A Picture is not worth a thousand words
Photos are powerful, but not in the way we've been told to believe.
'A picture is worth a thousand words'. It's a well known phrase that we've all used. I've said it myself hundreds of times (especially being a photographer).
It's been said time and time again, all over the World, but we think it can be traced back to a Chinese proverb 'One photo is worth ten thousand words'. But the older I get, and the more photos I see, the less I believe it, and here's why.
Photos can be inauthentic:
Photos can tell the story we want them to tell. Think about Instagram. Instagram influencers and celebrities have been slammed over the past few years for over-editing photos, using beauty filters and body manipulations. You may think that's new because we now have the technology to do these image manipulations, but we always have had the ability to manipulate images. In the first darkroom processes we could change images, cut negatives together and remove things we didn't want people to see. Photo manipulation has always been an option, and has always been used. How many old photos have you seen that you thought were true, but actually had been manipulated? - you'll never know. The fact of the matter is, a photo can lie just as well as words, or even more so because we believe an image to be 'proof'.
Think about the Cottingley fairy images from the 1920's, where two young girls fabricated images of fairies in their gardens, which captured the attention of the World as the photos were taken as proof of fairy existence. It was 50 years before the images were revealed to be fakes.
Image source: http://hoaxes.org/photo_database/image/the_cottingley_fairies/
But back to today, it's not just manipulations that make photos a difficult source. But also the lack of ability to access a person's inner thoughts.
If someone is feeling sad, they could tell you. But if you take a photo they could be smiling, so you might deduce as the viewer that that person is happy - because that's what the photo is telling us.
Photo by Ángel López on Unsplash
Another example: how often have you looked at a beautiful scene, like a sunset, and you get your camera out to take a photo, you take it and then the next day have a look, and wow...what a disappointment.
It didn't look like that! it looked much better in person. Sometimes a simple snap cannot capture the beauty and emotion we see before us. It doesn't capture how we are feeling looking at that sunset, or how amazed we are. It's just a bit, disappointing.
This might seem a strange argument for a photographer to be making, surely I should be pushing photos as the only true thing in this World and we should all have them - and believe me, I love photos. But here's what I think that original proverb is missing:
'A person is worth ten thousand words'
This photo is of me and Jim at my favourite place in the World. Taken in 2014, 2 months after we'd got engaged on that same beach. On this day we collected some sand, to put in a 3D photo frame. We didn't have anything else to put the sand in apart from a Pringles tube we had in the car from the long journey. We took about 20 photos and I'm not sure if in any of them if both of us are looking at the camera together. The sun was bright and we couldn't see where it was. That holiday we stayed in a small apartment overlooking a lake. On the first day I was so tired from the journey that Jim told me to go to bed, and when I woke up he'd made us dinner. We had breakfast the next morning on our balcony, and went on a wave machine for the first time. This photo doesn't tell you all of that, I just did. I, as the subject of the photo, can tell you all of that.
Photos are a tool to tell your story, they are not the story themselves. You are.
Use the photos to look back on with fond memories to tell your story...'oh that's when we...' or 'remember when we did that!'
And this is the job of a photographer. A photographer has the ability to tell the story, a photographer has the technique to capture that emotion. Photography is not just about 'point and shoot', there is so much more that goes in to crafting stories, capturing emotions, documenting events and making you feel something as the viewer.
Photos are incredible, but remember that you are even more incredible. A photo is never the whole truth, use it to tell your story. And a photographer's eye is the best way to make sure that story has all the truth and beauty you want it to.