Meaning Behind Photos

Friday, May 1, 2009

Sometimes when we look at a photo and admire how beautiful it is. I know I've been doing this for like ages but then since I started learning photography here it has changed my view on a single photograph, especially famous photographers and their projects.

For this term, I stumbled upon the work of Joel Sternfeld, I am familiar with his work but one of his projects struck me.

Look at this picture, what strikes you?The nice warm morning light striking the tree trunk, the calm feel of the photo or the beautiful scenery of part of a park?Everything that I mention does make this photo a beautiful photo but if did not know the purpose of this photo, we would be missing half of the meaning. The image is from one of his books titled "On This Site" and the text that follows this photo is about a lady who was strangled to death beneath that very tree. Now that changes our perspective of the photo entirely doesn't it. We suddenly see something that was never there before. The power of this photo only relates to those people,like Sternfeld, who are haunted by the death of Jennifer Levin. The once beautiful photo now stands as a memorial for this lady. Sternfeld quotes " It was bewildering to find a scene so beautiful to see the same sunlight pour down indifferently on the earth." This is only one of many photos that he took to remember national public crimes that happened. It speaks volumes but only if we knew the reason it was taken.

I am grateful that in photography classes here, we not only learn how to take pictures but also to understand and gain knowledge of past photographer and their works. We're so used to see a photo and go "Oh here's a nice photo" and then turn the next page. Of course not all photographs have hidden meanings but for the more famous artist and their there normally is. I've studied Walker Evans and his documentary on the Great Depression. Through the lens of his camera we see the reality of the poverty at that time. The people in his photos became icons of the Depression Era. Photographs are not merely an art but also a tool, and what a powerful tool it can be. My photography teacher took chairs and place them in different locations and you think what kinda photo is this? And then he explains that he was exploring the locations in which meetings were held or court sessions in the past. He tooks pictures of forest and field with the chairs in them and then explained the scene that once happened there. Photography is not just about takin beautiful photos (of course this is necessary) but also to get a certain message across. Of course i've seen surreal(fantansy-like) photos and even then the photographer has a reason to shoot it like that.

Once again, I realize at how photography is such a powerful tool. It is to inform, entertain and document things of the past and present. Never under estimate the power of photography. :)