How do you feel about photographs? Are you the type person that thinks a picture is worth a thousand words? If those statements describe you, you should probably take another look at how much weight and value that you give a photograph because pictures are very easily misinterpreted. When you take a minute to stop and think about pictures how they are looked at you might notice that more often than not if there is no writing with it you can only guess at what it shows.
On the multiple occasions that we have looked at photos in class most people have eventually come to the same conclusion as Berger does in his essay. There are several core beliefs that Berger talks about and I will discuss in this paper. During the time that we spent looking and commenting on photographs during class you may have experienced the things that he describes.
“A photograph arrests the flow of time in which the event photographed once existed. All photographs are of the past, yet in them an instant of the past is arrested so that, unlike a lived past, it can never lead to the present. Every photograph presents us with two messages: a message concerning the event photographed and another concerning a shock of discontinuity.” (1) This is what Berger said about a photograph and what it is able to capture. What he means by this is that a picture captures everything that is happening at a given time.Order now
The “shock of discontinuity” refers to anything that is out of order at the time the picture is taken. Because people are not always ready for pictures to be taken or even in a picture that is posed for the background may be out of order things can sometimes seems odd or out of place in a photograph. In my experience the parts of a photograph that are not planned can end up being what people find the most interesting or that they use to interpret the meaning of the image. The little unplanned things the occur in the backgrounds of photographs are many times what grabs peoples attention or at least affect in some way what they feel about it.
In my pictures the subject is in his room which happens to have a lot of posters of women on the wall so some people thought that this meant that he was a horny guy which was not the image I was trying to convey at all. I’m sure everyone has had this type of thing happen to them at some point. So I would think that everybody agrees with this statement.
Another one of Berger’s opinions is, “A photograph preserves a moment of time and prevents it being effaced by the suppression of further moments. In this respect photographs might be compared to images stored in the memory. Yet there is a fundamental difference: whereas remembered images are the residue of continuous experience, a photograph isolates the appearances of a disconnected meaning.”(1) This means that in a memory you know exactly what is going on.
It is something that happened to you or explained to you in a way that you are able to know exactly what happened and how it should be interpreted. This allows a person to know how a memory should be viewed. However a photograph cannot clearly let you know its meaning unless you are the person who took it. The reason for this is that a photograph is just a picture of a moment in time that is open for the views of each individual who sees it. The photo has a meaning originally but it is not directly connected to it. So all the picture has is an appearance of some unknown meaning.
A good personal example of this is a picture of my subject in a car because my memory was of his crazy driving but all anyone got from the picture was that he liked cars. So the memory would have been a much better way to get my message across people didn’t know the story behind the picture.
The final statement that Berger makes is, “In itself the photograph cannot lie, but, by the same token, it cannot tell the truth; or rather the truth it does tell, the truth it can by itself defend, is a limited one.”(1) This basically wraps up everything that he has said before. Pictures are limited in what they can tell you, they can provide some of a story but not all of it. If a photograph is misinterpreted it is not its fault because it cannot be expected for a picture to tell you everything about the scene it represents. A picture in union with a memory can be a great way to get a point across but on its own a picture is not comprehensive enough to tell a story.
Such as the picture I took of the cars speedometer. If you look at and say oh it’s only at sixty, you may think he’s a fairly safe driver. What you wouldn’t know is that he was going sixty on a winding back road at night. So even though the picture didn’t lie the viewer was just unable to tell the whole truth from looking at it.
Based on my experience I agree with Berger that photographs are nice but they are too open to be considered truth. The memory that I wrote tells much more about the person than the photographs. Some people get the right idea from the pictures but overall the memory did a lot better job of conveying the message I wanted to send about the subject.