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The Secret…

One of my favorite poems, and perhaps the shortest of my favorite poems, is “The Secret Sits” by Robert Frost, written in 1942.

The poem is equally applicable to some of the areas that I have touched in my life: science, software engineering, and photography. The poem may be applicable to humankind’s search for knowledge in general. Science has always seemed to me (aside from the never-ending search for grant money and the academic politics, which are the worst) to be successive approximations to the truth, which is never reached, just approached asymptotically. Engineering can be much of the same thing, but more practical, with faster rewards and an eye on efficiency – one difference is that, in engineering, you can build it one way this time and another way next time. Photography can be an attempt, never totally successful, to capture truth in a compelling way through a lens.

Ask an astronomer how difficult it is to learn about things that are really large, or a physicist about things that are subatomic (really small). Movies have been made about such things, and hotly debated (dancing in a ring? :-) ). Ask a photographer who paints with light and electrons…

Some Native Americans, and other peoples, have held the religious belief that photography can steal the soul, capturing the spirit in the photographic medium (silver grains or CCD).

Although I could not do photography if I believed that photography literally steals souls, I do believe that one goal of photography is to capture the spirit of the subject metaphorically. Perhaps the insight of Native Americans and others about an alien technology is to be commended. Truly great photographs can capture the essence of a subject, and that essence can be transmitted to viewers, regardless of the medium used. Good photographers are not invasive – they respect the cultural beliefs and privacy of other humans, and the integrity of the natural ecosystems in which the photographer is merely an observer.

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo

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