With the abundance of photographs we are now able to engage with on the internet we could feel like we are better informed than ever before. After all, photographs tell a story and seeing a photograph of something makes it real doesn't it? Ahh ... not necessarily.
Take the image above. This could be interpreted in many ways. It could be seen as a person at the start or end of a race, with quite different emotions attached to either. It could be seen as a person isolated from others. It could be seen as a relaxing and calm scene or alternatively part of a more stressful scenario. While we bring our own awareness and experiences to our interpretation of it, as the photographer I have also deliberately taken and manipulated the image to highlight the isolation of the rower, to show her with a long way to go without others around her. In fact, it was a Saturday morning practice session in the heart of Melbourne on the Yarra River and her fellow rowers were just slightly ahead of her returning to the boat sheds. If I had captured the whole scene the story could well have been one of community spirit or positivity.
As an amateur photographer, one of the most challenging aspects of learning to take better photos is deciding what to include or not include in a photograph. Sometimes it's actually noticing what else is in the image in the first place before you can decide whether it should stay in or not. Then with photo-shopping techniques we can crop, edit and blur to our heart's content to change the image or even sometimes tell a different story.
We see images from around the world and while some might appear to be obviously self explanatory or send a clear message, often there are many aspects to the story that sit outside of what the lens has captured. Sometimes having some more details about the story; where the photo was taken, who the subject is, what was happening at the time, can fill in some of the blanks. Sometimes our imagination has already filled in those blanks. Having a little bit more information can make our experience of viewing the photo richer and more meaningful. Sometimes it can change our perspective all together.
Looking at images from the past is another interesting pursuit and again we can easily begin to pass judgment on what was happening for people based on what we see in the photograph. In fact we don't know the circumstances of how or why the photograph was taken. Photographs were taken of some people but not of others so asking who they are and why the photograph was taken is important.
The internet now gives us access to aspects of the world we would not usually see. We are now seeing images from wars, terrorism events and natural disasters that we have never had access to before. Some of these images are confronting. Asking who and why can be really important when viewing these images. Why is this image released to us? Whose purpose is it serving? What impact is this having us on as a group? What or who is missing from this image? These questions can help us keep a perspective. To avoid getting swept up in one side of a story - or to allow our understandings of a complex situation to be watered down into one representation of it.
Photographs can alarm us but equally they can bring us great joy. Funny moments can be captured, as well as poignant moments or simply moments of daily life. Viewing a photograph can touch us in a way that words can't. It seems to reach a different part of our brain or tap into an unconscious part of ourselves perhaps.
So next time you look at a photograph, enjoy it, but think about engaging with it a little more as you ask yourself who and why.