Archive for January 19th, 2010

As I sat gazing at pictures for this site, I started thinking about the clichés relating to photographs and writing.  “A picture paints a thousand words.”  So the quote goes.  However, has anyone ever counted how many words have actually been written or spoken about a single picture?  I know I haven’t and I don’t plan on doing so any time soon, if ever.  How can it be said only a thousand words?  Why not five thousand or five hundred?  How can there be a limit set?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Many of us know the origin of this quote…and it had absolutely nothing to do with a picture as such.  It was coined in 1921 as a way of expressing the effectiveness of using graphics in advertising.  How very corporate!  Interestingly enough, it had actually evolved and grown into the rather simple meaning of looking at a picture accomplishes the same thing as writing about it.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

It’s true that pictures tell a story, but exactly how much of the story?  A picture (or photo) is a static entity – taken at one moment in time and frozen forever.  Where nature is concerned, it could capture timeless beauty which may not continue into perpetuity.  Unlike a picture, a written narrative is dynamic.  Although based on a static picture, words bring it to life; makes it breathe.  Words not only describe, but give texture and substance – permanence.

Depending on the picture, I know when looking at it I have a tendency to ask all sorts of questions before offering any type of observation.  For example, let’s consider the photo I selected above.  One glance and my mind started to race…simple questions of “where was this taken?” and “when was it taken?” start the tumble.  I then contemplated such things as “is it possible the path has existed for over 100 years?” and “who might have traversed it?”  By looking at a photo, I usually hope to bring about a memory (or feeling) with which to draw inspiration.  It is from such musings many a verse or tale could be derived.

However, if all we did was look and never write or speak about a picture, would the saying “a picture paints a thousand words” still be as profound?  Or would it need to evolve to reflect a new meaning?

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