One more thought about recognizing photos...

Donna M. Lanclos (lanclos@GARNET.BERKELEY.EDU)
Wed, 10 Jan 1996 14:10:48 -0800

A colleague and I were discussing the interesting thread on whether
recognizing photographic images is "learned," and we thought of a couple
of issues I don't recall coming up during the thread.
Of those people who had no previous experience with photos who
were distressed by them (the photos), could it be possible that it was
precisely because the people *did* recognize the figures in the photo
that they reacted in the way they did? That is, if previous symbolic
representations of people, animals, etc (like rock art) were clearly
representational, and not attempts at reproducing precisely the images
of people or things, couldn't first contact with a thing that produces
precise images of objects be unnerving at best? It could be considered
"not natural," or in some other way threatening in its imagery
precision. Just a thought.
That thought assumes, of course, that people do in fact recognize
faces, etc, whether they're 3-D or flat. I believe Oliver Sacks has
written an essay or two about individuals who, due to injury or illness,
are incapable of recognizing the parts of a face as belonging to what
"normal" people recognize as a whole face--in pictures or in person. If
*not* being able to put images together into a mental whole is
"pathological" in some way, perhaps it is safe to assume that recognizing
people and objects in photos would be fairly easy for most people,
regardless of cultural conditioning.
Or, perhaps not. It was a stimulating thread, and I thank the
participants for making me think--I still am, in fact. :-)
Donna Lanclos
UC Berkeley Dept of Anthropology