Can a Picture Determine What We See?

January 14, 2012 in Photograph, Shoot, Social by William

Jacqueline Janine in Fade to White

The title of this entry is a silly question. Right? Of course a picture determines what we see. Doesn’t it?  I’m fascinated in exploring the integration of cultures, races, and ethnic boundaries.  The reason for me is simple. The synergy of ideas generates new ideas, i.e., innovations, and the mixing of two ethnic backgrounds is the blending of thousands of ideas rooted in hundreds of years of history.  However, looking too far over such vast stretches of time is bound to lead us to a romantic interpretation of difference and not a pragmatic beneficial one. For the photographic challenge, I looked closer at the individuals at the heart of such unions, the children.  The integrated offspring of a multiethnic marriage, which ensures a tangible multicultural individual.  Although family members are not a necessarily biologically multiethnic, they will be multicultural.

Jackie Low-Key

Jacqueline Janine in Fade to Black

Pop culture refers to mixed-ethnic ancestry as exemplifying today’s idea of beauty–the dark tall handsome stranger, the mysterious dark-haired woman, etc. Beyond beauty we now see power, in America, we’ve elected a multicultural President when society wanted change. A New York Times article recently stated that multiracial individuals are already or soon will be the majority of people in America. Its great to be in favor or to be on the verge of obtaining the dream, but what is it about an ethnic background that defines it, and how does the blending make one beautiful or powerful? Is it an ideal or an reality?  What can it teach us of other intracultural biases?  Do we know what the synergy of tradition can do, or are we just replacing the traditions with new ones?

This series of photos, called Multicultural Lighting, explores the use of extreme lighting conditions in photographs of multicultural models. Of course the model and photographer are bringing a dialog and view point to the picture as they create it. However, more interesting is how the viewer is invited to react or see others react to just how much diversity diminishes or is enhanced by changing lighting and colors. I am extremely happy with the first set for the series. Jackie’s (shown above in both pictures) created a interesting dynamic with viewers as they initially refused to believe she was the same model in both pictures. Viewers did quickly agreed on one point, that both pictures are of very attractive models, but struggled with commonality after that.

What do we choose to see under different lighting circumstances? What is it we see in each picture?  What judgements do we make? Why? Now consider something intracultural, what if Jackie wasn’t a multiethnic model, but a plus-size model? What would we be saying about the pictures then? Aren’t all of these thoughts rooted on a bias or preconceived notion that is challenged with the “right” light?  So did the picture help me see or not see?  I don’t know, but I have several other models already set for creating more photos like these with “multicultural lighting” then possibly moving to “intracultural lighting”

So what do you see when you look at these photographs juxtaposed taken only minutes apart?