The Corruptibility of Images

Recently, I sat in on a photojournalism class. Out of the discussion of images from a conflict zone and the process of editing and the delicate art of captioning, I began to wonder about how images work. It is evident that words can be used to describe, explicate and judge. And an image can be a description and an explication. I’m not sure how confident I am in staking out the claim that images also produce judgements.

The discussion of the images presented in that photojournalism class seemed to me to call out for a theory of genre: each of the images seemed to be read through the filter of a more or less conscious intertext — similar images in other situations. The judgement passed by the image itself dependent upon the recognition of a genre and the viewer’s attitude to that genre shaped the judgement that was read. Words, by way of contrast, stand alone when issuing a judgement.

Images depend upon context to be read yet is part of the vocation of photojournalism to try and find the image that transcends context and can speak on its own? Barthes’s punctum? Or is the contribution of photojournalism to add to the store of the genre and thereby shift a little its boundaries?

A line comes to mind from Medbh McGuckian’s “Marconi’s Cottage” found in the collection of the same name.

Forever, the deeper opposite of a picture,

which being a quotation is like an image lifted out of context and yet still resonant.

And so for day 871

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