sheldon bachus
imagery from the edge

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These images were made over the last two decades of an at times tenuous journey toward becoming a competent photographer.

From the outset, a lifetime of fly fishing and hiking has led to the realization that pointing the camera's lens at the edges of the natural world will most likely result in images with the most interesting and artistically compelling subjects -- maybe a buck hiding at the periphery of a mountain meadow, or the dappled rises of trout feeding along a lake's shoreline, its reflective waters flattened by the soft calmness of the evening.

To become competent photographers we should look to our ancestral roots, and as our Native American cousins did for so many millennia before us, we must learn to stalk the subject of our craft.

As photographers we stalk and look to the boundaries, to the edges, of our empirical domains, for that is where the objects of our craft and the focal point of our images most often reside. In short, the edges we seek provide a cognitive structure for understanding the meaning immanent in the images we take from the objective world around us.

The notion of taking an image from the objective world remains fundamental to the epistemological foundations of photography, be it an art, science, or both. The act of making an image is a replicative one because tripping the camera's shutter transfers the empirical, structural attributes of an independent objective reality to the artificial, subjective media of what was once film and is now largely digital information. As photographers we take a little bit of objective reality and steal it with our constant accomplice, light.

Etymologically, the English word photography was derived during the mid-19th century from two Greek roots, respectively, φωτός meaning light and γραφή, meaning drawing, which in combined form mean literally drawing with light. For the ancient Greeks, just as for photographers and astronomers today, objectvive reality cannot exist if there is no light. In Books VII and VIII of the Republic, Plato presents this in the classic existential transformation proposed by the allegory of the cave. Only after the prisoners move from the ideational shadows of the cave's firelight can they perceive the pure truth of the sun's full light.

Whether viewed by Plato or a modern photographer, post-Newtonian physics tells us that the white light cast by the full noonday sun includes all the colors observable by the human eye. When these colors are captured by a digital camera, they are stored as individual pixels, each assigned a color value based on the color attribute of the light reflected through the camera lens from the object being photographed. Digital cameras are currently designed so that each pixel is assigned a numeric code ranging from zero (black, although technically not a color) to 16,777,216 (white, or all colors). Digitally, this code is constructed as a six digit hexadecimal character string, each digit of which can assume one of sixteen possible values ranging from "0" to "9" followed by "A" through "F". Thus, using this coding scheme, inside a digital camera a black pixel would have a value of "000000" and white pixel would of course be represented as "FFFFFF". As a further example, the hexadecimal code for red is "FF0000", green is "008000", and blue is "0000FF".

As photographers, when we are working the field, an understanding of these codes is irrelevant when we take digital photographs -- mercifully our camera assumes full responsiblity for assuring what hexadecimal color code is assigned to each pixel when we depress the shutter button. But, when it come to issues of photographic structure, we should at the minimum be aware that we are dealing with a system of organizing light whose parametric bounds are respectively black (000000) and white (FFFFFF), and that these parameters simply represent either the total absence or full presence of color.

We are dealing here with the physics of light, and to understand how those physics determine photographic structure, we must again turn to modern physics. The second law of thermodynamics provides us with an operational definition of entropy such that in a closed system total entropy can never decrease. Beyond thermodynamic systems, which are essentially systems of energy, systems theorists have taken the concept of entropy to mean the complete absence of systemic structure.

In this sense, if we view a photograph as a system of organized light, then that system is subject to two possible states of total entropy: 1) the state when all the pixels of the photograph have no color value (000000), i.e., complete under-exposure, or 2) the state when the pixels are absolutely white (FFFFFF), i.e., complete over-exposure. The first and fundamental responsibility of a photographer, then, is to reduce the polar entropies of light by organizing into a comprehensible photographic structure.