Readings of Photographs

Michael Riley (mriley@ADMIN.AURORA.EDU)
Thu, 4 Jan 1996 14:15:50 -0600

I think the dialogue we're developing around photography is interesting and
productive. I would like to add a few more comments -- not about specific
postings, but about the general question set forth by Stacey Ayeh.

The process of learning to read photos is a complex one, and it is a PROCESS.
That is, perhaps rather than there being one reducible way that WE
collectively see photographs, there may be fundamentally different modes of
responding based on our positions (albeit one person might practice more
than one, and they could change over time if we are retrained -- such as
going to art photography school). Formalist art photographers, social critics,
historical documentarians, tourists, advertisers, lovers, and the nostalgic
bereaved understand the same image on different terms from different social
positions. Differences in class, as well as culture, as well as
history, as well as the context the photo is inserted into also inform our
responses. The fact that photos are simultaneously both iconic as well
as indexical signifiers underscores this process.

Here are some readings in this area (the citations are by memory so
they're approximations):
Roland Barthe, _Camera Lucida_.
John Berger, _Another Way of Seeing_.
Richard Bolton, ed., _The Contest of Meaning_.
Pierre Bourdieu, either _Distinctions_ or his later work.
Catherine Lutz, _Re-Reading National Geographic_.
Susan Sontag, _On Photography_.