Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
April 25, 2016

Photography as Language. Or, What’s Wet, Purple & Falls from the Sky?

Hillary as toy military figure. From a NYT magazine article. lllustration by Justin Metz, based on a concept by Pablo Delcan.

In honor of Prince, who died today, an early look at next week’s cover, “Purple Rain,” by Bob Staake. #TNYcovers

 A bird flies near a torn Syrian national flag in the city of Qamishli, Syria April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

“The definition of photography is changing … and becoming more of a language,” the Brooklyn-based artist and professional photographer Joshua Allen Harris told me…. It’s enhancing our communication in a whole new way.”

— from: In the Future, We Will Photograph Everything and Look at Nothing (New Yorker) by Om Malik.

Plenty has been written about photography as its own language. What I’m interested in today, though, is how news imagery can be seen co-opting written or plain spoken language. It’s sort of a cheap example, but think about how we read emojis today. Or more to the point, how little we differentiate between those visual elements and written words.

Most of the time here at RTP, we discuss a photo’s symbolic value. In these examples, on the other hand, we’re looking at the news imagery as an interesting shorthand for words. I’m not talking about photography as its own language. I’m talking about it as language. Sometimes, that could mean a picture replaces a specific spoken word. Other times, there could be bit more of a translation involved.

As for the images above, need I spell it out?

First, there is Hillary as an army woman (in the sense of an advocate — not a small piece of molded plastic that keeps getting lost in the sand in the backyard).

Purple rain. (Yes, RIP Prince.)

And, Syria in tatters. (If the flag is a metaphor, the bird is a bigger one. It could stand for hope or dashed hope, but the condition of the flag feels more literal.)

If these images are not that profound, what is is the expanding capacity and utility of images and the seamless translation of them.

(image 1: lllustration by Justin Metz, based on a concept by Pablo Delcan. Via NY Magazine. From “How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk.” image 2: In honor of Prince, who died today, an early look at next week’s cover, “Purple Rain,” by Bob Staake. image 3: @reuters/Instagram. caption: A bird flies near a torn Syrian national flag in the city of Qamishli, Syria April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said.)

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