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We are all Narcissus (part 1)

How can anyone not be fascinated by the origin of words? Half of misunderstandings and miscommunication would disappear. The other half would be sorted out painlessly, usually round dinner tables or in cafes.

Take photography for instance, and its fast-growing progeny, photos. Thank heavens for digital photography, otherwise the end of the world could come from a deluge of photo prints. 

Dictionaries tell us that 'photography' comes from two Greek words which, taken together, mean "drawing with light'.

It is such a delicate, almost diaphanous combination. Unfortunately, the weightless, imponderable nature of photography is not felt beyond its name.

Once it's taken, a photo becomes the object of continuous scrutiny and if it is a portrait, or just a snapshot, recriminations and self-abuse follow.

"You should have told me you're taking a photo", "I told you I didn’t like my photo taken', "Let me put on some make-up", "I look awful", "I hate myself".

Painters, using oil or charcoal, can stray as far away as they want from the reality test. I am sure some of Picasso's models were quite happy to acquire immortality, despite not being even remotely recognisable.

The camera, on an iPhone or in its full physical splendour, is just a brush. Positioning it in a more favourable angle for the sitter does not alter its character.  On the one hand here is a man-made object,  too recent to be anything else than a primitive tool, on the other hand there is light, as unfathomable today as it was in ancient times.

Drawing with light the contours of a face or a body can only be a compromise between the tool and the material.  That's why photo-altering tools have been invented, to make the compromise less apparent and satisfy at the same time our general propensity for the ideal form.



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