Interpretations of Photographs

04.04.11 | Comment Below

On the photography website of photo.net we recently had a lively discussion regarding a very flowery description of the photographic process written by an unknown person and appearing in a 1966 edition of Life Magazine.  The flowery description and ensuing discussion can be found here.  Of the many posted comments (most aimed at the original poster who commenters assumed, incorrectly, had written the prose himself), one comment in particular stood out in my mind.  It was written by Mark Drutz, who offered the following thought:

“If you are saying that a photograph has a meaning beyond what was intended by the photographer, I agree. A photograph is a bit like an inkblot. We each can see something in it that others, including the person who took it, does not see. We all perceive things, including photographs, through conscious and subconscious filters that affect the way we perceive them.”

I thought that was a very good summary of how we all view photographs, largely at a subconscious level.  There is such a great range of human experience and therefore individual interpretations of the artistic expression embodied in a photograph.  People make different kinds of photographs for different reasons, people view this diversity of photographs from very different points of view, and any number of interpretations or feelings may be generated among viewers by a single photograph.  It’s sometime surprising what thoughts and emotions our photographs may generate in our viewers.

This is yet another reason why I find the world of photography to be such a fascinating as well as challenging endeavor.  It helps to explain why I enjoy devoting my time and energy (and, with the purchase of a new camera system, my limited financial resources) to photography.  I suspect other photographers may feel the same, although it may take a statement like that made by Mark Drutz to bring this to a more conscious level.

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