A Picture Needs One Thousand Words

Images are everywhere around us. Magazines, newspapers, books, in our houses, on out televisions, and many more places. When we see an image, we see much more than what is actually presented in front of us. The an image is presented has a huge affect on the way we we end up understanding it. Sturken and Cartwright discuss this and many other components of photography in the first chapter of their book, titled Images, Power, & Politics.

While images are extremely expressive by themselves, adding words to them can magnify the feeling the evoke. One example of this from the reading is a painting by René Magritte called La Trahison des images. While the image obviously depicts a pipe, the caption below reads “this is not a pipe” in french. With two things on one canvas that completely conflict with each other, it causes the viewer to think about what they are really looking at. Billboard often do this when they combine a title or slogan with an image, although they rarely require the viewer to stop and really consider what they are looking at as much as this image does.


One of the most interesting things from this reading I think is the section about this concept of “Photographic Truth.” Just as journalists and reporters have skewed information and used propaganda from the beginning of time, so have photographers. When photography began to make it’s mark in the 1940’s and 1950’s, everyone assumed that a picture is more accurate in describing a situation than a sketch or painting ever was. While there are so many positive sides to having a picture from a certain event or occurrence, we often miss out on the big picture due to the lack of information that is provided along with the photo. Background information is key, especially when there is so much more to be said.

One example of this from the reading is the picture by Robert Frank titled Trolley-New Orleans. At first glance, this picture is nothing more than a group of people on a trolley car. Once the viewer is empowered with exterior knowledge such as the fact that this photograph was taken in 1955, just about the same time as Brown vs. Board of Education and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, this photo has a completely new meaning. The group of people, black, white, young, and old, all take on a new meaning when external information is provided.47

At the end of the day though, the way we perceive an image is based on the other images we have been exposed to, the information we have been exposed to, and the culture we have been raised in. These three factors often create an idealized image, what we think everything should look like. This leads up to the idea that photographs are subjective. The same picture can mean different things to different people.


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