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Bearded man siting by rippling water.

Photograph versus Word

The breadth and depth of our awareness of photography can be gauged by the absence of photographs in a book on the subject. What we want, and what we get, are words. The photographs themselves...would complicate and impede the discussion. After all, we still do not know what a photograph is.

Wright Morris (1979)


Photography brought us authenticity, seemingly rescuing us from the smoke and mirrors that words may conjure; giving us reassuring concrete fragments of reality. Accordingly the photograph became worth a thousand words. Anonymous photographs seem particularly able to demonstrate this verity, for they are somehow taken ‘by the camera’ unalloyed by manipulative minds. But now, Wright Morris observes, we find that Susan Sontag’s book On Photography Person taking photogrpah of sunset across water. Susan Sontag offers an interesting insight into what is happening when we take photographs. has no photographs. Words seem to have totally regained ascendency. The Houses of Parliament across the Thames. One problem in understanding these matters is the way language is apt to over assert its importance. Have we lost the ability to look: a lost capacity now ameliorated by words. This echoes an old pattern. Simplifying greatly, the pre-eminence of Buddhism in the Tang Dynasty (c. 600-900) had led to two strands of belief: sudden enlightenment, and change through meditation. Man sitting meditating on bench. A page on the way that memories and plans distract us from the present. The former required no dogma or even verbal interaction, nevertheless, it induced vast libraries of words. Was that diversion from wordless being, Snow covered eastern Turkey from above. This page with more words on that for which there are no words; and the link to Kantian metaphysics. similar to our diversion from looking? Looking for humans moves tellingly close Fisherman tending his net on Madras beach. A page highlighting the importance of attention, not least when we are reflecting or meditating. to being.

Wright Morris - Photography, Images and Word - appeared in The American Scholar vol 48, no iv, autumn 1979. Reprinted in Time Pieces (1999) p.63 published by Aperture.

Does adding a few words enrich the picture? Adding too many seems to obscure it. We want words which compliment the photograph, as Wright Morris discussed in his article. The man was sitting by Hoàn Kiếm Lake in central Hà Nội.

Above hovering on blue introduces a link: click to go, move away to stay.


Saturday 17th April 2021

Murphy on duty to this site