Thursday, March 12, 2009

How to read a photograph

Photographs can create illusions, communicate arguments or document a changing world. Learn how to look at them here

by Ian Jeffrey @ The Guardian

Understanding photographs has never been straightforward. Not all photographs – including some of the best known – were taken with a clear idea in mind. Even if they were, the idea was soon overlooked or forgotten. An outline history of photography would be easy enough to write, taking into account a symbolist phrase around 1900, followed by abstract "graphic" photography in the 1920s, replaced in its turn by humanist documentary in the 1930s. The would-be historian, however, would soon be puzzled by anomalies: false starts, anachronisms and examples of uneven development. It is almost as if photography took place in a perpetual present in which, for instance, William Fox Talbot (the inventor of the negative-positive process in the 1840s) remains an interesting contemporary. Under these terms of reference it is probably best to look at photographs one at a time, which is what I concentrate on in How to Read a Photograph.


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