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The Battle between Images and Words

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There is an ongoing debate amongst the lovers of art that images are fast replacing words as a primary form of language (Avedon 14). Throughout history, there have been great artists, and by this, I mean fabulous photographers and painters. One amongst them is Richard Avedon, an American fashion photographer, who has been on the forefront in promoting quality photography. He is best known for portraits that best examine the society’s identity, and which reflect dreams and desires. He did away with the old habit of photographing stationery models and brought in a new and fantastic way of doing things.

Susan Sontag is a renowned writer who couldn’t agree more with this quote. Sontag has written a splendid essay on the topic of photography taking over words. She argues that there has been a change in viewing ethics, meaning that photographs change and broaden our ideas on what suits us and what we can look at. She goes ahead to say that a new visual code has become apparent in the contemporary world (Sontag 158). Modern photography is easily available and convenient, thereby causing images to be in plenty. She defines a photograph as an image which interprets reality. Man Ray, a renowned photographer, spent time photographing things which he did not wish to paint; the things which already have an existence. He was also into the idea of showing movement in pictures, for example, in the different repetitive positions of the skirts of the dancer in ‘The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Shadows.’ Sontag attributes prevalence of images to modern photography where she argues that images are in plenty due to the fact that most people have cameras nowadays, and they can easily access studios to develop their photographs. She also says that there are so many images of objects, places, events and people from all over the world (Sontag 159).

Sontag believes that modern photography has helped a lot in educating people in that they become more knowledgeable of past and present events than before. Photography also teaches people about parts of the world which are out of their reach, more than words could (Sontag 160). For example, we can get to know of how the deepest ocean looks like underneath without actually diving into the deep seas. Sontag also talks of how images may minimize the sensitivity of its audience, and how they can desensitize reality, that is, the way a photograph is designed can distort someone’s perception. According to Sontag, photographs can be altered to pass certain information and take reality captive (161). This fact is brought out clearly by Avedon, who was very much interested in the way an image could capture the personality and soul of the person being photographed. He would sometimes evoke reactions and emotions from his subjects by carefully guiding them into discussing topics that are not comfortable, or asking them questions which could investigate their psychology. By doing this he would successfully come out with images that revealed their characters and personalities which would otherwise not have been captured by other photographers (Avedon 58). Contrary to the traditional way of doing things, Avedon photographed models while moving. He came up with new ideas through plotting gestures that express emotions in the models.

Man Ray is also another renowned artiste who did a stunning work known as ‘Violon d Ingres’, the photograph of Kiki de Montparnasse, styled after the painter/musician, Ingres (Man 26). The photograph exposed how Man Ray could assemble side by side elements to bring out meaning. When Sontag examines the relationship between photography and reality, she finds out clearly that a photograph is an image which interprets reality, and can be said to be a trace. It is a similitude of reality. However, in the contemporary world, the purpose of the photograph has changed because more and more copies change the idea of having a first hand experience.

Sontag believes that the negativity of images is brought about by the fact that they are readily available. Anyone can gain easy access to photographs. This is besides the fact that they reduce sensitivity. She talks of photography becoming an experience and a forum of participation where people are actively involved in the act. Everyone can actually participate in taking photographs (Sontag 162). Photography is used as a form of memory, and to provide evidence where need be. A collection of photographs representing different places gives people the knowledge about the whole world. According to Avedon, the significant thing about the shift from the use of words to images now makes the receiver more of the interpreter than the author. The receiver is the viewer of the images (60). They are free of having their own independent opinions on the images they look at, and have a choice on what to see and what not to see. This is contrary to the print where the author can easily influence the reader’s mind by stating his/her own opinion on the content of the print.

I concur with the quote that “images are fast replacing words as our primary language”. Photography is a force to recon with in the arts industry nowadays. For example, it is very evident that children always want to associate themselves more with images than print media. Kids’ books are usually full of images because it is easy to comprehend the message in them. By extension, this explains why people keep albums. Photographs serve as a reminder of their past life and of the things which they like. Their images and the images of places and other animals serve as evidence and reminder of where they have been. Images are also a plus when it comes to obtaining information. For instance, people in the western countries know of Africa as a result of seeing the images that are photographed from Africa. Photography also lets people to know about the wonders of the world without actually witnessing firsthand information. It’s a good thing that images are replacing words, since when an individual looks at a photograph, he/she gets more in touch with the reality as opposed to written print. For instance, a portrait, or a picture of a dinosaur, could actually give us a clue on what it looked like as opposed to someone describing it in print (Avedon 65).

 Images give us an opportunity to comment and give our own perceptions as opposed to print where the author has more authority to influence the reader’s perceptions. A novel, for example, that has the author talking of something as evil, will actually make the reader think of it in the same manner. Nevertheless, the notion of images taking over print can be negative due to the fact that photographs or images can be manipulated or tampered with in order to bring out certain messages and hide others, or better yet play with the viewer’s emotions (Man 50). This kind of manipulations have been applied successfully by governments which control the media, or by driving campaigns that depict emergencies such as hunger and natural calamities, which in turn evoke different emotions like pity on the affected. The response after these images is always intriguing. For instance, when people see the images of malnourished children, they are more compelled to sympathize as opposed to having read in words.

The quote that a picture is worth a thousand words is an old adage which generally means that a whole idea which may look complex can be expressed using a single image. This, in the long run, makes it easier for people to absorb large amounts of information at a glance. However, this is not the same as the argument that ‘images are fast replacing words.’ While the idea that a picture is worth a thousand words promotes the advertisement industry, the latter talks of images taking over printed material in general. In conclusion, that people nowadays prefer photographs to acquire information over reading printed material is no longer a secret.

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