21 February 2008

Couples revisited

Jim Putnam, over at Thinking through my fingers, comments on my post of the 11th, "We want to be together...":

Felix is able to provide some details to these three photos, (080209, 080210 and 080211). Many of his photos stimulate my imagination about the stories within the photo. But, aside from having seen the people, is his story in the blog any more accurate than mine?

Jim is absolutely right - as a devout Barthesian, I can't argue.

In the first case, I watched the argument and bullying, so to some extent I can vouch for the veracity of my description ... but the larger context within which I've placed them is entirely a creation of my own imagination. In the second I refrained from much elaboration ... but I did imply a happiness which I can't justify. In the third, I went furthest out on a limb ... looking again at that image, I could equally well have imagined them sharing a sombre moment (financial worry, loss of a friend, parental conflict, whatever) in perfect harmony.

This brings two thoughts drifting to mind. The first is the one I dropped unopened at the end of that post: that there is a message in my images which I may not want to hear. The second is about storytelling.

The first is quickly dealt with: even if my interpretations of those imaged situations is accurate, the common strand still probably lies with me rather than with relationships. My unconscious inner eye, it would seem, at least on those three days, was drawn to images which in my perception showed relationships in pain. Not something which gives me any cause to be proud ... but apparently true.

The second is more interesting. Whenever we communicate, we tell stories. This is true even for a Barthesian - we Barthesians would simply contend that we do known know what story we are telling; or, perhaps, that we know what story we are telling but not what story is being heard by our listeners. When a photograph is shown, a story is told and a story is read, whether or not those stories are the same - as Jim, in his own words, suggests that here they are not.

This is not the first time he and I have been through this particular country. Another road, some years ago, led a group of people (Jim and I among them) to discuss intended and received meaning. I said that, at a conscious level at least, I did not invest most of my images with meaning: I simply saw them, and recorded them, the meaning being supplied by the viewer. This led to an extended period over which some of those people (Jim among them) supplied their own stories to accompany images which I had already made. It was a fascinating and mind expanding experience for me; for some time, I had images and accompanying stories posted on my web site, though they are gone now. Different people interpreted the same image is radically different ways - most of them surprising to me.

I am, on at least one level, very similar to Jim. Like him, I sit or stand and watch people. Our observations emerge into the world in different ways, but beneath the skin they are the same.

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