While reading the section on logotherapy in Man’s Search for Meaning, written by Viktor E Frankl, my mind made a sudden leap to photography. You are now wondering what a mode of psychoanalysis and a camera have in common, but please bear with me.
Having been an avid, but very amateur, photographer pre-Guillain-Barre Syndrome, when I could still hold a DSLR camera, my interest lay in landscape photography with the intent of capturing the essence of what I saw at specific moments in time.
Dorothea Lange, whose iconic photo of Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out at the world is widely recognized, has been quoted as saying “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera”. Lange was a professional whose focus was on portrait photography and she is probably most well-known for her documentary photography for the Food Security Administration, in the USA, during the Great Depression, that made human the ravages that the Depression wrought on people.
Logotherapy was developed by Frankl in response to his experiences as a prisoner in World War II concentration camps, as a result of which he identified the need of people to find meaning in their situations and lives. (Before the war, he had practised as both a neurologist and a psychiatrist.) This meaning can only be found by each person, it’s not something that someone else can decide for us. If this sounds like existentialism, it’s because existentialism is “a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility” – Google’s definition. Logotherapy is the method of counselling used in the quest for one’s life’s meaning.
And this is where the leap to photography came to mind: a photographer finds an image and strives to bring about meaning in what he/she has seen and experienced into a photograph. This is what separates the images taken by a camera buff from those taken by a happy-snapper. My husband doesn’t totally approve of digital images that have been filtered, enhanced, etc. as he feels that they are partly artificial but he does agree that some are pure works of art.
I only ever “tampered” with an image if it didn’t look the way I’d seen it with my own eyes, i.e. background too dark, colour of a sunset too muted, focal point needed highlighting, image needed cropping to follow the “thirds” rule, etc. It’s this mind’s-eye that sees something magical in the mundane both before and after the shot has been taken and gives one the ability to turn it into something special.
Another quote from Dorothea Lange: “While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see”. How many of us have taken holiday photos that captured what we saw, only to find upon development that there were other interesting points in the image that were only apparent once studied in depth? And we’ve rued missing them because we recognized that they needed more attention.
And this is how it is in our daily lives. We’re sometimes too busy or too distracted to notice that we exist but do not live, that we need meaning in our lives to feel fulfilled, that the mind’s-eye snapshots we take every day as we travel, work, shop, and interact with others only scratch the surface of the richness life has to offer.
In our lives we need to identify the main focal point, decide what surroundings are important, take aim, and refine the outcome. Only then can we be happy and satisfied with the final buffed result.