Photographs – Gift us with All-Around Alibis

Photographs:  so versatile:  tell story, save memories, make statements, alibis, tell lies.

There is nothing unbiased about photographs:  it’s all about what you want to see.

Photographic images historically continue to adhere to veiled, or unspoken, laws. Think of them as heavyweights.

One of photography’s special functions is to describe particulars:  to give a full account of the peculiar, the circumstantial, the separate.

The photograph narrates, portrays, and recounts eras and events so compellingly. We approach it and we are there, and trying to read and make sense; make up a story of what it’s showing and telling us.  Text on photographs directs us and tells us what to think when we look at them, like the example below.

From the Book, “Borderlines” by N.R. Rigets

Photographs never tell the truth; and digital photographs are big liars.  No doubt, text does supply a greater understanding to images.  Let’s look at another photograph.

Taken outdoors in daytime we see little more than the person’s gender, approximate age, physical characteristics, and a ‘guesstimate’ of social status. But what would your opinion be if I said she is a ‘Leo’, if I told you she had MS, if you knew she would win a million dollars this year.  How would you regard her if I said she had lost both her parents to cancer, raised 3 children, and helped her husband achieve a successful career when he left her for a woman half her age; and she became a bag lady six months after this photograph was taken.

Of course I could make her a wealthy author who shuns her former friends once she achieves fame, and has an affair with one of their sons who is one-third her age.  She could be dishonest, conniving, stingy, icy, and loud.  What feelings do you have about her now.  How does she look different in regard to the first description?

The “text” of the two stories above enrich the photograph in the sense of what we see, because we read a formerly unknown piece of information, and add it to the latent (invisible) information to supply us with greater understanding.

In the words of Andrea Fisher (‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Women’):

“…The 1960’s and 1970’s witnessed a shift in photography theory whereby images became viewed as completely coded artifacts to be read as cultural, psychoanalytic, and ideological signs.  The emphasis is upon what the viewer as reader of the image takes as the principal cues for use as the basis of interpretation.  In reading photographs we may choose to concentrate on the formal qualities of the image; for example its arrangement within the frame, or the dispositions, stances, and gestures of its subjects.”

The open mind and its imagination is one way to view and “read” photographs for a fresh and modern understanding.  A wide array of decisions have been made once a photograph has been taken and what is not included in the image is often as important as what is included.  It’s all up to you to respond with your own unique interpretation and in doing so add your chemistry to the mix.

Copyright © 2010 Nicole Rigets

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