"Visual Quotations"

The term "visual quotations" came to me by way of art critic, artist, and screenwriter John Berger in his book with photographer Jean Mohr, Another Way of Telling (1982). Berger states that "Photographs do not translate from appearances. They quote from them." This notion of a photograph as a quote from life appeals to me. However, photographs, like quotes in a newspaper, journal article or a paper, may be true, but they do not necessarily tell the thruth. they are literally, snapshots. Photographs may be worth a thousand words, but which thousand words? Or, whose? In and of themselves, they are ambiguous. To continue with the ideas of Berger; meaning is gained through context and context (thus meaning) needs a story, an unfolding. To find meaning in a photograph the viewer must lend it a narrative. This coincides with, and helped me better understand, my preference for using shorter focal length lenses to capture the environment of the people whom I photograph-- the context of where they are (discussed in "My Photography"). This allows the viewer to give a longer or deeper narrative to an image, a more contextualized quote. Berger helped me articulate what I had already intuited.

Many anthropologists who do ethnographic fieldwork see one of their roles as translating the essence of a culture to and for those of another culture in order that we can all see our common humanity. It is just wrapped in a different cut of cloth. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz calls for an analysis of that culture in a "thick description." I see my photography as a part of this ethnographic "thick" description or narrative. This thickness allows the viewer to engage with the image, lend it a narrative, to give it a "thousand words." It also makes it a more captivating image. Some of my images are taken as a form of visual ethnography, these are sometimes accompanied with written text, or are placed between texts. This text helps to "read" them in a more specific or at least a more guided manner than other images I take with a more artistic, although still documentary, approach. They are longer quotes. In Geertzian terms, they are "thick" quotes. Many of the images from Argentina were taken, and are presented in my writings, in this way.

If these musings amuse you, I suggest reading Berger and Mohr's book. Also, I have several publications on photographs and ethnographic texts, click here to see a bibliography. Please feel free to write me for more information or with any thoughts or questions about visual anthropology: visualquotations@gmail.com.

Ecuador 15-9

©2017 Richard Freeman. All rights reserved.