How Pictures Work: Down the Rabbit Hole with David Campany

“Photographs show, but they don’t tell; they don’t explain. They are good at the what but not the why.” — David Campany


An interview featured in ‘In the In-Between’ online journal resonates with me as I continue to contemplate the reading of images and construction of meaning, while making sense of the canal and what I might create from walking its route.

In my first essay I discussed the forming of meaning (or interpretation), and Campany’s comment below reminded me of Gombrich’s observation along the lines of meaning being fixed at the destination of communication rather than the origin.

“…I don’t really write about what images mean (I don’t really know what they mean), although I’m very interested in the processes by which meaning is made, unmade, remade.” — David Campany

Though Campany does go into acknowledge that there can be a collective sense of meaning in images that follow the conventions of their visual cultures. Rather than the psychology of perception, this might be thought of as the crowd-psychology of perception – perhaps related to the like-culture of social media. This leads to a discussion on the prevalence of cliché in fragmented cultures and an insistence that photographs should communicate something rather than be comfortable with their inherent instability.

Photography is a tool used in numerous ways, just as the tool of writing. I’m increasingly interested in how it might be used in reflecting how we process the visual world to make meanings; the psychology of perception as a close relation to the coding that is the subject of semiotics. Does this invert the concept of ‘representation’ of reality to become the representation of internalised meanings shaped through perception and context and experience of the beholder? What might it tell us about ourselves, or help others understand more about themselves and their perceptions?

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