We live in a place where the wind indeed “…comes sweeping down the plain.” It’s a rare day without wind here as we’re usually caught between high pressure to the north and low pressure to the south, giving us a parade of air moving by in gusts and streams. What a challenge for a photographer – an invisible subject. If only there was some proxy for the subject that instantly communicated the presence of the subject without contributing some message of its own. Waving grass, swaying trees, waves on the lake – all of these either are mistaken for blur (bad technique or artistic interpretation) or contribute some story of their own that may have nothing to do with wind. I need something that instantly indicates the wind but doesn’t mean anything else.
Science to the rescue.
What other purpose does this device serve other than to indicate the presence and characteristics of the wind? This blur is essential to the picture, indicative without being confusing. The strong, steady indicator pointing to the source of the subject. The brace holding it all up and in the air to catch the wind’s presence and effect. This is not a metaphor, allegory or simile – it is the wind made tangible to our visual system. I see this and my mind interprets it as “wind” in reflex, before I have time to consider it.
What other invisible subjects do we pursue that have proxies we can use?
Well, light comes to mind. The essential element of photography, the one factor we must always pay attention to and use to the maximum effect in our images. The force never seen but enables sight. A proxy for this is a greater challenge as all subjects get in our way, bringing stories of their own to our minds and blocking our appreciation of the light itself.
The Impressionist painters are lauded for how they captured light in their works but in reality they only portrayed the effect of light, not the light itself. By using color instead of drawing to define their shapes and forms they certainly call our attention to the way light manifests its effect for us but did they capture the light itself? Do we look at their work and instantly think of light? Or of how light can make us feel depending on its character on certain subjects?
The great B&W photographers purge color in order to focus on light, using tones to craft an image of how they see light’s impact shaping a subject. But they aren’t capturing light itself and their proxies still interfere with our perception of the actual light.
As with wind, we see the response to light but not the light itself. Is there a proxy for light that cleanly steps out of the way, leading our brain to reflexively realize light itself?