Great minds have pointed out the way that structure, order, and creative forces compete with the opposite — entropy, the break up of environment and its components, and the dissolving of shape and definition into a sameness of ever smaller parts. Thinking about what happens when your eye is attracted to a subject or event and then you frame a picture, there seems to be a countervailing defense against this entropy; a neg-entropy.
On the one hand a camera brings to bear the harmony between seeing a subject (the visual sensory experience) and knowing that subject (intellectual comprehension; acknowledgement and understanding its setting and significance). To see is to know. The unknown becomes known to a certain extent by shining light on it, focusing and framing it, then capturing on film, glass plate, or digital sensor.
But on the other hand a camera’s optical physics also creates order from disorder, pattern from randomness, focus from haziness, certainty from ignorance. To take a picture is to freeze the day’s flow of events and meanings, if only for a fraction of a second. At least in that moment everything within the frame and in focus can be accounted for, measured, related to each of the elements, and so on. In other words, when you engage with your daily experience and the wider world with the help of a camera’s lens, then the feeling of control, order, and certainty comes with it.
A camera can be a therapeutic device to impose meaning on circumstances that sometimes seem to lack meaning, pattern, structure, relationships, or focus. The work of Tony Vaccaro during his 272 days of WWII combat on the march from Normandy to Berlin with a trusty 35mm rangefinder is a prominent example of mediating the fluid, confusing days of mortal danger. The 2016 HBO documentary, Underfire, presents some of Vaccaro’s humanity at the time, during the several years of healing from that experience, and in the decades of hindsight that followed.