The Picture that Never Was

Here’s a picture of one of my favorite hikes taken in The Enchantments about ten years ago:

Here’s another picture taken on the same hike, a picture that was never taken, though the hike was definitely taken, and everyone was really there. Of course, I wasn’t in the picture because I was behind the camera, as I often, perhaps too often, am.

Which raises the question, is this picture a fake or is the picture without me a “fake?” Which is the better record of history?

I have two rolls of film from this hike but I’m only in one of the pictures, and it wasn’t this one, though I’m in it now and I belong in it because it’s a more accurate picture than the one that this one replaced, the one where I stood behind the camera and took this picture. Surely anyone who takes a picture is a participant in that picture.

Luckily, in this case Bill took the camera right afterwards and took another picture of me, Dawn and Rich standing together, so it was relatively easy to splice myself into the picture without having to replace shadows, highlights, etc.

Learning to manipulate pictures as I’ve been doing lately has been an interesting experience, one that has raised questions about “history,” photographs, and memories I’ve never really thought too much about before, as well as a few I have thought about.

For instance, despite the fact that I have many fond memories of cars I’ve owned, I didn’t have a single picture of any of them. In the series I ran here I had to go online find a picture of a car like the one that I owned, then manipulate the picture to make the car look like the one I owned, and place it into a picture that I had taken when I owned the car. Some of them were quite convincing, others less so, but all of them captured a certain “truth” although they were all lies, lies of the memory. So, were all those pictures “lies,” mere distortions of reality, or were they more accurate memories of the past than my collection of photographs?

Some of the questions I’m beginning to ask myself are probably more important to an old man sitting in front of his computer looking back at his life than to anyone else, but in a society that increasingly relies on new forms of media it is perhaps a question all of us should be asking ourselves.

4 thoughts on “The Picture that Never Was”

  1. I love the questions; they remind me of mental arguments I make about the truth of my autobiographical fiction and the stories others tell about their lives. I enjoy your thoughts and how they provoke my own. Thanks, too, for your comments.

  2. We tend to think of the past as something indelible that can with careful effort be examined. James Richardson wrote that it’s easier to agree on the future than on the past. I like your comment that all the contrived picture captured a truth and yet were still lies. I suppose even an authentic photograph of a car you owned would in a way be a lie; it’s just a piece of paper, however faithful the image. I remember being in Scotland on Hadrian’s wall, looking out on this breathtaking view of fields and mountains and thinking, my God, how wonderful I’ve got this camera. Every time I look at the pictures I’m reminded that once the scene is gone it’s gone. The sense of something odd in the stillness of the air, the spooky warmth of that late afternoon in early October, the loneliness made somehow more lonely by the few sheep; those things washed over me and were gone. When I sat in my car this afternoon eating a banana, I thought about the chili we had last night.

  3. Your photography is very impressive and always enjoy your writing.

    So, what’s with the medical bills? Had breakfast with Klaras this a.m. who mentioned prostate cancer? Bad times.

    Send me an update.

    We are muddling along. Number two daughter has third baby, a boy, a surprise at age 40. Doing amazingly well. Forty must indeed be the new 20.

    Still doing some traveling, inspite of my rant, “I will never set foot in an airport again.” Drove a loop from Baltimore to Charleston and back. Always enjoy the South although the States have become so homogenized. All of our waiters were from New England. We saw little of the old ways until we were in the hills of North Carolina. Shameful. Drove the Blue Ridge Parkway until the fog brought us to a halt.

    Take care of yourself,


  4. Loren, you’re getting into the Zen of Photoshop a little too deeply there 🙂

    But you’re touching on some valid questions here. They say perception is 9/10 of reality, but what about your second photo, where reality is about 9/10 of perception? At this point, we’re (hopefully) still in the realm of “isn’t this technology neat?”, but with governments so enthusiastically endorsing the “ends justify the means” philosophy, and trying to manipulate the press by hiring reporters, how soon do we have to start worrying about what we’re shown as well as told?

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