singing 80s songs to save ourselves


I took a couple thousand pictures in Dhaka last summer but I’ve only got just over 300 uploaded to flickr. sometimes I wonder if that’s detracting from the possibility of showing other people how cool and different it was, but then I start to think that maybe having most of them tucked away for myself is better. I can look at any of them and remember where I was, what I was doing and why I took that shot. no one else can. it’s kind of a strange dichotomy; on the one hand you take pictures to show people what you’ve seen, and on the other, you take them to remind yourself of what you went through.

While I was still doing my undergrad and taking communication theory classes, I used to think about pictures in terms of the semiological relevance, what different kinds of interpretations can be wrestled from the image, and whether I agreed with Roland Barthes about the nature of photography. simply put, the subjectivity of the photographer can never be transfered to a viewer. I used to try to take issue with this given that the context of an image is subective to anyone looking at it and interpreting it. To me this argument was made all the more poignant by the fact that Barthes also said that a picture is a real representation of the world and not simply a method to infer meaning.

I remember one lecture where we debated this over a picture of a bull skull in the desert. the issue was, if the photographer had moved the skull in order to improve the lighting on it, was a a real representation of the world, or an idealized naturalistic inference?

i keep getting asked if I want to do model or wedding photography. I’m indescisive about it and I think I’ve started to realize that one of the reasons why is that I don’t really think there’s any sort of true representation of what is going on in the world around me through studio lighting. the personal meaning of a photograph somewhat dwindles when you set up a pose or direct someone to look a certain way.

take a look at those three pictures again. what do you see in them? visually you will see something within a certain context that holds a single meaning to you as the viewer. as the photographer the personal attachment to each can be explained somewhat, but any real understanding of what is happening beyond the confines of the image are lost on anyone else.

I don’t try to argue with Barthes’ assertions now. In fact, I’d wholeheartedly agree with them. It’s unfortunate that he passed away before the advent of the digital era. I often wonder if his theories would change in any drastic ways when one considers that his ideas were developed when film reigned and major editing and manipulation of images of the world were far more limited than they are today. If you manipulate a picture in photoshop now can you still consider that a true and real representation of the world? Even something as simple as adjusting the levels to balance the lighting inherently causes the picture to become something more ideal than it initially was. I don’t think editing a picture in this way would do anything to change the personal attachment to it, but for the viewer, the interpretation and understanding of the image has now been subtly altered in a way so as to cause them to see something more appealing.

In any case, I said I USED to think of pictures in a much more theoretical sense. However, I’ve found myself drifting from this and simply believing that taking a picture is something you do because you want to capture a moment, not capture an ideal truth. Pictures are what we make of them. Even the personal subjectivity of the photographer that Barthes was fond of pointing out can change over time.

Essentially, a picture is whatever you want it to be.


1 Thought.

  1. I love candid shots of people. Not canned 😉

    You’re a great photographer Pat, you are bound for better scenery and meaning then being stuck inside a studio.
    But if thats where the money is at… ya never know lolz

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