I’ve been wrangling the notion of capture of ephemerality as one of the essences of photography, trying to get beyond the obviousness of the observation to the vital idea beneath the cliche, which involves more than just the apprehension of a moment in the river of Time. It’s in the viewer’s mind (or Mind’s Eye, or is it Eye’s Mind?) that the ephemeral attains its significance, a sort of WYGIWYS (What You Get Is What You See).

This morning it occurred to me that the viewer may be transfixed (in the sense of ‘pierced by’ and ‘brought up short’) by an image, caught by a personal punctum, as Barthes names the hook that does the transfixing. Sometimes this transfixion is in fact a transfiction (“an aestheticized imagination of translatorial action”), an obvious product of the viewer’s imagination, an instance of pareidolia or apophenia in which the viewer sees or perhaps constructs meaningful patterns that are notional and may not be seen by others. This happens to me frequently, even incessantly.

Here’s an example, ephemeral because it’s a photograph of rapidly-melting ice:


I read the two circles above the center of the image as eyes, fill in whiskers and a grinning mouth below the eyes, see the curve above the eyes as defining a head and body, note the ribbon floating off to the northeast from the eye on the right, see the whispy, murky, indistinct background, and label the image as ectoplasmic seal with monocle. The seal probably existed for only a few minutes (the eye on the left is a lacuna of meltwater in the ice), and I don’t think I saw it until I was processing the RAW file on the computer. Something surely drew me to the framed scene and provoked the release of the shutter to capture the composition, but I can’t reconstruct it now. All part of the grand mystery of the ephemeral.

There’s a Flickr Album of almost 600 images of ice from the last month or so, many of which have—or may have—resident creatures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *