No words needed

The Shed - - Editorial - Lara Wyatt

I’ve found a com­mon theme when I talk to pho­tog­ra­phers who have trav­elled the world, im­mers­ing them­selves in the cul­ture and con­nect­ing with the lo­cal peo­ple. As I’m fas­ci­nated with how they could pos­si­bly com­mu­ni­cate with any­one, I ask if they knew the lan­guage of the place they ven­tured to, and nine times out of 10 they say no, or ‘only the ba­sics’. What I usu­ally get told is that they com­mu­ni­cate with their cam­era.

Pho­tog­ra­phers us­ing their cam­eras to com­mu­ni­cate is il­lus­trated by a quote I re­call ev­ery time it comes up, when Bruno Bar­bey said, “Pho­tog­ra­phy is the only lan­guage that can be un­der­stood any­where in the world”. First, you can phys­i­cally com­mu­ni­cate that you want to take a photo of some­one by sim­ply mim­ing and point­ing at the per­son, then at the cam­era, per­haps re­peat­ing that a few times un­til the mes­sage be­comes clear — but usu­ally it’s an easy and sim­ply rec­og­nized re­quest. Then you’ve got the ac­tual com­mu­ni­ca­tion via the im­ages you shoot. And this com­mu­ni­ca­tion isn’t just rel­e­vant to pho­tos you take on your trav­els; it could re­late to a pho­to­graph that was taken in your own back­yard that speaks vol­umes to any­one, from any na­tion.

Think of pho­to­jour­nal­ism — a pho­tog­ra­pher may find them­selves in all sorts of places around the globe, cap­tur­ing im­ages of a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent events, and be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate to the viewer the emo­tions the peo­ple in the pho­to­graphs are go­ing through. Grief looks like grief the world over, just as hap­pi­ness looks like hap­pi­ness — and an im­age of some­one cry­ing, be­ing sup­ported by an­other per­son, does not re­quire words. The pho­to­graph speaks to ev­ery­one, no mat­ter what lan­guage they speak.

Street pho­tog­ra­phy is an­other style that speaks vol­umes with­out hav­ing to ut­ter a syl­la­ble. Pho­tog­ra­phers pro­vide a snap­shot of the ev­ery­day lives of peo­ple in a par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion, and are able to form a his­tor­i­cal record of what a pe­riod of time was like that can be re­ferred back to, the mean­ings of which can be in­ter­preted just from the vis­ual el­e­ments. Think of David Cook’s im­ages in his book Meet Me in the Square — shots taken in Christchur­ch be­fore the 2011 earth­quake. The im­ages in this book com­mu­ni­cate to any­one who sees them what the city of Christchur­ch and its cul­ture were like be­fore the disas­ter: you can com­pare that with the im­ages of the af­ter­math, and no words are re­quired to com­mu­ni­cate the dev­as­ta­tion and grief that the city went through and is still build­ing back up from to­day.

Pho­tog­ra­phy is an es­sen­tial el­e­ment to be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate and vi­su­al­ize what’s hap­pen­ing through­out the world and within our own back­yard, and, no mat­ter what lan­guage or lan­guages you speak, some­times all that’s needed to get across what you’re try­ing to say is an im­age. An im­age speaks a thou­sand words, af­ter all …

This is­sue of The Pho­tog­ra­pher’s Mail is the last for 2016, and hope­fully you will all get a de­cent amount of down­time to en­joy the sun, the beach, and a few bar­be­cues — those of you not out shoot­ing an abun­dance of sum­mer wed­dings, that is! When the new year rolls round, I’ll look for­ward to see­ing what ex­cit­ing work ev­ery­one got stuck into but, un­til then, have a safe and happy Christ­mas hol­i­days.

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