A photograph is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional world squashed within its four edges. It can also be a single moment trying to represent a four dimensional world.

There was time before the shutter fired and there will be time afterwards. In an earlier post I looked at the difference between instantaneous time and long time in photographs. In this post I would like to explore this idea a little bit further by sharing a few of my photographs which represent time in different ways.

You can leave the shutter open and let time pass in front of the camera.

Time blurs

Time blurs and you can end up with some surprising and slightly spooky images as in this photograph taken outside York Minster. The young man was fixated on his phone and stood stock still but other people milled around him in the time the shutter was open and in the final result have turned into apparitions. Rather appropriately this photograph was taken at Halloween! The camera was stood still for the photograph (on a bin as I didn’t have a tripod!) and the world and time moved around it.

Or you can use a very fast shutter speed and stop time in its tracks

Time stops

The water dropping from this tap is frozen forever in a single instance, such as these drops suspended from a dripping tap. Our own eyes would be unlikely to catch this moment, but a camera and a flash gun can capture it and hold it for us to observe at our leisure.

Time itself could be the subject of the photograph

Old time

Your choice of subject matter can help create a sense of time. Perhaps it is something very old such as this ancient yew tree, allegedly 2000 years old.

Weathered time

Or something that shows the decay of time as in the rust on this old railway carriage. 

Or perhaps your subject matter has deep historical resonance and a strong link with the past.

Time resonates

This photograph shows the jetty at Cobh in County Cork where the last few passengers for the Titanic set off to join the vessel on its ill-fated trip.  In another example I recently shared some photographs and wrote about the sense of another place where momentous events happened (again of a maritime nature). This was the launch ramp of the Great Eastern steam.

In both cases when standing at such places photographing them I have a sense of the events that took place there resonating down through the years.

Take time to record time.

There are other ways that time can be recorded by photography. It’s just that you may have to go the long way round to do it.           

One method is to revisit a subject over time, record it as it changes, perhaps with the seasons. You could either set your camera in one place on each occasion to record exactly the same scene or you could move around to get a broader picture of space as well as time. In a rather informal way I did this when I took a series of photographs from September to May in a small park near where I live. You can view some of the photographs here.

In that case the images were a series of photograph but it is possible with software such as Adobe Photoshop to layer multiple images taken over a period of time into one photograph. To see some more extreme examples take a look at this Ted Talk by a photographer who spends his time doing just that.          

Capturing our own memories.

Great times

And finally there are other more subtle ways to show time. This is likely to be incidental but can also be very personal. After all, photographs are memories. Looking at an old photograph of an incident in your own life can highlight the sense of time having passed.

Here are two which mean very much to me. The first shows a table laid for dinner taken on a holiday with some very special friends a few years ago – it reminds me of that particular warm evening as the sun was setting and we were just beginning to gather to eat.

Personal time

The second photograph is layered with memories – it is a copy of the Oxford Book of English Verse and it was bought by my father in Lucknow, India (as the stamp on the fly leaf shows) whilst he was serving there during the second world war. He had brought it home and kept it all his life so the book itself had become a memory for him of his war service and his experiences in India. For me, the photograph represents the memory of my father.  

So time can be captured within the camera, leaving the shutter open and letting time run by, or using a very fast shutter speed to stop time in its tracks. Or it can be recorded in a series of photographs of a place, object or person over time. Or it could be captured by the subjects we choose to photograph of places and objects imbued with great significance in the past that still ring through the ages. Or, on a more personal level by the memories that photographs can hold have of own lives.

What other ways can you capture time in photographs? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.

Published by Stephen Taylor

Freelance e-learning developer and instructional designer, photographer and cyclist

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