No words needed
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.