Communication and photography

Every year, under great media attention, prizes are awarded to  photographers who can display  the best images of global misery. The documentary photography is praised for its ability to express more than 1000 words as they say.Yet these images are accompanied by a text that is often a prerequisite for being able to understand what the image is telling.That’s because the picture can not tell it all itself. An image without captioncan have many meanings, and it is not necessarily a quality from a communication point of view.The image, so to speak, is filled with meanings or in a semiotic sense: it has many connotations (associations, see about this in the article Semiotics and photography)

The accompanying caption selects or anchors the connotations that we must understand and ensures the denotative meaning (The lexical, neutral meaning, see about this in the article Semiotics and photography)

For example. the picture does not readily answer the questions Who? What? Where ? When? Why?But does that make the image a bad communication medium? – and what about the 1000 words?Let’s imagine what a real estate agent would do if, instead of showing pictures of a house, he only had to describe it in words. That would be an insurmountable task. Here the picture comes into its own and tells more than 1000 words.For example, try to find a random image in a newspaper without reading the caption, then guess what you think the image tells and compare with the caption.

Whether the image is a good communication medium depends on the genre it belongs to and the context it is part of. In the example of the real estate agentthe connotations are limited by the context in which the image is included, and the denotative meaning is clear.

In the example with the newspaper picture, the text must clarify the meaning.When the image is not locked in a very clear and concrete situation,the 1000 words become a problem if you want precise communication. Only a caption can clarify and clarify how the image is to be understood.

However, this diffuse communication of meaning also has its advantages when we look at a completely different genre than documentary photography, namely art photography. In art photography, the uncontrollable connotations are released and create the associations that activate our imagination.

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