“How Do We Read a Photograph?” // Graham Clarke.

The passive act of ‘seeing’ a photograph does not exist within the formal practice of photography, nor should it within the realm of the general viewer. Therefore, one must undergo a series of complex readings to fully understand a photograph. One must ‘read’ a photograph.

Clarke firmly presents the notion that photography has its own discourse and language, so is therefore read just the same as a novel or piece of text. This leads on to the idea that a photograph always possesses a ‘cultural meaning’: how it is received within a particular society. Consequently, the image as a text should be read as “the site of a series of simultaneous complexities and ambiguities.” The maker of the photograph in question will always have preconceived perspectives about such things as politics, society and family. Therefore, there is never such a thing as passive image making.

Something that I found very engaging in Clarke’s text is the idea that the photograph is only a “re-presenation” of a thing or place, rather than a true representation. This strongly reiterates the idea that a photograph is only a 2D, tangible object rather than a 3D depiction of what ever was in front of the lens. As Stephen Shore articulated it; “A photograph has edges, the world does not”. Therefore, can a photograph ever be deemed as being a true representation of ‘what was there’, or should the viewers be more concerned with the social, political and ideological influences behind the camera?


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