Sunday, November 12, 2006

Photoshop guilt and kenosis

It sure is raining. It rains a lot here. I think I’ve accepted that. At least I get to wear my bright blue jacket. (It matches my eyes.) There were rivers flowing down the street by my bus stop. Leaves were getting caught in it and tumbling around in the rapids. It reminded me briefly of the toothpick races of my childhood, but you’d have to run to keep up with toothpicks in that current. There were also rivers flowing into my shoes. I do need some rubber boots. There are no Canadian Tires or Walmarts or Zellers in Vancouver – you have to go to the suburbs to find anything big-boxy, which is a good thing unless you’re in the market for some cheap rubber boots and you don’t want to take a skytrain to find them.

I am lying on my bed with the stomach flu. I’d really like to be at Rock Garden with my roommates. But even being home has been good today. I got to talk to Mom, Dad, Rachel, Daniel, Chris, Jordan and Arwen! I am very popular when I’m sick. Plus I’ve had plenty of time to become a genuine addict of Flickr.

If you haven’t heard of Flickr, no, it’s not a new stomach flu drug, it’s a website where you can post photos and see other people’s photos. Rachel started her own Flickr site, so I thought I’d give it a try, since one of my favorite parts of this blog is posting photos on it. So here’s my site: .

But here’s the addicting part… checking out other people’s pictures. And commenting on them. And then adding them as your favorites. And checking what other people’s favorite pictures are, then discovering whole new photographers with really beautiful stuff. And searching for good photos by people who live near you. And looking at photos rated high on the “interestingness” scale (yes, that’s the word they actually use on the site). The fun never ends. There are so many good photos out there! So many people with great cameras who are adept at using Photoshop. It’s enough to make me want a great camera and Photoshop. And adeptness. I showed Danice some photos I found that use a technique called “light painting” (check my favorites on Flickr if you want to see them), where the photographers left the shutter open for a long time and ran around with an LED light, making streaks across the photo. Before you know it, we’re in the dark in the bathroom with my camera and a lighter. This is me trying to write my name. Not
quite as satisfactory as the professionals…we need practice.

But it’s got me thinking about the ethics of photo editing. I definitely disagree with photojournalists adding things into their photos – but what about regular amateur photographers, like me? I’ve been using Picasa (poor man’s Photoshop) to touch up my pictures, and I suddenly realized that I was feeling slightly guilty every time I changed something. And I also remember feeling guilty for thinking, as we drove through the badlands near Drumheller this summer, “Gee, I could really make those foothills look even better if I took a picture and turned up the contrast a little…” Turning up the contrast on the already amazing view God gave me…

I think the source of my guilt is really my understanding of photography. I had been seeing it as a direct reproduction of the beauty of creation as seen through my eyes, which is why altering it purposely in post-production bugged me. But really, unless you’re standing there with me, I need to put the scene through a camera to show it to you. And as soon as I use a camera, I make artistic choices, and I’m not representing exactly what I experienced. So I’ve definitely come to see photography as being more about creating beauty than straight-up capturing it. Like any art form, it’s a combination of the raw materials in nature and the creative choices you make, both before and after taking the photo – what lens you use, if you go black and white or color, how much you zoom in, what branches you push to the side, what red-eye you fix, what highlights and shadows you bring out, even turning up the contrast. (And the fact that it really is “art” makes me feel good, because I haven’t considered myself a visual artist until now…) Any thoughts on Photoshop guilt, fellow photo-nuts?

This week, I must finish a paper for my Christianity and Science class. It’s funny how many other things I want to do when I have to write a paper… like photography…I’ve also been teaching myself Greek, and how to play the drums, using chopsticks. But my paper isn't about photos or Greek or drums or even chopsticks - it's about miracles. “It will be a miracle if you get it done in time.” (Chris) Ha ha. It will get done.

It’s actually more about the way God works in the world. I’ve been really interested in the ideas of this theologian/theoretical physicist named John Polkinghorne, who has a “kenotic” worldview… he (and a few other theologians – Moltmann, Vanstone) thinks that God has willingly limited his own power and knowledge for the sake of our free will. Not just our free will to choose whether or not to follow God, but our free will to influence the course of history. So instead of God being the director of a scripted cosmic play, standing outside time and watching it unfold, he’s the director of an improvised cosmic play, and doesn’t interfere with where the actors take it. He has an ending planned but hasn’t set in stone exactly how the play will get there – that depends on the actors. Polkinghorne calls it an “intertwining of creaturely and providential causality”. I call it freaky and intriguing. While I’m uncomfortable with the idea of God not being completely omniscient and omnipotent, especially God not knowing exactly what the future holds but somehow working out redemption of creation, I can’t stop thinking about what it would mean. It makes a lot more sense of prayer, and of evil, but it’s a fine line to walk. I’d like to read more. Any thoughts on God's self-limitation, fellow theology-nuts?


Tim "Palantar" Jones said...

I have actually been thinking something along these lines myself recently, though I haven't got it so straight in my head as you've talked about here. It's just kind of a pattern I've seen in the Bible and in my life where it seems like God really takes that whole "people are made in the image of God" seriously, and part of being made in the image of God is that we genuinely get dominion over things. When Jesus came, he established the kingdom of God on earth, and now, all power and authority has been given to Him, and yet He chooses to operate in such subtle ways, gently calling people to himself, working slowly and by means of His servants down below...

christine said...

this is just a side-note...but did you actually get your paper finished?
maybe i will get you rubber boots for christmas. zellers makes great fun boots at discount prices. i will find some with birds on them.
photoshop guilt? i feel guilty just thinking about cameras in general after i lost your family's.
oh well. back to avoiding work.

Anonymous said...


No opinions on the ethics of photo-editing, but the second half of your post made me think of the Hebrew idea of zimzum or Tzimtzum,
which came to me via the writings of Montlamm, in which God is thought to have created space within himself for the creation of the universe, thus limiting himself. I find it a fascinating thought, and quite compatible with the idea of kenosis that is evident in the Incarnation. I think Scripture provides ample witness of God accomodating and working with the flaws and failings of his people, as we wend our way through HIStory. I am quite comfortable with the idea that God is like a good director or artist who incorporates our feeble attempts at following (or lack thereof) into the drama or piece of art that he is creating. Ultimately, it takes an amazing artist to accomplish that well.