Photo and meaning

The past three readings, Lentil Soup, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and Performing Civic Identity: The Iconic Photograph of the Flag Raising in Iwo Jima come together as a tour de force in the history and iconography of photography.

In Lentil Soup, Coleman makes the argument that the use and fascination with the image pre-dates the invention of the camera by centuries.  In fact, the “lentil” shaped lenses, had been in use and aided image makers for quite some time.  The artist David Hockney wrote an interesting piece, similar in spirit to Lentil Soup, on the use of Camera Obscura by many artists to create and achieve realistic images since the Renaissance. The great achievement, then, of the camera as a mechanic object, is its ability to embed or imprint an image on a reproducible flat element that captures exactly what the “hole” in the camera sees through the lens.

The lenses, by design, will edit and synthesize an image into a static representation.  It is a point of view in time and place that situates the viewer behind the lens.  Obviously, this is an interpretation of photography that seems dated and somewhat conservative as technology and the medium have evolved into a more dynamic and elusive interpretation of reality.  Where photo-journalists have to represent and stand behind accuracy and true representation, art photography has exploded the medium into different realms of perception.

Focusing on the image of Iwo Jima, it was remarkable for me to learn that this is the most reproduced image in history. I am clearly a product of a different generation that not only did not live thought WWII, but has also very little emotional connection to the image.  This emotional distance from the event and the iconic image, allows me to have a different and perhaps colder read.  While I think that it is a beautifully composed shot, I have a hard time appreciating nostalgic images that glorify war. For me, rather than an allegory, this image takes on a commercial identity and celebrates a reductionist interpretation of the event. What makes it an interesting read, is how we follow the evolution of the use of this image, from becoming an instant beacon of freedom to a template for a 3D bronze sculpture and ultimately setting the standard and becoming a pre-cursor of modern day images of strength, victory and hope.


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