The Eye Vs. the Camera

The camera is often compared to the human eye. The most obvious similarity between the two is the lens, which gathers light, and focuses an image onto the eye’s retina, or in the case of the camera, onto film, or a digital sensor. So while there are some obvious parallels between the eye and the camera, does the camera serve the eye, or is it the other way around? 

The camera, with it's unique ability to capture and preserve indelible images is actually more an extension of our mind, enabling us to see things otherwise unobservable. The images created by a camera are rich in detail that can be endlessly examined and recalled, and in effect complement and inform the visual memories captured by the eye and stored in our mind. Without cameras and the photographic images they create we would be bereft of a vast understanding of the world around us, our personal histories, and that or our friends, family, and fellow human beings. If you consider that this visual understanding would be impossible without cameras, a large extent of our visual awareness has become dependent on a device. We may cringe at the thought of robotic implants, but cameras, and especially now as iPhones, are as close as this could be without being surgically attached. 

We are so enamored to this device that we forget how useless it is without the eye to guide it or contemplate its gifts. Inevitably we forget that seeing, and photographing, while analogous, are distinct. We might miss the experience of seeing if we are manically habituated to photographing everything around us. We trade the experience of living in the moment for the deferred experience of looking at photographs of the moment. Photographers are driven to experiencing life behind a camera. The imperative of capturing the moment becomes the moment. To live that moment without photographing it becomes a lost opportunity. In an effort to capture an experience we actually miss it. The ephemeral nature of reality, with all of it’s synonymous components is at once too evanescent for us to grasp, too ordinary in it’s natural light for us to appreciate. The camera can be a key to a visual experience that is almost limitless, a translation of what the eye sees into a world created and intuited by the mind. The question becomes do we live more fully by seeing with the eye or with the camera. It’s a cliche that your photographs will only be as good as the extent to which you immerse yourself into the life of what you are photographing. The effort to document an immersive experience by producing a selfie may be the ultimate irony. You can’t actually share the experience of being somewhere, but you can miss the experience by doing so.

Finally, a note on why a picture from the Eiffel tower will never look the same as what you saw while you were there.  Our eyes allow us to see the world through two stereoscopic, normal focal length lenses that give us a panoramic, near 360 degree view of the world without a frame. This is an immersive experience unparalleled by any camera. To obstruct this view by raising your iPhone to your face is like swimming under water with a mask; you’re attempting to view the immensity of what is in front of you by peering through a tiny box.


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