Here we see a Spoken Word performer mid-sentence as he strings together his speech on the spot, with some music as background. What you can’t tell from the photo is that I thought he was full of it. It seemed to me that all his speech amounted to was a bunch of appropriated terms strung together in grammatically correct yet meaningless mysticism. Maybe that is just because Spoken Word isn’t about carefully crafted meaning, but instead about sharing still incomplete and fuzzy thoughts. The point of course is that the photo doesn’t tell you any of this.

The photo, like the speech, is “gramatically” correct, in form it is a competent rendition of the performance. But it is incomplete, and doesn’t really communicate my thoughts at the time. In no way does it tell you I don’t particularly care for the performance and have resigned to ignoring it and focusing on photography instead. Some creative editorializing could maybe have put some of my feelings into the photograph, but I don’t think that is the way to go.

In general I don’t take photographs to communicate my thoughts to others, text is usually much more precise and expressive for that. I view photography as a way to capture something interesting about the world in a way that is concrete and durable. It of course excels at capturing things that are already inherently visual, the tilted body stance, or the moving hand, or the crumpled shirt. Because you are looking at this photo in particular, you can also infer something about me, my bias in selecting and framing moments has in itself a message. And then the communication breaks down.

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange is a breathtaking photo, but it means a lot more once you are aware of the context behind it. Photos, like speech, need context to be interpreted. Classical paintings are often understood by decoding their visual references, adding the context to the often beautiful aesthetic form. Photos sometimes communicate like that, particularly when they are staged, but more often than not they are frames from reality and we need other kinds of information to decode them fully.

See this photo (and more) in my flickr stream