The American River Current

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    Benjamin ObackOct 28, 2018 at 6:35 pm

    I disagree to an extent. Usually, photos don’t tell a large narrative, sure, but saying “photographs have no narrative possibility whatsoever” is a gross exaggeration.

    One could easily photograph a distraught man at a bar crying into a bloody dress he holds. This can tell us more, and make us empathize way more, than a written recap of how his wife was killed.

    Keyword being “can.” Naturally, some photos are boring and unrevealing, next to literature that is evocative and comprehensive. But it *can* be the other way around, wherein the writer fails to describe the scene with clarity, and the photo tells us definitively about something that has recently happened.

    So, yes, you’re right, it might not be worth a thousand words, but it still could be. Great opinion piece, regardless.

    • P

      Patrick Hyun WilsonOct 29, 2018 at 2:50 pm

      I appreciate you having read the essay and respect your opinion on the matter. If I may I’d like to dispute your claim, as much as I can.

      To your example, I agree that a photograph of a distraught man in a bar holding a bloody dress is highly evocative and the audience of such a picture would likely empathize much more than they would to a written description of the moment. However, according to the idea of narrative in general, that moment of sadness would not satisfy the requirements to be considered a narrative.

      Rather than being a series of events which lead the reader to a particular emotional response, photographs, and as I mention in the piece haikus, depict information, juxtaposed with each other, for the viewer to create new meaning between the information.

      The relationship between the depicted information however is all that exists and the interpretation of the information is up to the viewer.

      For example, if presented with the photograph with no context outside of the photograph itself, one could interpret the dress in the photograph to be a sister’s or mother’s or a cross-dressing friend’s. He could be crying out of remorse rather than grief. The blood could not even be from the person wearing the dress but rather someone nearby.

      Essentially the symbols that are presented could interact with one another in any number of ways when juxtaposed with each other in a photograph based on that interpretation of symbols.

      The viewer’s ability to interpret the symbolic representations in a photograph limit the ability of a narrative to be formed— according to our understanding of narrative.

      Therefore the interpretations of the symbolic representations and the assumption on the part of the viewer about how they interact are what create a narrative— rather than the narrative being contained within the photograph itself.

      Of course my thoughts on the matter aren’t perfect. It’s an interesting avenue of critical thought and reasoning for me and I hope for yourself as well. Again I appreciate you for reading the essay and responding with your thoughts on the matter.

      • B

        Benjamin ObackNov 30, 2018 at 8:54 pm

        It is most certainly a good avenue of critical thought, you’re right.

        I hadn’t thought of how all the things in a photo can interact with each other in so many ways, as opposed to prose, which generally lays out one series of events. I appreciate that distinction. By freezing but a second in time, all the “actors” (people and objects alike) in the photo could indeed be on any number of paths.

        In that sense, though, couldn’t one say a photograph with its infinite possibilities, is actually worth more than a written piece? By allowing the viewer to imagine a hundred reasons a man sits in a bar, I would say the photo is more interesting than a recollection.

        Obviously, sometimes you don’t want a viewer to wonder what happened, instead, you want to tell them explicitly what happened for whatever reason, but as entertainment value, and as food for thought potential, it seems to me a photo is still worth more. Unless, yes, you’re trying to tell only one narrative. You’re absolutely right about that, as you are a great many things.

        Thanks for responding, and sorry for such a late reply.

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