We all know the expression “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And we use it to mean that seeing is often far superior to any written or oral communication.
And what about photographs?
Do they genuinely capture the essence of a moment better than those “thousand words?”
Reading energy, reading mood
A few days back, I had a brief exchange in a grocery store with a cashier as he glanced at my driver’s license. I was buying a bottle of wine, and writing out a check. He remarked that I was more attractive in person. A bit of a surprise, given that I wasn’t exactly dressed for success.
To some extent, I think he was getting a read of both energy and mood. When you’re feeling irritated, it comes across. Likewise, when you’re feeling good, don’t your gestures and smile radiate a positive attitude?
Besides, no one has a decent license photo. But the fact is – I do. So how is it that I thought I looked fine in the picture, but on an especially disheveled day, he thought I looked better in person?
I that an intriguing comment, and one that leads me to contemplate the way all sorts of trappings hide the reality of a person’s life or, for that matter, when we have no need of either a picture or physical presence to relate to someone – or trust them.
Look me in the eye
Over the years I’ve worked with people remotely – by phone and email. There are times I sensed the person on the other end of the line was not being wholly truthful, and I would have loved to look him in the eye.
A photo? I had that. But it communicated nothing of the individual’s trustworthiness. It was purely a public face.
And my own photographs?
Sure – you get what you get when it comes to a license picture, but otherwise, I know my best angles, and I discard any images that I don’t like. So as Gandalfe suggested – considering we’re posing, posturing or selecting, isn’t an image always deceptive?
Two other examples come to mind – love relationships that develop over the Internet, with only a photo exchange or possibly Skype to go on, and likewise, friendships.
I’ve begun relationships through an online acquaintance, and I’ve also developed deep and trusting friendships that originated in an online connection. One friend in particular – I’ve never seen in person. Yet I trust her completely. We’ve built a foundation over time, on the phone, and in writing. We’ve been there for each other. I know everything I need to know.
How many of us have formed genuine friendships through Facebook or other online communities – with only a few images to go on – and our experience of those involved? Is it because we open up to others more easily without the pressure of that face to face exchange?
Capturing a moment
Like most parents, I have hundreds of pictures of my children, and I love the candids most of all. They capture spontaneous moments.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons I love portraiture, but not the typical portraiture that strives to capture a photographic likeness. I prefer something more gestural or expressive. The paintings of Alice Neel come to mind – for their energy and their ability to project an essence.
At times I think about the faces we put on – some necessary, and others – perhaps a matter of pride or simply cultural habit. I wonder about the purpose they serve, and how we cling to our masks and images of self based on the way we believe others see us. Case in point: my license picture apparently presents a more diffident self than my reality.
So what if the mood of the moment was fleeting, and the somewhat more serious demeanor of the license image – the reality?
Sometimes, a picture is a lie. Sometimes, when you look more closely, the truth is visible.
- Do you think photographs offer accurate depictions of their subjects?
- Do you prefer a drawn or painted portrait for capturing a person’s likeness?
- Are all appearances deceiving – or are some of us more transparent than others?
- Would you do business with someone you can’t look in the eye?
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