What is it about photography that makes it such a powerful medium? Clearly the technological innovation of capturing images has inspired and found numerous commercial applications since it’s invention. What is the X-Factor that has embedded photography into almost every culture across the globe?
Taking a second to reread this last question it’s amazing to think of the global impact of photography as an invention. Few inventions have had as significant an impact. Broadly speaking I can think of (12) twelve inventions in the last few centuries that have had as broad an impact on global cultures. In that list I would include:
1. Gunpowder (applied as a weapon)
3. Photography (silver based film chemistry)
4. Germ Theory of Medicine (Louis Pasteur)
6. The Telephone
7. The Automobile
8. Transmitting Technology (leading to Radio/TV)
9. Air Travel
10. Modern Birth Control
11. Nuclear Energy
12. The Internet
Of these (12) twelve inventions photography has had a direct hand in or assisted on some level to the development of antibiotics (documenting specimens, lab results, etc.), transmitting technology (a precursor to and an inspiration to the creation of Television), nuclear energy (photographic film being used to reveal & discover nuclear radiation from Uranium in 1896), and the Internet (photographs being one of the critical data types to be shared/communicated). One could even make an argument that commercial or cultural components of each subsequent invention to photography were adopted faster because of it.
|Flag-Raising on Mt. Suribachi – Joe Rosenthal
>> more about this photo
|Earthrise at Christmas – William Anders
>> more about this photo
|Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, California
>> National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection
Photography has an incredible legacy and to this day a huge sphere of influence on cultures around the world. Truly an amazing thing to be able to say considering other technologies such as television and the Internet have since come along. Beyond this sphere of influence what is it about photography that makes it such a powerful medium?
Photography has had a lasting and universal impact because of its ability to:
1. Factually document or record subjects in a visual format
2. Provide a springboard for interpretation & debate.
Photography transcends nearly every culture and has excelled with modern political, philosophical and scientific developments to feed humanities insatiable pursuit of truth and/or fact. Yet at the same time people regularly debate photographic images as they’re always open to interpretation. It is this later point that has helped photography persist as a pillar to modern culture for nearly 200 years.
When a viewer takes in a photograph they don’t just see the factual recording of a subject, they bring to it an interpretation based on their experiences and desires. A photograph can represent numerous things including an icon, an idea, a memory, an emotion, a fear, or an aspiration. A photograph offers each viewer a unique experience. Each person bringing a piece of themselves, a result of their unique journey through life, to each image they view. A photograph is the nexus of our world and the essence of our being.
From a photographers perspective iconic photographs are both what influence us and what we dream of achieving even if subconsciously. It is the iconic image that can encapsulate all that a photograph can philosophically represent, creating a tipping point for momentum both at a cultural and societal level. Sometimes that will translate to notoriety for the photographer and/or subject. For some photographers the iconic image is the Siren’s call. Iconic images often emerge as a result of luck, timing and the hunger of society. In this regard a photograph has a life of its own with the camera and photographer being a conduit to the energy of those viewing it.
Not to diminish the vision and execution that goes into a photograph by a photographer, the viewer fuels the power of photography. It is the collective interpretation of viewers, most easily seen with an iconic photograph, that exemplify the power of photography at its pinnacle.
The power of photography is universal, the power of creation by the photographer; the power of interpretation and meaning by the viewer. The power of photography and its global influence would not exist with out either of these components. It is for this reason photography continues to be respected and feared.
[tags]power, photography, invention, influential, influence, icon, culture, interpretation, photographer, photo, film, digital[/tags]