I have recently read:
- On Photography by Susan Sontag and
- Ways of Seeing by John Berger
I include a brief summary here with more detail in their separate pages which are linked to the titles above. Although the texts are certainly not easily comprehended by someone new to this I do find some common themes recurring. I am sure that as I read more and become attuned to the vocabulary and concepts they will become easier to understand. How these concepts will be useful in my studies I am not yet sure, but then when I started with arithmetic I had no idea how I would use my ‘sums’ in the future.
Although photographs capture events, the pollutant nature of the enormous numbers of photographs insulates and anaesthetises us from these events. Photographs are however, a means of possessing another.
Since this book was written, in 1977, the ease of capturing an image has resulted in an exponential proliferation of photographs instantly available. How much more is the effect of insulating us from events?
There is no doubt that photographs inform us to an extent not previously possible – one only has to think of recent photographs of the galaxy and those of Mars. These are highly processed data that are transmitted many millions of miles. How different is this really to manipulating images in a computer?
Since writing in the mid 70’s there has been enormous development in digital cameras and the manipulation of images. The ‘beautification’ of images is common and no longer is the maxim, a photograph cannot lie’ true. There is no doubt that when looking at a beautiful photograph of a model that there is a tendency to assume that the model actually looks like this, which is almost certainly incorrect.
Finally, how often do we see images that horrify us. These can be from al sorts of events. However, one has to question how often are these staged? And because of this we hardly react to them.
There is in my mind some evidence that, due to the changes in photography with the advent of digital cameras and digital manipulation, we need to carefully review how we interpret an image and this may well be different to the way of interpretation of 35 years ago.
In his seven essays Berger provides a context in which to read oil paintings. Largely, Oil Paintings are about possessions, whether these are things or indeed women and landscapes. In advertising, they relate to possessions that one desires compared with what one has in traditional oil paintings. Historically, oil paintings were part of the rich but today they are more readily accessible in museums etc.
The arguments made in the text are understandable and make sense. However, I would not arrive at these myself and indeed the pictorial essays are more difficult for me to read as some degree of knowledge is in fact required to make sense of the pictures he has chosen.
So, how does this relate to reading photographs? Not sure how to apply this to photographs. I am sure that many of the photographs of women have the same sort of interpretation – things of beauty to be desired and owned. This interpretation may be limited to that by men. There are however some that deny this interpretation.
With regard to other photographs, I am sure that many are not about possessions although advertising is.
Based on this will I be in a better place to interpret photographs, I am not sure, but I will certainly look at them through different eyes. There is a long way to go to reading photographs or paintings with any degree of accuracy!