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.


Frame by Frame Image Editing

The world’s fastest camera can take 36.7 million frames per second, 350 million new photos are posted on Facebook each day, and the average number of shots in a movie is 1,045. Everyday we are bombarded with more than 34 gigbytes of information, enough data that would burn out the average computer within a week.

A great deal of attention is paid to the technical and artistic production of images in photography and film, while the importance of editing seems to be noticed when it is poorly done. The truth is, that is the way it should be since an editor’s job is to take inconceivable amounts of information and turn it into a coherent whole.

Editing is a process of arranging, revising, and preparing images for the screen or print.  In this instance, editing still and moving images means to  turn our attention on the  individual elements, which create an larger impression of a  whole scene. As in Gestalt psychology, the whole is always greater than the  individual elements that are contained within the frame.

For example, although antiquated, the practice of making contact sheets, small thumbnail images of a shoot, is still quite relevant in learning how to edit images – frame by frame.  Not so long ago, film was inspected with a lupe, a small magnifying glass used to examine the qualities of an image or frame.



The greatest benefit of the lupe, however, is not just close inspection – frame by frame- but how the tool  forces the photographer or cinematographer to slow down. Digital technologies provide many advantages over analog/linear processes

, but they also make us misread image by settling on the first thing we think is good. The prudent  selection of an image is determined by the  ability to recognize subtle nuisances –  light, lines, textures, tones – that 

reveal something about who we are, what we believe or value.  Editing is a refinement of reconstiting a vision of the world that conforms to time, memory and the subjective experience we encounter every waking moment of the day.


Alhough we love watching movies, shows on TV, or thumbing through National Geographic, but unfortunately we mostly just look or watch a incessant stream of representations without realizing how  the visual experience influences the complex conditions of knowing the world.

If we were to explore a common thread between editing different types of images, it would have to be the emotional impact pictures, still or in movies, have on the viewer or audience. Research reveals how emotional responses to what we see not only captures our attention but also draws us toward simliar objects. Emotions have both physical and behavioral components that can either be negative visual experiences or positive ones.  In order words emotions affect how people perceive the world around them (Ling & Carrasco, 2006). When we speak of editing we are really referring to the editor’s intent to motivate others through representing the world according to aesthetic conventions, cultural tastes, or personal values.

Human beings respond to visual stimuli instinctually. Ravé  Metha (2013), author of a series of graphic novels on Nicola Tesla, believes that we are living  in a hyper-visual culture  — a time in which a tsunami of more than 500 million images are produced and shared across social media and the Internet daily. 

For Metha, “Kids today are growing up with apps like Snapchat and Instagram where all they see are pictures wih few little words beneath them. But these pictures tell a thousand words to these kids, it tells them a story. Then they will scroll tens of these pictures in less than a minute and essentially have just digested 10,000 words of information in a short amount of time.”