“Controlling” Time

Now, and when I was a kid, whenever someone would ask me “if I could have one superpower what would it be?” I would answer the power to stop time.

This thought pops up quite a bit – in college when I’d procrastinated and was pulling an all-nighter and wishing I could hit pause and sleep, and now on “weekends” when I get the “Sunday dreads”  (My work schedule changes so I use these terms to describe days off, which usually fall on weekdays).

Committing to being Financially Independent is committing to the idea that money is a tool that can be used to buy more time, aka freedom. Ironically, the timeline to freedom can be anywhere from a couple years to a couple decades. The high of investing whole paychecks makes two weeks feel like an eternity.

Photography is an obsession with time. Other visual mediums like painting and sculpture reference time in a slower, more natural way. Sculptures are shaped and eventually dry, then erode and chip away. Paint is applied, dries, applied again, dries again, until completed, and the paint starts fading. Photographs fade too, even when printed on special archival paper and kept sealed in darkness. Negatives collect dust and scratches. Digital photos live in file formats and on hard drives that will one day become obsolete and fail. Perhaps the Internet will preserve them forever?

The act of making a picture is all about control. Painting and sculpture also reference this control, but due to their man-made quality the ideas of control and time seem more natural – those works carry a life or essence of their own. Photography is mechanical, technological, numbered. The cameras knobs and dials represent precise adjustments that can be made by the controller, the photographer.

Control over time is however not an achievable thing. Thus it is more accurate to use the word Manipulation to describe the process. Everything, from what the camera is pointed at to when the shutter is clicked to how fast that shutter is set to open is a manipulation on what the photographer sees. Control implies that the photographer can stop time – this is logical since most people look at a photograph as a preserved moment in time.

The murky language doesn’t help. “Take” a picture (vs. the more appropriate term “Make” a picture), aggressive words like shoot, fire (the shutter), aim, snap, point and words that imply intent like compose, frame, and develop. Manipulation allows for the fact that the photographer is at the mercy of time, whether it’s a fading sunset or a figure in action. He can only do his best to record it before it disappears, using the tools and knowledge available to him.

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