Perception may not be reality.
GUEST POST by Josh Kaplan, Photographer
The camera never lies. But it can easily mislead, confound, and warp perception, just like any artist’s tool.
A slight shift in angle, or light, or composition and suddenly something totally mundane becomes slightly mind-bending. I was playing with some new lights recently, and had the genius idea of shooting some pictures of our cats. (Partly because they are visually interesting, but mostly to curry favor with my wife).
I set up a black backdrop, in the hopes the cats would blend somewhat magically into the background. Let’s skip past for a moment the obvious question of what made me think I could get cats to pose for studio-type photos and move on to what I actually captured.
(Above, Pic #1) Here she is, our cat Ducky (don’t ask). She appears to be levitating, or at the very least, seems perched on her right rear leg. It seems an unusual pose, but the more you look at it, the more it makes sense. Because the background is black, and you can’t really see any detail or sense any perspective from the floor – except for Ducky’s somewhat overweight body – your mind has to extrapolate visual data that really isn’t there. It catalogues what it sees, compares it to things it has seen before, and completes the picture for you.
(Above, Pic #2) This is actually the way it was shot. The first image was flipped upside down. In reality, the cat is lying on her back, or more accurately, halfway between her left side and her back. Having trouble seeing it? That’s partly because you have already seen the other image, the upside down one, and your mind has processed that and put the finished picture into your memory. But it’s also a reminder that we are used to seeing things a certain way. A photo of a cat standing is more common than one lying on her back, and since there is no background for reference, “cat standing” fits more easily into our subconscious bias about what the scene should look like.
This shot was a happy accident. I didn’t set out to make a point. But more often, artists challenge our visual assumptions by design. That’s one of the coolest things about art.