Personal reflection – On the surface

One of the recurring ideas to come out of my readings and research in part one of the course is the limitations of photography as a medium for conveying meaning. Because photography primarily deals with what is visible, on the surface of people and things, it is unable to show what lurks beneath in the mind of the photographer or the subject. Consequently, it may need to rely on other means to create a narrative. In addition to the use of alternative descriptive systems (such as written captions) to complement photography, another one way of dealing with this limitation is to use graphic templates to elicit responses in the viewer. We know that certain images are capable of creating outrage, compassion, boredom or sympathy, among other sensations, and a photographer that wants to convey a certain message can make use of such knowledge to that effect, something that is probably extensively done in the sphere of commercial photography but that can be equally valid (albeit not necessarily explicitly used) in the context of fine art photography. The growing problem with this approach is that, as we live in a world which is overloaded with images (both moving and still), there is really nothing we have not previously seen and the likelihood that we would be surprised or find something eye-catching is rapidly diminishing. This has proved a real challenge for photography, with standalone images looking more and more stylised, and ever pushing the barrier of what could be morally acceptable to depict, in a quest for grabbing the viewers’ attention for a few seconds. This path seems to have taken us even deeper into the realm of the aesthetics over content, where we do not have time to examine an “ordinary” picture for clues about what the photographer may be trying to tell us.


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