Personal Photographs


— by mechanicalrivers

“I cannot reproduce the Winter Garden Photograph. It exists only for me. For you it would be nothing but an indifferent picture, one of the thousand manifestations of the “ordinary”; it cannot in any way constitute the visible object of a science, it cannot establish an objectivity, in the positive sense of the term; at most it would interest your studium: period, clothes, photogeny; but in it, for you, no wound.” (Barthes, 73)

One thing I find fascinating about photography is its ability to bring people together while absolutely seperating them at the same time. For example, a photograph of the Holocaust would allow a group to, as a whole, lament on the sadness of the situation, yet at the same time, each would be seperated from the others by past experiences and personal beliefs. One person might have a great grandfather who died in a concentration camp, causing feelings of deep sorrow and connection, while another might have had a great uncle who was a Nazi, and therefore emits feelings of shame as well as sorrow.

The photograph I chose was one that I took myself. As Barthes states, there is no way that anyone will understand, truly, what this photograph is, other than myself. Because of this, I felt that my own photograph had to be chosen to represent this quote, because I could in no way claim to fully understand the photograph of anyone else. Others may observe that it is a rather pretty sunset over the lights of a city, most likely taken from a high point. Perhaps a mental connection to other pretty sunsets that they themselves have experienced will bring about a feeling of unity. People from my town may perhaps guess that it was taken at the Pagoda, a landmark that represents our city, being that it is one of the highest points in the area. They might feel a heartening connection to where they came from, perhaps pride, with personal memories of the Pagoda floating in their minds. No one else, of course, would recall the biting cold and harsh winds that I had to brave to snap this photograph. The feeling of being above a city full of people is mine, and mine alone to cherish. My emotional connection to the photograph includes that it was my first time at the Pagoda since I was a young child, and that I was there with my boyfriend of 4 years; we, alone at the Pagoda, experienced the moment in time that the photograph captured.

I am not saying that no one else can appreciate the photograph in any way, but as no one has experienced it like I did, they can never fully appreciate it. The visual pleasure of the photograph can be shared by many, the studium, but the emotional connection, though I would not call it a wound in this case, is not to be understood by anyone else.

Though I suppose that in photographs one is supposed to focus on the picture, not the situation in which it was taken, it is not really a fair seperation if one wishes to fully comprehend the photograph. Though I agree that because no one else experienced it, no one else can fully understand it, I do not believe that the only pleasure anyone can derive from it is merely from the studium. Everyone has their own memories that they can attach, which is why photography, though so personal, can be used so publically.


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