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« man & nature # 26 ~ the 5 minute wait | Main | ku # 531 ~ it's hip to be square »

man & nature # 25 ~ time in a bottle

Rain drops on spider web on clogsclick to embiggenA notion that we have rarely discussed regarding the medium is that of time - stopping / freezing time, the past, the present, moment in time, etc.

In the recent Focus magazine interview with Joel Meyerowitz, he stated:

It's what photography can actually do best, to describe a moment in "the present", whatever that present is. It's the "eternal present". We sit here in 2008 and we pick up something from 1860 and we look at it from 2008 and it's in our lives. It fills us with wonder ... suddenly you're there and you forget where you are.

That is certainly one way of looking at it (time) but I also recently came across this quote from William Faulkner:

Time is dead as long as it being clocked by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.

I do not know the context of that little gem but I do very much like it as an idea when applied to the medium of photography. We (photograhers) do interrupt the spinning of the wheels of time. We stop the clock. We freeze a moment and make it come to life, grant it significance, and give it meaning in a manner that it never could quite have in the flow of time.

Do you ever think about "time" and how it applies to your photography?

Reader Comments (10)

Oh, absolutely. What generally draws me to make a photograph is how the passage of time has defined the subject or scene.


August 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Armstrong

Another masterpiece.

Do I care about time? Not really. For me, the moment that I take an image is always only the start. It's not that I "develop" my images in Photoshop, in the sense that I only bring out what was already there. Much of what the final image is, is the result of a creative exploration process in Photoshop. This encompasses color, tone, line and does not shy off of major surgery.

It is a similar experience as composing in the viewfinder. Thus for me the moment of capture is not much more special than the time of processing. Some of the images that I like most, are already separated from their original subject by means of process alone. The sentimental object becomes a separate world with a time of its own.

August 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAndreas Manessinger

I certainly do. However, beyond the "one time" aspect of a photograph, I also like to revisit a scene or location and take photographs again. The change of the location and my own personal psyche between clicks of the shutter is as interesting to me as the images themselves - especially over repeat visits, or with a new lens/camera to see how that affects my image. Almost like a dossier, perhaps.

Plus, I organize all my photos by their date - so TIME becomes the central frame in my head for my photos. Not location, or subject, but "WHEN" the photo was taken. I guess that's just how I think.

August 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Kuchta

Capturing time, or capturing that which is timeless? Just a thought I had.

In any case, I've always thought of my camera as a "time machine". Except that it can only take me back - never foward.

August 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSean

Quote, I'm guessing, is from The Sound and the Fury. One character is obsessed with time.

August 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDennis Allshouse

All of us, I think, are aware of time when we photograph, even if it's at a subconscious level. We all make images of 3-dimensional space, do we not? Since space and time are essentially the same thing, we are in a sense photographing "time" every time we press the shutter. Of course, the very instant we record that image on film or sensor, we're looking at the past. We have an image of something that will never look exactly the same way ever again. It's already changing. Every instant of time is unique in some way and can never be exactly duplicated.

In my mind, then, we don't photograph objects or even light. We photograph transient manifestations of them in very tiny slices of time. If we really could make time stand still, there would be no need for cameras, would there?

August 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Maxim

Paul, could you explain how you see space and time as essentially the same? Though there are clearly relationships (LA is about a thousand miles or twnety hours from here, assuming I'm traveling by car), I think of them as fundamentally different.

August 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Durbin

I gave up caring about time when I retired 6 years ago.

August 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDon

I think the Faulkner quote has a slight typo. It should read:

time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels;

It is from the second section (June Second, 1910) of The Sound and the Fury. The narrator of this section, Quentin Compson, is in a jeweler's shop to get his watch fixed, which he smashed earlier. The quote is something he attributes to his father; Quentin doesn't seem capable of thinking about time in such a concrete way. Faulkner shows him as someone who is obsessed by all sorts of abstractions--things that are intangible and can't be nailed down, like honor (especially family honor) and time. I think this section has a lot to say to artists, especially those who spend too much time thinking and not enough time creating. Eventually you must accept that you cannot wrap your mind completely around these concepts and must move on with incomplete understanding. To do otherwise is paralyzing. Quentin is incapable of getting past the abstractions and he eventually kills himself. Time is everywhere in the book; you could say the the whole novel is about how difficult time is to think about and objectify and each main character has a different relationship with time. The first chapter, for instance, is about Benjy, who has no real concept of time--everything for him is about the present. I think you are right that the novel would be interesting to read from a photographers point of view.

August 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMark M


I probably could have worded that better. What I should have said is that time and space are two parts of the same equation, much like energy and matter. That is, you can "trade them" and still have a working model.

This all comes from General Relativity, of course, and alters the Newtonian view of time and space that you allude to in your comment (that they are "fundamentally different"). I don't claim to understand much of that except in a very general sense. The so-called time - space continuum is a model that requires all 4 dimensions to locate an event. Einstein also demonstrated that the continuum is curved (nonlinear) which helps to explain the idea of gravity. Really interesting stuff.

My point with respect to photography, though, is much simpler. Any "event" that we capture is also defined by 4 dimensions - the 3 dimensions of space and the dimension of time. So in my mind, we're all very much aware of time when we photograph, whether it's consciously or not. I would also suggest that time is the most important element in photography. The "critical moment", I think, is of far more importance than whatever space happens to be in front of the lens.

August 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Maxim

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