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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Informing Contexts – Really Real?

“Photography is a tool for dealing with things everybody knows about but isn’t attending to. My photographs are intended to represent something you don’t see.”

– Emmet Gowin

The meaning of a photograph is never fixed in my opinion.  There are meanings contained in the photograph itself and in the context in which the image is viewed.  Moreover, there is a reliance on the viewer’s experience and understanding of a subject which affects the meaning of the image.

Photography has long been considered to represent reality in an objective manner, very often untouched by the perspective and creative choices of the photographer. However, as we are aware, there are various ways in which a photographer can manipulate their pictures.  Choosing what to shoot, the angle to shoot from, the lighting and background can alter the shot, as well as any post-production computer digitalisation. This manipulation brings into question the nature of the ‘truth’ of the photographs we view.

In the translation of Ludwig Wittengenstein’s book the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (first published in 1921), Wittgenstein et al (2001: 9) note that ‘we picture facts to ourselves’ and that ‘a picture is a model of reality’.   Wittgenstein was referring to how we use language to help us access reality.  These statements could also be used to describe how we view photography.

Photography has long been considered as a window to the world.  But there is often a disparity between the subject in the photograph and the appearance of the subject in the photograph. Lenses and the construction of the camera distort the image of the subject, so that we see a representation of the subject.


Figure 1: Jesus Diaz 2017

As a photographer, my choice of lens is very important to how I want my image to be interpreted.  I carefully consider all aspects of the intended image before I stage and take the image.  As a photographer and image maker, I intervene in every stage of every photograph.  I stage the narrative, style the subject, select what to include or exclude, the image crop, colour balance etc.  And after this I often enhance the image using digital software such as Photoshop.  Even my captions and choice of context in which to display the work can change the meaning and perception of whether the image is really real.

Each viewer will interpret the image differently based on their own experiences and understanding of the subject.  But they are looking at and making judgements on an image that is already an interpretation of the subject based on my viewpoint and the camera’s condition and mechanism for taking the photograph.  Photographs can not only create false images, they can create false expectations of the truth of the photograph. They can be an expression of reality but cannot be categorised as really real in my opinion.  Reality can appear in a certain way to different people and some can mistakenly believe the appearance in the photograph to be the reality, when it is a deliberate and staged representation of the subject.  The photograph captured a depiction of the reality based on the choices made by myself and not the reality itself.


Emmet, G. From Hakon Agustsson – hakon@PhotoQuotes.com 2017. Photography Quotes by Emmet Gowin . [ONLINE] Available at:,Emmet. [Accessed 12 February 2017].

Wittgenstein, L., Pears, D.F., McGuinness, B.F. and Russell, B. (2001) Tractatus logico-philosophicus. London: Routledge.

Figure 1: Diaz, J. From Jesus Diaz. 2017. This Image Shows How Camera Lenses Beautify or Uglify Your Pretty Face. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 February].

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