Response to Introduction and Chapter One of Practices of Looking by Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright

Several aspects of Sturken and Cartwright’s initial observations really struck a chord with me, probably because I’ve made my career working for media. I was particularly intrigued by their approach to the “myth of photographic truth.” Frankly, I think they hit the nail on head – and they did so on a subject that people often have trouble grasping. (And furthermore, many people don’t even try to grasp it.) As Sturken and Cartwright’s subtitle implies, there is no such thing as photographic truth. This is a statement I fully believe.

In its most literal sense, photo-editing software means any image we see today may have been altered. But I think the myth of photographic truth addresses much more than that. In terms of non-altered images, there is still a lot of context that the viewer is never able to consider. Imagine the case of a newspaper reporter assigned to cover a strike. Does the reporter photograph the marching picketers? Or go into the factory to get the perspective of the factory boss, wringing his or her hands and trying to make do with too few workers and too little time? No matter what the reporter does, something will be missed. Consider this photo, which pictures one of the “Little Rock Nine” entering a desegregated school for the first time. Would the image be half so compelling if the screaming girl in the background were not present? What if that reporter had chosen to take the photograph from behind the African-American girl so as to get the school building in the photo? This little piece of American history might be remembered quite differently.

Photography and other visual imagery does, as the authors argue, have an increasingly significant impact on our culture. Although many people do, perhaps, still privilege text, they may not realize the significant they do attach to imagery. The recent media coverage of the Democratic National Convention is one example – almost everyone in America probably saw at least one image of the stunning background created to highlight the speakers at the event. That background undoubtedly lent those speakers an authority they would not otherwise have held over many watchers. As we discussed in class, this application of visible rhetoric is one that is intended to apply directly to the masses.

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