria, 08.18.06, 4:02 p.m., 2006
2 parts, 44 x 66 inches each
Image © Barbara Probst, Courtesy Murray Guy, New York

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