The meaning of Photographs - The Visual Experience
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The following is an excerpt from the introduction to Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, by Marcus Reichert, written by Edward Rozzo
Ziggurat Books International, London, 2012

The meaning of photographs

1978 Reading Pennsylvania (c) Marcus Reichert

Photographs have been the object of speculation and reflection for over 150 years. They have been evaluated from hundreds of viewpoints, analyzed, contemplated and described in millions of ways. Szarkowsky acutely isolated those elements which made photography unique among the visual arts, many others have delved into the intrinsic meaning of a photographic image, its representation of reality, its subjective narration.

With the passing of years, changing trends in image-making and cameras have democratized the photographic process which has, once again, altered the understanding of the photographic image and its historical relevance. From description to narration, from documentation to speculation, the photographic image has held our attention since we were born and despite the demise of much of the photographic profession we are immersed in more photography today than ever before.

We must distinguish the various uses of the photographic image; on a magazine page, probably next to a photographic advertisement, on the Internet, as a stop-motion element in animation, as a vehicle of story-telling, as a snapshot in a family’s history, or, as in this case, in a book. The photographic book has become a sort of medium in itself. The stringing together of images was once the chronological field of documentary photography, then of the journalists’ photographic “story,” often a logical gathering of images in order to communicate an event or experience to those who were not present at the event itself.

Yet, this book is of another type, it’s a different kind of “story.” In a sense it is chronological, but only superficially. It does tell a story because there is a protagonist, but she doesn’t do anything in particular. There really are no events.

The meaning of photographs

1981 Perch Pond Vermont and 1982 West 86th Street New York (c) Marcus Reichert

Why should we look at these images? Because they’re interesting? Because Sally MacLeod is a beautiful woman whose body has aged gracefully? Because the images are aesthetically interesting, erotically exciting or depressingly realistic? Is this a book about her? About age? About female beauty? About a couple’s relationship? All of these reasons, although present when looking at this book, don’t, however, really answer the question.

The meaning of photographs

2002 Ramsgate England and 1968 Williston Vermont (c) Marcus Reichert

Maybe the real subject of this charming book of images is the artist himself, Marcus Reichert. All of these images represent Reichert’s attempt to understand Sally MacLeod and what she represents; whether she is enigmatic, superfluous, enticing, proud, wanting or passively bored. The gaze is that of Reichert and his gaze is looking for meaning. Often he is satisfied with an aesthetic feeling, a simple construction of lines, forms and the beauty they represent. At other times, he looks deeply into the passive ambiguity of MacLeod’s gaze. We jump continually between meaning and feeling, between aesthetics and psychology. We can leave the book easily because it needs the energy of our attention in order to give us meaning. It is like a dialogue; this time between us and the Reichert/MacLeod relationship. Between us and a woman who is quite used to being looked at. A woman in the classic sense of John Berger’s women in classic art: They are there to be looked upon. We sometimes speculate on the meaning of Sally’s indifference, other times we simply enjoy the formal simplicity of her gaze.

Photographs not only stop a moment in time, but bring us to that moment and allow us to stay there for as long as we wish. They can take us wherever they have been and whenever they have been. They are our personal Time/Space-machine. But once we’ve learned to play with our Time/Space-machine, what do we do with it? Is it just a toy in our contemporary cross-platform existence? Or is it a means to provoke deeper thought, so dearly lacking in the fragmented vision of our contemporary visual landscape?

This book is an intimate glimpse into two peoples’ lives: the person photographed and the person photographing. It is a semiotic relationship which can not be ignored. Otherwise we are left simply with an estranged woman’s gaze as she grows old and the quest of a yearning man’s vision. But it is in the intricate relationship between these elements that we find the wealth of experience that this book delicately captures.

The meaning of photographs

2006 St. Hippolyte du Fort, France and 1988 Highgreen, England (c) Marcus Reichert

Edward Rozzo

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