With My Camera I Can Stare
“Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.” Walker Evans
“Don’t stare!” “Stop staring!” “It’s not polite to stare!” From an early age on, mothers and fathers, girl and boy friends, teachers and spouses scold us when we stare. Society considers staring impolite, improper. This prohibition, however, collides directly with our strong sense of curiosity. We have an itch that we’re not permitted to scratch. We dread the thought of getting caught in the act so we make do with awkward substitutes like quick glimpses or making use of a mirror. We want to see more, look longer.
Photographers learned long ago that they can use the camera to do their staring for them. Literally in a fraction of a second, the camera can capture an image which extracts permanently a moment in time. That image is available for our eyes to feast upon for as long as we care to. We are free to stare.
Because a photograph captures merely one moment in time, within it resides a paradox. At first glance we see reality, questions answered, but a great photograph will cause us to take pause, reconsider. Is what we see reality? Do we really know what we think we know? We discover that perhaps there are more unanswered than answered questions. So, while we are free to stare for as long as we care to, there remain mysteries. It interestingly is the unanswered questions, the mystery that pulls us in. It is what makes a great photograph great.