ESSAY ON SEEING II.

Salisbury Mills, New York (1978), Easter Sunday
Photo Dennis Dunleavy

Acknowledging the disembodied nature of past acquaintances,
all those missed opportunities blown. The camera as mistress revealing secrets of my ambitions. I have always struggled when someone asks me
to explain the meaning of a photograph. How do you describe a dream?
There are the things we recognize and are familiar with, but the missing dimension is the immutable truth of what enters the lens and is fixed in space.

Is there a difference you know. Looking and seeing are not the same.

Between looking and seeing?

Artist and philosopher Frederick Franck thinks there is. For Franck, “We have become addicted to merely looking-at things and beings. The more we regress from seeing to looking-at the world—through the ever-more-perfected machinery of viewfinders, TV tubes, VCRs, microscopes, stereoscopes—the less we see, the more numbed we become to the joy and the pain of being alive, and the further estranged we become from ourselves and all others.”

Photographers must learn to see the world in unique ways through framing, timing, focus, and vantage point. In addition, we must learn to see the world so that the viewer feels invited to participate in the seeing. The viewer’s mind, according to Jonathan Bayer (1977), is stimulated, amused, intrigued, and even assaulted by what the photograph can offer up, real or imagined. As Caroline Brothers (1977) contends, “Meaning inheres not in the photograph itself, but in the relationship between the photograph and the matrix of culturally specific beliefs and assumptions to which it refers to” (p.23).

The photograph is a social and cultural artifact. All photographs convey meaning by informing and entertaining us. However, meaning does not reside in the image itself but in human interactions and communicative processes by which it becomes embedded within our culture. Images appeal to both our intellect as well as our emotions (Robert Coles). The power of the image is in the meaning it has for us through the context in which it is made and presented to us. For Bill Jay (2000), “A photograph is the end product of someone caring about something “out there.” The best photographs exude this caring attitude in a manner which is not definable but which is very evident.” Context is the value and significance of the elements as they relate to the informational needs and cultural tastes of an audience at a given time in history.

 

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