Talking with Photos

We are still wrestling with what it means to have an ever-present camera. Modernistdream aka mediamongrel has written some fantastic posts about this on his blog. My proposition here is that having a camera constantly about our person coupled with the ability to share images we take is changing the part played by photography in our everyday lives, social activities and rituals. Not only are we reshaping the ways in which we make memories or memorialise significant events as Modernistdream points out, we are also using photography as a means of communication that moves beyond the postcard effect of ‘I was here’. The relationship between word and visual images is drawing closer and sometimes the visual image is displacing words entirely as a form of communication.

However, I am not proposing that photographs are replacing words. I think it is more matter that we often send photographs to clearly show where we are, what has struck us ridiculous, delicious, beautiful or disgusting in a quest to reduce ambiguity given the strictures of 140 characters. With Twitter it is really easy to post photographs and there are applications specifically designed to coexist with Twitter in its mobile incarnation such as instagram.With these applications you can follow people, rate their photos but if you want to communicate via the images you still need to link to twitter. So photography is developing an almost symbiotic relationship to words in this environment.

Another phenomenon I have observed and experienced is when a follower may pick up an image and write a post in response to it. The first time this happened to me I was delighted. I had posted a photo of a flower I wanted to share. Within a few moments I saw that someone had written a haiku about the flower. This reminded me of parlour games such as exquisite corpse where someone would start a story that would be continued by someone else and so on. Naturally I checked out her profile and followed her.

So are we using photography more readily now as a form of self-expression and communication? And do we make judgments about people based on the kinds of photos they post in similar ways to how we judge them by their verbal posts?

14 thoughts on “Talking with Photos

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Talking with Photos « Marousia --

  2. Thought-provoking post, M.

    One thing occurs to me — which even as I’m about to write it, I’m thinking must be pretty obvious but oh well — what I generally see on Twitter are pictures of anything BUT the person taking them, and/or their family/friends. It’s often (though not exclusively) about exterior stuff. Partly I think that’s the nature of it — pasting your face in such an open forum might not feel safe. Whereas the writing — SO interior. So in this way they’re quite complementary.

  3. David: It is interesting what you wrote – because I feel quite the contrary. For me pictures of the person taking the pictures are exterior and irrelevant. As a fine art photographer I feel that the pictures I take as works of art reflect more accurately what I am than pictures of what I look like. (English is a foreign language to me, I hope you get my meaning even though it’s a bit difficult to explain in a foreign language)

    • Actually, what I wrote wasn’t interesting at all, it was pretty stupid! After I wrote that comment, there was a little moth of dissatisfaction fluttering around in my head, and you’ve just named it!

      I completely get your point — what we choose to photograph reveals us more than pictures of ourselves. Of course! Guess what I was reaching for, is what RG said — the photos provide context. For me, the text is the heart, and the photos provide context, tone, & modulation. I don’t believe photos will ever be more than that — they can’t exist without the text, for me. (I have one unfortunate bias — I’m not a picture-clicker on Twitter, or not much, anyway. I know that’s like walking with just one shoe, but I’m often at work and I’ve been burned often enough by something inappropriate displaying on my screen that I generally don’t click). That’s because everyone talks — everyone textualizes their experience in some way — and so has much more experience doing that than in creating photos or fine art.

      But if you say “my day sucked,” including a photo of a smashed up car really drives home the point.

  4. As commented by other readers, you have raised a very thought provoking point. Personally sometimes I used photos to reflect what I cannot express in words. Other times they’re complementary. Can photos replace words? I doubt it. I think it symbiotic representation of what we’re trying to express about a topic, idea or opinion. :))

  5. Thought-provoking post as ever, Marousia. Thank you. I think photos on Twitter have that same brief but immediate impact as 140-character tweets. There are, of course, some amazing, technically brilliant photos posted on Twitter but it’s the more personal images that intrigue me. I like to step into the photo & have a look around … & then try to imagine (for that is all i can do most of the time) what the image is saying about the photographer, too. Why did s/he take a picture of this particular subject matter in the way that s/he did? Why has s/he presented it in this way? And are there any possible unconscious messages wrapped up inside the photo?

    Of course, besides the intrigue of photo-analysis there is often a pure beauty to be found in people’s pictures, a sort of beautiful truth captured within the emotional content of the photo: sadness, joy, pain … created by people, faces, food, shapes, lines, curves, colour … &, perhaps more than anything, light.

    Yet very few people post a photo on Twitter without some kind of verbal clue, often in the form of a title. In that respect there is clearly a relationship between text and picture: a marriage of difference (as all marriages are) creating more than the sum of each individual medium. Taking a broader view, it is a relationship that seems to work incredibly well, which has been & is being embraced by more & more people on Twitter.

    And … what about sound?

  6. Interesting points to consider here – I certainly have noticed the rise of photos prevalence on Twitter. I like seeing some of the clever ways people use them to get around that 140 word limit – promotes some interesting expression. At large, however, I wouldn’t say pictures are replacing words. Nor do I think they ever shall. They share the stage, certainly, and a mingling of the two always presents some thought-provoking results, but to say one is gobbling up the other?

    Certainly not.

    There are things photos can capture that words cannot, and vice versa. There are things each can complement in the other. Each holds a creative power in its own right, but I don’t see one as overtaking the other.

  7. Whatever your way of communicating, through music, drawing, pictures, writing, shooting films, playing, you are speaking your mind, that’s all. Don’t understand anything about Twitter. I would say the point is to share, try to communicate, in your own langage and let people express themselves.

  8. This one hits close to home. Although I can speak and write well enough to communicate basic points, I often find myself scraping the old, accumulated stuff off the bottom of my mental floor in an attempt to find something that wasn’t there before. What I usually get is just a slightly different way of stating something I’ve already said or written. Pruning whatever I come up with in order to post it on Twitter is excruciating, and I generally end up sacrificing too much of the meaning. The process of seeing well enough to capture in a photo some theme or essence helps me to describe that theme or essence more completely than I would otherwise, and discovering additional components during basic post-processing in Photoshop that I didn’t consciously perceive when I took the picture also seems to make it a little easier to come up with a written description. I say this with full realization that I’m not doing a very good job of explaining what I mean right now (and that I’ve gone a little tangential here); I blame the lack of caffeine;-)

    Anyway, very thought-provoking post.

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