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Pictures, Images, and Photographs

These three terms overlap and at times act as synonyms. I arbitrarily create folders on my computer called pictures, images, and photos—occasionally I add graphics. At other times I feel the need to hold them apart.

Part I

Image: [Middle English, from Old French, from Latin img. See aim- in Indo-European Roots.] one that closely or exactly resembles another, a double: He is the image of his uncle; an iconic mental representation; to call up a mental picture of; the optical counterpart of an object produced by an optical device (as a lens or mirror) or an electronic device; to make or produce a likeness of: imaged the poet in bronze

Picture: [Middle English, from Latin pictra, from pictus, painted, past participle of pingere, to paint. See peig- in Indo-European Roots.] a visual representation or image painted, drawn, photographed, or otherwise rendered on a flat surface; a visual representation (of an object or scene or person or abstraction) produced on a surface; graphic art consisting of an artistic composition made by applying paints to a surface; a graphic or vivid verbal description

Photograph: [1839, “picture obtained by photography,” coined by Sir John Herschel from photo- + -graph “instrument for recording.” It won out over other suggestions, such as photogene and heliograph. Neo-Anglo-Saxonists prefer sunprint.] an image, especially a positive print, recorded by a camera and reproduced on a photosensitive surface; to take a photograph of; a picture of a person or scene in the form of a print or transparent slide

Photographs are pictures. Pictures are images. Not all images are pictures, and not all pictures are photographs. We seem to have a hierarchy here, an order to things. The most specific (the photograph) is also the least semiotic of them, whereas the most abstract (image) is the one most closely tied to referentiality, at least insofar as we take the terms in their least overlapping senses: the image as an iconic mental representation, the picture as a flat visual description by way of paint or similar medium, and the photograph as the result of light on a photosensitive surface.

While these possible genre distinctions seem silly, the rambling of a pseudo-academic, or even perhaps meaningless, they nevertheless have a concrete reflection in issues of genre poetics even today, though more at the level of popular discourse than in intellectual or philosophical debate. The fate of photography is particularly illlustrative in this regard, for many still debate whether photography qualifies as Art. The anti-art argument is rather simple to state, but rests upon a few interesting assumptions about the nature of art and of the genres under consideration. To summarize: painting and drawing takes considerable skill and creativity, but the photographer, even if he or she has developed technical mastery of his or her device, is merely producing a simple representation of naïve reality. The two underlying assumptions here are that photography is primarily or necessarily representational, and that this—even if it were the case—is a great restriction. Being representational, insofar as it means representing objects and events from our world of experience in a realistic manner, is not, however, inherent to the medium, for the realistic representation of such events and objects is dependent upon how light is focused through a lens, not that it is focused through the lens. That is to say, the photographer and his or her choice of objects to photograph, not the medium of photography, is responsible for the dominance of representational photographs.

The second unvoiced assumption is that representationalism is a hindrance to the medium, but there are clearly cases in which assumptions of naïve representation are actually an aid to the artist. As Maria William has written regarding reality and fiction, “a photograph is not only a reflection of real life, it’s evidence of real life” (ignoring for the moment that abstract, non-representational photographs are possible, and digital or other manipulation of photographs is always a consideration). In contrast, she says by quoting Some Clever Anonymous Person: “Fiction is harder than real life because fiction is supposed to make sense.” That is to say, the viewer or reader is less forgiving of deviations from the ideal or norm in fiction than in reality. Is a painting ugly because the model was ugly or because the painter was unable to draw him/her beautifully? Does the model really have such a large head and short legs, or is the artist unable to (re)create the proper proportions? “News of the Weird” are accepted when they are in the news, but are improbable devices or evidence of an inability to properly plot when they appear in fiction. The more abstract and iconic a visual creation the more likely it is to be judged against an ideal rather than on its own merits, whatever those may be.

Part II

Part III

I managed to acquire and organize most of the photographs from Der Vogelkopp. I am still missing several dozen (or more) photos from Andrea’s digital camera; I am awaiting a CD with them on it. I brought back four rolls of Vogelkopp pictures from Walgreens, downloaded three dozen digital images from Roger, and transferred fifty pictures of the cast party from the departmental digital camera to my computer. Those from rehearsal fall into two categories, one of which is the non-category—those from the run-through, and those from other rehearsal activities.

The photos I took during rehearsal(s) are really just pictures. Line, color, composition, and lighting are completely in service to the goal of documenting rehearsal, and those from the run-through can be placed in order and in so doing provide the story in words—I almost feel like writing in captions with the appropriate lines from the play.

Only Roger’s hint at what I might call photographs. Whereas mine were taken from a distance and employed the flash extensively, thus flattening and washing out all the pictures, Roger used only the light from the surrounding stage. As a result many of his photos are out of focus, for the shutter had to remain open too long given the lighting conditions, but in turn his shots were close-ups and the natural shadows give most of the pictures, especially the color ones, a depth and roundness that all of mine were lacking. In the black and white images the perspective is generally wider so as to suggest greater space without actually showing it.

I am closer to my own images and so Roger’ s seem a bit alien in comparison, and perhaps therefore fresh. I generally chose static moments to take pictures, fearing both that too much movement would cause blurriness in the low-light conditions and that action would be unclear from a distance, whereas Roger was closer to his subjects for more pregnant moments and at other times took picture with people at motion. I cannot see the logic in why he took certain shots, whereas with mine I recall either the purpose for the picture or the moment that caused me to take it, thus I see mine almost entirely from within the project of providing a mostly-faithful representation of the process. In contrast Roger’s come across as more singular to me.

—April 8 2005