Exercise: Transparent pictures


Read the first 3 sections of the essay “Transparent Pictures: On the Nature of Photographic Realism’ by Kendall L Walton. Outline your views about Walton’s idea of photographic transparency. 


The article starts off with opposing views of photography – one from Andre Bazin which says photography represents reality, and one from Edward Steichen who says that all images are fake. I think it depends how the images are set up and taken to an extent. He goes on to say that photos of crime scenes are seen as more concrete evidence than paintings would be. There seems to be more emotion evokes from photos. Today there were lots of images online of flight MH17, and I noticed most of them are either taken from angles that do not show any parts of dead bodies, or the bodies are blanked out. In some cases, almost half the photo has been blurred so we cannot see the full horror of the incident. Most of the ones on UK news sites had been censored, but the Russian and Australian ones have not. Some showing just hands or arms are still full images, but all the ones with bodies have been blurred or modified in some way. Compare this to the images we looked at of the Opium wars and Crimean wars when researching the last topic, I find it interesting that now images are seen more widely, we feel the need to censor them. I found myself searching more to see the full images as I am more curious about it. 


Page 3 gave us 2 war images, one a painting and one a photography, and I have to say I felt more emotion looking at the photograph. I can distance myself from the painting more as it is less ‘real,’ and could be a made up scene. But how does this compare with photographers who make up scenes, which are totally fictional, like Gregory Crewdson’s film sets and Cindy Sherman becoming a character. How ‘real’ are those. We also need, as the author goes on to say, to be aware of the photographers attitudes, interests and prejudices as these can influence what they choose to shoot. This could totally change our view of a situation. What has been photographed and what has been left out. Would we see something totally different if the photo was slightly to the left or right? Have they not shown the rubbish? We have, I am sure, all experimented with perspective at some point. making a small beach appear big, or missing out the fact there is a rubbish dump at one end of it. In China, we experimented and Chinese and Western students got set a task where we had to photograph something the other students would not photograph, then show them and see if we were right. I took an image of a pig’s head in the market. All the Chinese students commented that the market was so common they would probably not take a similar image. In turn, they shot scenes we may never have thought interesting enough to shoot! There is also the issue that photographs can be reaslitic or we may choose to blur something which can make it less so. 


Walton talks about photography being an aid to vision. I think it can be useful to show us things we might never see, other countries for example. It can be how we find out more about the world we live in, and it enables us to continue to see loved ones after they have departed. Now, we can continue to see them as people seem to have more images digitally these days, and people keep facebook pages to remember loved ones for example. He argues that paintings are just a representation of someone rather than the real thing. But surely photos are too – they show a moment that will never occur again. There is also discussion about distinguishing fiction from reality – the Loch Ness monster is given as an example. The  more I think photos are real, the more photos I see that clearly are not and I start to doubt the medium as the truth!


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