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This is a journal I keep to record all things I do within the realm of filmmaking.

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Struggle for Realism, by Jared Caldwell

In Bazin's article “The Ontology of the Photographic Image”, she illustrates the battle between expressionism and realism. Bazin describes the need for photography and how photography came about to “free” the world of painting from realism.

When describing the birth of photography, Bazin states that at this point cinema and photography “are discoveries that satisfy, once and for all in its very essence, our obsession with realism”. This may be true for painters, but the pursuit of realism is still very much mainstream. Different art forms appeal to different senses in the body. Music is experienced through aural means. Painting and photography are experienced through visual means. Other art forms appeal to multiple senses. Sculpting appeals to both the senses of sight and touch; whereas, cinema (with synced sound) appeals to the aural and visual senses. New media, such as video games, now appeal to three senses: the visual, the aural, and the interactive (touch). Though these representations may be experienced through the human senses, the fact that none of these forms appeal to all of the senses in the same way that we live our lives shows that total realism has not yet been achieved.

Bazin describes photography as an automatic process, “without the creative intervention of man”. This isn't the case. The mechanics of the film camera are modeled after the human eye. The eye takes in light and focuses the light automatically on the retina, which is then automatically interpreted by the brain as an image. When attempting to achieve realism through painting, for example, the light reflecting off of the object is projected through the artist's eye, is interpreted by the brain, and then is filtered through the medium (the artist) onto the canvas. The object is transformed through creative means (the human filter) to create the work. When the photographer creates a picture, the process of creating the image is not simply automatic. Unlike the human eye, which is an automatic “mechanism”, there are a number of manual functions on a camera that have to be taken into consideration when creating the image. Adjusting the aperture lets in more or less light. Adjusting the shutter speed exposes the film for more or less time. The distance between the camera, the object, and the lenses creates the need for image focus. Distance, the amount of light, and focus create different depths of field. The fact that a photographer can take two completely different pictures of the same object suggest that photography is not “automatic”, nor is photography the pinnacle of realistic representation. In humans, the image capturing device (the eye) is automatic, and the interpretation of that image leaves room for creativity. In photography, the interpretation of the image is automatic, but the process of creating the image is achieved through manipulating the capturing device (the camera). Photography does have the “creative hand of man” in the creation of images.

Though photography changed the world of realism in painting dramatically, the drive toward realism has only grown with the advent of photography. Various forms of cinema (James Cameron's upcoming new 3D cinema technology), and new forms of media (video games and interactive narrative) are brand new, and are on their way towards a more realistic medium of representation.

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