Updated: Apr 7, 2021
“An image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced. It is an appearance, or a set of appearances, which has been detached from the place and time in which it first made its appearance and preserved—for a few moments or a few centuries.” - John Berger
A picture is worth a thousand words goes the age old saying; but a photograph is worth at least a thousand more. A simple photograph: a fraction of a moment of time, captured by the light, reflecting on a mirror and imposing the image onto film or a memory card, and then printed filed away on a hard drive for years to come. Photographs are powerful tools that have meaningful influences on their audiences and viewers. They set the trends of the times and influence for social movements to be had. Even internally, specific moments in time become etched in our mind’s eye and soon become a part of our memories and can be replayed over and over in our heads as if we are looking directly at the moment again. We often reflect on photographs, and become engulfed in the moment in which was captured in the photo. That significant moment in time, a split second just so happened to be caught.
Although a photograph captures a specific moment in time, the photographer can sometimes have a heavy influence on that specific moment. Occasionally, the photographer has the ability to determine the picture-worthy moment to be captured from a not so perfect moment. It is how, “The photographer’s way of seeing is reflected in his choice of subject” (Berger. 10). It’s up to the photographer to determine what s/he wants the viewer to see and with that, s/he is reflecting their view of the subject upon the viewer. When one views a photograph there may be certain elements that “speak” or evoke a specific emotion or feeling to the viewer. Most of the time those elements were deliberately chosen by the photographer to be captured. However, this is not always the case and some photographers do not have staged setups, and may just be lucky in capturing their shot; Merely being at the right place at the right time, and armed with a working camera. Although, no matter what, the outcome is what at one point, the photographer saw through his or her lens; whether the act of capturing it was deliberate or not.
Not only do photographs capture a specific moment in time, but they also “provide us with memories, [. . .] preserve the past; how it seems real, how it captures time, how it shows us other people’s lives” (Elkins. viii). Perhaps the latter half of that quote is of most importance: “how it shows us other people’s lives.” Photographs act as a portal into history. Through capturing a specific moment in time, photographs have the ability to tell stories, either real or interpretive while also having the ability to prove as factual. In looking at a photograph of an individual or an event, the viewer is transported in the life of the subject, or the life of the photographer whom captured the photo. By viewing a photograph, the viewer can immerse him/herself into the moment in time that is being captured. This portal into history through photographs allows for society to reflect on what was at one time and develop modern ideals on a particular subject.
Just as any historical movement develops and integrates into society, so does photography. One popular style changes over to another as technology advances and outlooks and society changes. Different experiences, social movements and influences develop and create new ways and styles of photography. We even see today, in the digital age, how the entire art form of photography has taken a transition. At one time a photographer had a roll of film and cherished each and every exposure with a meticulous effort. Today we have SD cards and smart phones that allow for an overabundance of exposures to then be uploaded to “the cloud” and often times, never be revisited. With this technological advancement, series of photographs are created and the truth often times becomes blurry—both literally and figuratively. Literally blurry lends itself to the motion of the subject within a photograph. Capturing a moment that incorporated motion then creates a blur in an image. Since the new normal within society is to take many exposures of the same subject or with minimal changes, the subject often times moves seemingly between exposures, but in reality the camera caught the motion, creating a blurred effect. Figuratively speaking, truth can become blurry in modern photos. At one time, the truth was one exposure, or a set of exposures that were staged. Today, “One photograph alone no longer shows the truth,” (Mirzoeff. 8). Modern photographers now know there are multiple, in which “the best” for whatever standards that may be, is chosen in the post-processing stage of photography. This is the new norm, it is common practice to take hundreds of photographs in a session and choose the best 50, 100 or 20. This can be seen as problematic because the art form is being lost. Where at one time a photograph had to be properly planned, lined up and staged, now a photograph can be captured one per second as the setup changes with each exposure. However, the new norm of photography is ever evolving in it and of itself. What is the norm now, will soon become a technology or look of the past, and some new normal will come into place. Just as how, “a world picture . . . does not mean a picture of the world but the world conceived and grasped as a picture . . . The world picture does not change from an earlier medieval one into a modern one, but rather the fact that the world becomes picture at all is what distinguished the essence of the modern age.” (Heidegge. 6.) And so, the world around the photograph is what is ever evolving and developing. The type of photography (film, digital, photo, etc.) may evolve as well, however in essence, the act of photography and capturing a specific moment in time does not, and never will change so long as any form of photography is prominent.