As the language or vocabulary of photography has been extended, the emphasis of meaning has shifted from what the world looks like to what we feel about the world and what we want the world to mean.
The photograph can confront us with both the universal and the particular at the same instant in time. The strange tension that results between these two polarities is the force that can make the photograph so moving or poignant or disturbing.
Writing about photography or any art form is difficult, especially for those who have created it. Fortunately, artists such as Aaron Siskind and James Borcoman have provided us with succinct insights which help us to see and experience photographs.
Viewers of exhibitions in art galleries may spend 15-30 seconds looking at a particular image – but many spend less time than that. Since most people use cameras largely to document holidays and special occasions they tend to view photographs in a gallery and elsewhere as ‘pictures of something’ rather than serious works that go beyond simply describing or representing a landscape or a person. They look at captions to learn what that something is – and then they move on.
Seeing an image is different from looking at it quickly as we walk through an exhibition. In most cases providing captions for photographs encourages moving on quickly to the next image. Some photographers – and I’m one of them – do not provide captions. We want to encourage people to see images in ways other than trying to identify where it was made.
I’d be pleased if you would consider spending some time with the above photograph (one of mine), thinking of Siskind’s comments about how the meaning of a photograph has shifted to ‘…what we feel about the world and what we want the world to mean’. Think too about Borcoman’s statement that ‘The photograph can confront us with both the universal and the particular at the same instant in time’.