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The Truth

The photograph depicted was taken by photographer Garry Winnogrand. He was heralded as a “street photographer,” known for his ability to capture the true reality of city life for many people in the 1960s- dirty, gritty, and tough.  This photo was taken in New York city and had no descriptive title as this particular photograph was not developed during Winnogrand’s lifetime.  While a large majority of Sturken & Cartwright’s Practices of Looking discusses images of the body as science evidence, what I have taken away as a more broad interpretation of their work is, that an image by itself can be evidence; however, how we use that “evidence” is entirely up to how the image is interpreted by an individual. Because there is no description, we can’t really be sure what this image is meant to mean. We know it is of a man walking on the street passing by a woman who is holding shopping purchases. They are could be making eye contact but we will never know if she was actually looking at him, if she was trying to cross the street, or looking at the bus. It is fairly clear he is looking t her. As this is only a snapshot in time, we will never know exactly what happened after this shot was taken. Let’s say this image was taken just before a murder occurred in the background of the photograph. It then could be potentially used as evidence to try and figure out what happened. However, this photograph as evidence would be almost entirely up for the interpretation of both the defense and prosecution.

The point I am trying to make hails from p. 90. Sturken & Cartwright explain that the prosecution of the Rodney King police beating case presented a home video of the beating as solid evidence. The camera work was shaky and from the angle at which the shot was taken, it would appear that King experienced a solid beating from hostile police. What is so interesting is that the defense was able to turn the jury completely around by eliminating any verbal words used to describe what happened, such as one witness’ description of King’s leg as “cocked” which would indicate imminent danger. The point is, the defense wanted to focus on the image alone as evidence for what happened. To counter, the prosecution looked at the same images and interpreted a completely different meaning. Stuken and Cartwright state, ” Rather, it is important to focus on the means of analysis themselves to reveal the ways that they embed meanings in the text. Images do not embody the truth, but always rely on context and interpretation for their meanings,” (p. 90).  It is because of this fact that we as the audience can interpret a wide variety of meanings from a photograph like the photograph depicted. I believe that we must therefore seek to determine what the artist or photographer meant to convey with their image if we are ever to discover what it truly means. The truth is, we won’t know exactly what was intended in the photograph. What I can take away is that it was meant to illustrate the harsh reality that was New York City in the 1960s. It wasn’t always pretty but it was real- it is dirty and unfriendly. Perhaps the two in the photograph made eye contact and smiled at each other, perhaps the woman ignored the man. We will never know.  What is so fascinating to me about Visual Communication is that our analyses of images can depend on so many different factors. If we look at what the image creator was trying to convey we may get a completely different message than what the audience sees. Perhaps the home-made, shaky nature of the video made the event all the more shocking initially. The more scientific breakdown of facts may have helped to move the jury away from believing the sensationalism of the event. I guess then, as long as there is this debate, we will always have reason to discuss visuals and the potential messages that they create!

Casey

Comments

Amarilis
Reply

This post make me think about the fact that although an image can reflect reality, the decision of a photographer to capture a specific moment from a specific angle can alter the interpretation of an event.

Joel Skelton
Reply

I agree with Amarilis. A photographer can really manipulate an understanding of events, even if the photographer’s intentions are innocent and humble. As I mentioned on the discussion boards today, the advent of photo-altering software can cause images to lose their believability and power.

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