Jamel Van Des Pas – Between External and Internal: To Shoot Like A Boy With A Gun

It was my first night in Manila and I had been awake for nearly 60 hours. Friend, colleague and host-for-a-month Brian Sergio had picked me up from the airport. Even though I had already had too much free beer in the airplane, I was happy to agree with his suggestion to grab some beers.  Somehow not feeling bothered by the effects of sleep deprivation and alcohol I was even motivated to go out and take pictures. One of the very first pictures I took that first night in Manila is a picture of a boy aiming his gun.
It would have been quite silly to ask the young boy about the mental process prior to choosing who or what to aim his gun at. The so-called shooting was a playful act that did not involve any rational motives, apart from the activity itself bringing joy to the kid. His choice of target changed almost as quickly as his instincts allowed him to; the gun is fake and thus the choice of target is completely up to the one aiming the gun. There are no consequences after all. In the same manner the choice of target also becomes negligible, everything is based on the little notion of aiming and pulling the trigger intuitively for the sake of joy.
During the following couple of weeks I would shoot Manila the same way this little boy was shooting Manila during my encounter with him.
Looking at the general interpretation of what photography is, I would be quite a fool to make this comparison. After all, the tool I am using does actually shoot. There even is a consequence when using a camera: a photograph is made. When firing an actual gun, the choice of target carries importance due to the action having consequences. When firing a camera, most photographers aim to document something for a clear purpose. Whether it’s to show other people what happened, to privately look back at what they captured, to create something artistically or to express a certain message, the choice of target again carries an importance.
That is the point where I must state that the act of photography is something I experience differently. When I take pictures I don’t shoot to record. For me taking a photograph is the result of an instinctive urge to shoot. As this happens with every photograph I take, the choice of target again becomes like that of the boy with the gun: negligible.
Due to this absence of intent behind the pictures I take, I can preserve the objectivity in capturing what is in front of the camera. The pictures have no message, they are a mere representation of what happened the moment I clicked the shutter.
Although it may seem as if I’m trying to imply it, the beauty of photography is not that we can use a device that (with the right approach) can duplicate reality in its most objective form.
We experience reality in two different forms; an external one that exists as ‘the world’ around us and an internal one that exists as our interpretation of the external one. The external reality consists of what things are whereas the internal one consists of how things appear to us. When the camera is operated by a person who calls himself a photographer, people usually assume the way it´s used depends fully on the second form of reality: to capture how the operator interprets things. For official purposes photographs are often used in a context in which they are expected to fully depend on the first form of reality; images that are taken to be used as evidence for something, images that capture historical events or images that show the identity of a person.
By copying and preserving the external reality objectively and pushing the visual limits of this copy in a subjective manner, the image starts to drift in a realm between these two forms of experiencing reality.
To further explain what the visual limits of such a copy are one must keep in mind the basic aspects of what a photograph is. Whether it is captured on film or digitally, there is a light sensitive surface capturing the reflections of light on the world around us (much like our eyes). This sensitivity creates a distinct difference between a photograph and reality the moment it is captured, as grain is now present in the image. The presence of grain gives us the first tool we can use to subjectively distort the photograph. By choice of film or by choice of settings, a photograph captures the world either in the form of light, shadow and colour or purely as light and shadow. Choosing to capture the world in black and white would be the second form of distortion. This leaves us with light and shadow to work with, enabling us to push both as a final form of distortion.
What remains is a picture that is neither a representation of what the world looks like, nor an interpretation of it. The picture exists in between both perceptions of reality, yet challenges the notion that it should be dependent on one of the two.
This result becomes quite apparent when people refer to photographs as ‘feeling incredibly real’ and stating that they are drawn to images because of it. Keeping the aesthetic side of the image in mind this would almost sound illogical, but the key is in the word ‘feel’. The viewer indeed feels. Though the viewer in fact feels that the image is indeed an objective copy of reality, the viewer is subconsciously fascinated by the phenomenon of having this realness maintained through such high levels of distortion. This distortion shows that the images, although not shot with an intention apart from copying the world, are in fact still subject to the influence of a person. The reality the photographs consist of is not gone due to the distortion but amplified by it, as the distortion didn’t take place before or when the picture was shot but was in fact implemented afterwards, in a way that it places the picture between the external and internal.
For me that is the point where you can state the photographs are the work of a ‘human camera’. An apparatus of flesh and blood that has its shutter pressed by its own intuition and loses all control of what is captured, yet takes it back when given the responsibility to process it.
This is something that can only be achieved through the act of photography.
As a result, the photographs don’t serve as a document showing the reality in Manila or my interpretation of it.
They are the dust after the collision between the two.”

About author: https://www.jamelvandepas.com/