Museum photographers Carl Bento and James King on the power and practice of photography. This week, seeing is believing...
The power and psychology of the photographic image compared to all other visual media is unique. No other medium has the apparent veracity combined with the storytelling potential that is intrinsic to the photographic image.
Why is the photographic image so powerful? A clue lies in the origins of the word ’photograph’, from the ancient Greek words phôs (light) and graphos (something drawn or written).
In photography, the image is created by light; that’s why it has such a strong perceived notion of reality attached to it – it records a moment in time and space that actually existed, we’ve captured the light to prove it, and we can then study it at leisure.
We may not always believe what we are told, but we’re always ready to believe the reflected light bouncing off the events unfolding before our own eyes.
Photographs are perceived differently to other visual artworks. We know that paintings, drawings and sculptures are not made instantaneously but are mediated – preconceived, filtered, stylised and conceptualised – through the artist’s mind.
The resulting artwork expresses and conveys the way the artist thought or felt about their subject matter – an interpretation or depiction of reality, but not necessarily the viewer’s reality.
Of course, the photographic image can also be preconceived and unrepresentative of reality, but it still travels with that inbuilt ‘perceived notion of reality’ that I mentioned earlier.
It’s this notion that makes the photographic image so powerful. Our minds have to work hard to overcome this notion, if indeed it needs to be overcome, as in the case of a photograph being used to spin a story or promote a particular agenda.
Talking point – choosing a camera
Compact cameras (including mobile phone cameras) are designed for convenience and are therefore small, lightweight and usually affordable. They can fit in your pocket and are easily accessed for quick snapshots. You don’t need a bag full of equipment to capture the moment.
If you want to be more creative, a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera is a step up from the compact camera. The DSLR offers interchangeable lenses, a viewfinder for precise composition, and superior image quality through better optics and a larger image sensor.
The flexibility of a DSLR system gives the photographer complete creative control – but the trade-off is carrying around a bag full of bulky equipment because you’ll always want another lens or some other knick-knack to complete your camera system.
What do you think?