Dialogic domination of the “Afgan girl” portrait

This week, the readings made me consider whether there is anything sociological in the meaning-making process, and whether any sociological insight can bring back and feed the dialogic-generative structure. Is there any relationship between verbal capacity and cultural encyclopedia? Can we observe communities, or maybe social networks, in the form of political fragments, with cultural encyclopedias particular to them? The cultural artifact that I will attempt to analyze will, however, will try to understand what is political about a cultural encyclopedia, and how would the political affect the dialogic.

I will focus on a photograph in this analysis to address this issue.

While music, for example, is seen as an art form that builds on the human symbolic faculty, there are no minimal constituents in photography that establishes an association between language and photography. Therefore, photography is holistic. The intuitive and reflexive moment corresponds to the moment that an image is documented.

Pixels, or what is observed in an image– they can all be considered constituents, but there is no generative principle that function as a rule to acknowledge or define a photographic genre. Therefore, photography is more likely to be governed by creative principles (like 1/3 rules, forming your own color palette, or having your own way of not having a color palette, etc.) than generative principles. The photographer rather searches for a mental image, an idea, a remix of certain colors, patterns, elements, in a single capture.

Now lets consider the Mona Lisa of photography – the Afghan girl portrait, by Magnum photographer, Steve McCurry.

Afghan girl

While this photograph has become an icon now, along with Che Guevera and Marilyn Monroe, this girl is not famous. There is a reason that makes her portrait such an iconic photograph, however: she exactly looks like our image of an Afghan Muslim girl. The girl looks poor, primitive, veiled, hairy; everything the Western expects an Afghan girl to be.

The construction of the image of the Afghan girl would normally be no different than the dialogic process as constructed by Bakhtin: a performance of a symbol recreates and transforms that symbol. If I say a word, I am regenerating its meaning, in regard to the cultural encyclopedia I inherit.

However, how is this dialogic process effected when the image is globally distributed? The photograph gains a weight in the dialogic system so that it distorts the organic direction of meaning. The impact of this photograph is global, and it anchors what an Afghan girl is and can be. Photography, therefore, can be a stereotyping machine, and lock a moment from a certain perspective. Considering the photojournalistic landscape that social photography resides in, it is not about why we were exposed to the Afghan girl, but rather a question of why were we not exposed to other photographs? If done successfully, photography has the power to manipulate the dialogical process – this time, formation of the image of the “Afghan girl.”