Tales of Photography: The Meaning

This piece is a follow-up to the previous entry about photography and the importance of content. Because Fabula Nox has two aspects to it – photography and creative writing – I’ve noticed a certain, and often overlooked, relationship between the content of the picture and its meaning.

So the saying goes that a picture’s worth a thousand words, which is not wrong. However, unlike writing a thousand words, just simply photographing a scene or an item doesn’t necessarily give it meaning – the meaning then is created in the mind of the observer. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – another saying that is not wrong, but I feel gets misinterpreted when thinking about photography. Pictures give you, dear reader, a snippet into a moment in time and very little context is provided. Best example – the recent “rage” over DOVE commercial (this whole uproar is a prime contender for the stupidest internet reaction of the year). The saddest part is that what made rounds was not the whole commercial, but only the section where a black girl changed into a white girl…but no one followed up with the fact that then the white girl changed into an Indian girl and so on. Also what didn’t make the rounds was the participant’s side of view, written down in The Guardian days later, nor the explanation of DOVE themselves and their creative concept. No context. Only the opinion in the mind of the beholder, based on a small part of something bigger, taken out of context and warped beyond recognition.

In the age of picture-based communication, such gross misinterpretations are annoying at the best of days and dangerous at its worst. That is why, dear reader, written words are just as important and carry meaning with more weight, leaving little for interpretation. Not to say that words can’t be just as manipulative and twisted as pictures, but written word has the power to contextualise an imagine, so that the onlooker would truly look at the moment in time through the eyes of the photographer, drawing their own conclusions, sure, but doing so by being mindful of the circumstances that brought this picture about and the feelings the artist had when shooting it.

My best example I can think of again comes from The Guardian (I know what you all think, dear readers, a guardian reader is a liberal special snowflake, well, bite me, they have good investigative pieces), where an established photographer Pamela Singh commented on her picture of a dying Indian woman, how she got to witness it and what was her reaction, as well as giving some cultural background into the event. That’s how words and pictures can work together into telling a compelling story, leaving very little room for pointless rage or misinterpretations, rather, dear reader, for a moment, you’ve been there with Pamela, witnessing the sad end of life and living the feelings she lived, mixed with your own.

Although I myself prefer to sculpt the story with words, my partner in crime does so with pictures and together we try to create a good story experience…something you can read at night, before going to sleep and see the world through our eyes (even if the world is imaginary). I think the takeaway here is that in the age of endless pictures, making room for written word can be illuminating and provide emboldened experience while beholding the beauty.


Picture featured above this article was taken in Kaunas, Lithuania. Fabula Nox was trekking on our usual park path when we noticed the river went down. So this mother with her son were on the bank, feeding birds, trying to attract them whilst throwing bread and after a while, birds did come in a flock, peking and pinching the bread from one another. The family here did not see us taking this picture and if they recognise themselves, we will happily credit them.

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