AMBIGUITY IN WORDS AND PICTURES
Lawyers use a language that, in it's written form, is often difficult if not impossible for the average person to comprehend. Through the precise use of legal terms lawyers have attempted to minimize the misunderstanding inherent to most human communication. Common usage language is generally imprecise and open to ambiguity of interpretation between speaker and listener. Lawyers, through the use of a legal language understood among lawyers, have attempted to clarify content and meaning. Treaties between countries are often the result of painstaking and lengthy debate between the parties involved due to the difficulty in composing a document that reflects the intentions and agreements of the two parties into a common language of mutual understanding. Indeed, different languages present an even more complex set of communication problems due to the subtle differences in word meanings from two different cultures. In fact one culture may have a word for something the other does not.
Given all that. Words between consenting adults from the same cultural,
social-economic background can still run into misunderstandings.
The writer-journalist lives and works in a world of contexts and textures. To them words are fluid creatures that can convey essence and impression. To hell with hard facts! This is a land where ambiguity is king and indeed often welcomed.
Our lawyer generally believes that the other lawyer reading his legal brief or text is bringing to that reading a similar education and cultural background. Hence that lawyer believes that his meanings are succinct and clearly understood by the other party of the second part.
On the other hand, our writer-journalist, KNOWS and believes that the reader brings to that experience all the clutter of personal experience and cultural or ethnic bias. They know that all that context, texture, all the colors of descriptive writing will be viewed through that reader's filter of personal bias. The literary journalist speaks with the voice of the reader. Human perception is generally imprecise.
Buddhist monks spend their lives in the attempt to understand the concept of Zen. Here is a clarity of insight that goes beyond the ability of words to add further insight. This is the world of intuition. Knowledge that is unspoken. The true believer UNDERSTANDS the thing without having to rationalize that understanding.
French surrealist writers and artists of the early 20th century reveled in the land of intuition and serendipity. Surrealism was about the artists' interpretation of the unconscious mind. To them manifested itself in the irrational and non-contextual arrangement of elements from the so-called real world. In 1928 French surrealist writer Pierre Mac Orlan wrote in a book of photographs by Andre Kertesz, "It is through the meditation of photography that we are permitted to seize the unreal forms of life, which demand at least a second of motionlessness in order to be perceptible."
Which brings me closer to the nut of my thesis. Stay with me.
For the photographer who happens to make a living as a journalist, some insight into the nature of the medium they have chosen to communicate with is necessary.
Most photojournalists BELIEVE they communicate facts about the stories they are tasked to shoot by their reporter colleagues. However, a growing number of their colleagues in the darkroom would now disagree. Many of these fellow photojournalists have come to believe that rather than directly reflect the thing being captured on film the photographic process can actually transform that reality. Photographer Garry Winogrand wrote in the early 1970's that for him photography was, for him, not about the thing he was photographing but how that thing he was photographing was going to look photographed. Again, in the 1970's, a book titled ON PHOTOGRAPHY by author Susan Sontag presented the theory that photography had more in common with surrealism than the documentary reality role it was commonly believed to play. Sontag believed that photography created a duplicate world to the one it was recording and the end result was a more narrow and dramatic perception of that world in the photograph than the actual world photographed.
Educator/ writer Dorthea Brande wrote in 1934 about coming to terms with the unconscious or intuitive self as a higher level of creativity and learning to trust that part of one's creative self. Brande described the creative state a writer must reach to access the intuitive self as a kind of `artistic coma'. She also stressed in her teaching the self discipline of regular writing schedules along with an appreciation of the role of the unconscious/intuitive part of the brain. Fifty-five years later photographer Sylvia Placy wrote in the forward of her book UNGUIDED TOUR about her working persona when photographing as a semi-comatose state. More specific, relaxing to the point that she was open to any and all visual possibilities.
So. I finally made a connection between words and pictures! But there is more.
Writer/photographer Wright Morris understands both the perceptions of the photographer and the process of the writer and yet he wrote in his book TIME PIECES, "photographs lie using the raw materials of truth". So, here come the surrealists again who believed that photography was the perfect vehicle for surrealism because it did indeed appear to be dealing with the truth for it's raw materials. Indeed. The more deeply rooted the viewers belief was in the conventional notion that photographs represent the untainted truth all the time, the more WONDERFUL the surrealists BELIEVED the contrast between the belief in photographic truth and the conflict created by the obvious contradiction found in the not so real representations found in surrealist photographs.
Working in Paris during the 1920's and 30's photographer Andre Kertesz was a friend of those French surrealists. Unlike some of his photo colleagues who dabbled in Dada/Surrealism through cut and paste collage, Kertesz's work depended on the absolute clarity of the undoctored moment as recorded on film. Kertesz was a pioneer in the utilization of the small format hand held camera. Many professional photographers considered the small cameras only suitable for amateur photographers and not worthy of serious consideration. Kertesz's images were considered surreal because of the juxtaposition or coexisting of seemingly unreal elements within the same frame. Kertesz'z instincts and reflexes allowed him to capture on film what Mac Orlean called the unreal forms of life. Kertesz merely recognized the camera`s ability to capture elements of rapidly moving life, freeze them, and then through cropping in the range finder, de-contextualize the moment from the flow of events around, and then converting the three dimensions of the reality being recorded on film into the flat two dimensions of a photographic print. The journey into surrealism from realism was then complete.
In his book LITERARY JOURNALISTS, author/educator John McPhee wrote that literary structure often involved the laying of two sets of contrasting facts side by side in a given narrative. The juxtaposition of those two sets of conflicting or contrasting facts could change the individual meaning of those specific facts without the author directly pointing out that narrative conflict.
So here it comes folks! Both the literary journalists and the new breed of photojournalists who don't believe in constant photographic fidelity to reality, their methods of collecting facts from reality, either on film or on paper, are also not free from the subjectivity of personal bias. Indeed, the act of recording those facts is an act of isolation from the narrative flow around those recorded facts. Indeed. It would seem that the act of recording some facts on paper and the act of recording some facts on film are essentially the same. Indeed.Indeed. It would also seem that the strategies involved in stopping some part of a story long enough to show it to the reader/viewer in a visual or written form....the strategy involved in deciding what to vignette into a paragraph or photographic frame come from the same set of journalistic concerns.