The power of photography

Text: An Introduction to Visual Culture by Sturken & Cartwright, Chapter 1: Images, Power, and Politics

Which is more powerful: text, or visual imagery? Well, which will tends to catch and hold your attention longer? Visual imagery.

“To be made to look, to try to get someone else to look at you or at something you want to be noticed, or to engage in an exchange of looks entails a play of power.” Symbols, physical photographs, visual representations, and social constructs all mesh together and are able to easily build and influence the author’s desired connotation of a subject. In other words, images create ideologies: a system of beliefs that exist within all cultures. They’re assumptions, not just about how things are, but how they should be. In An Introduction to Visual Culture, ideologies are defined as the broad but indispensable shared sets of values and beliefs through which individuals live out their complex relation in a range of social networks. And let’s not forget that with today’s technology, these images can be shipped from one nation to another almost instantaneously.

“Visual culture is thus not just a representation of ideologies and power relations but is integral to them.” pg 23

“To explore the meaning of images is to recognize that they are produced within dynamics of social power and ideology.” pg 22

“When people think of ideologies, they often think in terms of propaganda–the crude process of using false representations to lure people into holding beliefs that may compromise their own interests.” -pg 23

It’s interesting that the term ideology carries a pejorative connotation (just as propaganda does).

In modernity, a usual characteristic of ideologies is that, well, we don’t notice them. For example (these are very hard to think of, because typically we really just don’t think about them): the norm of heterosexuality, the media’s perception of beauty, racism is bad, equality is good, hard work is great, etc.   The media depicts all of these elements as if they’re fixed, meaning there is no discrepancy concerning their validity.  And ideologies would be nowhere near as powerful as they are in today’s media without the  images that go along with them.  While ideologies can be positive, they get more press for negative examples.

One thing to remember about ideologies is that you can’t really determine what they mean without analyzing the situation (which means being able to recognize it) and fulling understanding its context.

Okay, so why am I going on and on about ideologies? I’m trying to show that the way we interpret images deals with

1how society views that image

2different physical factors associated with the image itself

3the context that the image is portrayed



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