Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Uncertainty Principle

I was listening to a local NPR interview show with Walter Isaacson about his new book on the life of Albert Einstein. Einstein had problems later in his career with several new physicists' ideas, such as Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Well, I've only had a year of university physics in 1968-69, so that's not something I can really understand, except to say it's about the uncertainty about knowing the position and momentum of something while observing it.

Simply stated, you can know either speed or directin with certainty but not both at the same time. I know it's been applied to a lot of other things with some, or not, success. Well, it got me to thinking about photography and the photographer, and if being a photographer there is an uncertainty factor whenever we do our work. We can observe the events, but the moment we pick up the camera, we can't observe the events because being present as a photographer, we change things. We change ourselves and maybe the events going on.

I realize this isn't quite an exact translation of the uncertainty principle, but while walking around doing photography I noticed I can watch events unfold in front of me, and while I still can't be certain of what will happen, the second I bring the camera to my eye and start seeing the world through the camera, I lose the ability to watch and know what's going on around me. I also begin to effect the events, namely the people, around me because they notice the photographer.

Another side of the uncertainty principle applied to photography is simply we don't know what we think we know. Huh? Well, it's the beauty of photography. We like to think when we start on a photo trip or go to a photo shoot, we generally have some idea of what, where and when we want to photograph. The reality is that we really don't know what will happen. We want to arrive, have things go as planned, and go home to bring back the images we envisionage.

Well, it doesn't happen. That's the uncertainty. We are also part of the unknown, we think we know our position and momentum, but we really don't know that because we're the experiment in life. We're the observer and the object of the observation. That's the reality of being human, and being photograhers, we think we're different. We're not. We're uncertain as anyone, and as they say, just along for the ride.

And hopefully, we can have the camera ready to photograph what we do actually see. As someone was asked when he came back from a photo-hike, "Did you get the best photographs?", to which he responded, "No, but I got the best it offered." Can we say that when we photograph? Until then I live with the uncertainity.

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