The Photograph
Image from the 2009 series by the same name, The Photograph, by Pilar Arthur-Snead. © Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

I am really fascinated by ontological questions about the photograph. Those questions that probe beyond obvious answers indicating the mere physicality of the photographic object are what truly interest me. I want to answer those questions that get to the heart philosophically, emotionally and existentially about what a photograph is and what a photograph does as a physical object.

We cannot deny the physicality of a photograph. But the physical nature of a photograph is based on conventions – photographs are square or rectangle, printed on paper. A camera produces it and sometimes a photograph is produced without a camera. All these elements are external, tangible qualities that exist regardless of the photographer’s mental state.

The simple fact remains that we cannot deny the intangible nature of the photograph. These intangible qualities – memories of a time gone by, emotions, desires, and hopes – exist within the photographer as creator and then within the viewer. A photograph is a strange and wondrous object captured in this present moment. The present slips away but is preserved by the creation itself. And until the film is developed or it pops up on our viewfinder it exists only in the future.


4 thoughts on “The Photograph

  1. interesting questions.. I think that there is a strange “inversion” here. what come first is the emotion that you prove watching a photo, but you cannot feel anything without that physical object that is a print. so the physical nature of a shot is everything we should care about!!

    1. I would argue that we photograph to preserve the memory of the emotion that existed in that moment. So the emotion is preceded by the photograph. It is emotion that moves us to create. I would be willing to concede it is one of those chicken before the egg conundrums!! Thanks for your comment!! =)

  2. I love this article and the thoughts it elicits. I would add this: in addition to preserving the emotion (and/or creating the emotion) in that one moment, a photograph preserves so much that we don’t see at the moment; these things only “appear” after the photograph exists, and these things can elicit a completely different emotion or intensify the existing emotion. A play of shadow across the face that changes the expression ever-so-slightly, the juxtaposition of an object unseen by the photo’s subject, the way the light fills the sky… all these parts of the photo – while seemingly random – can capture an unintended or hidden depth or meaning. The element of surprise, the delightful randomness of one instant, one second in time…

    1. Great points, Rick. I agree completely with the idea that a photograph is more than what is depicted, more than a single moment. I like what you say about intensifying emotion and “delightful randomness” as well. A photograph’s meaning can change over time and in different circumstances and in the hands of each person viewing it. Well said.

      Thanks for your comments!!

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