"Mr. Johnson, are pictures more real than reality if we just forget reality after it happens anyway?"

"What do you think?"

"I think a picture is more real, since it doesn't change."

"What about memory?"

"Your imagination gets in the way of reality."

Imagination. Imaginary.  Root word: Image.


Make believe.  Make belief.  

We are living in a world just beginning to shift from a print to an image culture.  We create imagery.  No, we capture imagery, letting imagination believe it is less important or less real or less true than the snapshot flash of a camera. 

But we also create images; spinning truth and reality to improve the image we try and maintain with the vain hope of masking our mortality.  

Graven images.

I spent an hour retouching a photograph I'll use in my pen pal network.  

It might capture reality, but I feel less real than I did an hour before when I broke bread with my wife and daughter.  (Okay, I had to break the bread into really tiny pieces for her, but it was still breaking bread)  When I share the sense of confusion in sketching out a pencil-based image of myself, my wife reminds me that it is human.

"Tom, we hide.  We stay out in the open.  We hide again.  Social context, language, clothing - these are all a part of the natural desire to create that element of self that we experience so deeply."

"It just seems like we lost something human in the process." 

"No, our technology, our tools, our language, culture . . . those are what make us human.  The need to develop an image is the root of imagination.  It's what makes us who we are.  It's pictographs on cave walls and hierogliphics on pyramids and stained glass on cathedral walls.  The tools might change, but the sense in which we create an image or capture an image and then call it reality . . . that is a part of what makes us human."  

My daughter paints a monster.  It's real, or at least it is real to her.  I retouch a photograph.  My wife quilts a blanket.  True, we might be moving toward an "image culture."  However, let's not kid ourselves.  We have always been image-based.  It's just that the tools change in how we express imagination.  Yet, whether we conjure up a new vision or try and rethink our public memory, it is always an act of imagination.  

Imagination.  Image.  Imago.

"Imago Dei," she reminds me as I slowly slide the air shudder and watch the silhouettes fade into darkness.  Even now, as I embrace her beneath our comforter, I am experience at once the empirical reality of her warmth and conjuring up images of that moment she walked down the aisle. Even when we are laid bare, in our most vulnerable moments, we are still bound by our images.


  1. Hi! I am a student at the University of South Alabama and I am in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class. I thought it was interesting that you pointed out how we have always created images since the beginning of time. Our imaginations have led us to the technology we have today and that shouldn't make us feel less real although sometimes it does. I enjoyed reading your post!

  2. Thanks for the post. I liked it. Keep going I follow you.