Photography as a Human Extension

Photo 1: Glass Tears  – Man Ray (1932), Paris Style: Dada

Gelatin silver print

I chose this photo because of the cinematic style and use of the woman’s gaze to draw in the viewer. The tears coming down from the her face are large and made of glass giving off the sense of added drama or exaggeration. To me, these stylistic choices result in an interface inviting the viewer to experience more than just what is literally in the image, but also space to fill in the blanks (similar to a painting). Capturing eyes in an image is also symbolic, and adds another layer to the photograph (looking up can represent innocence or reference religious imagery). This image is an example of storytelling rather than imitation. The departure from capturing a “realistic” image is a part of the genre or style demonstrated here: dadaism. Continuing to examine the photo from its social context, Man Ray was a significant contributing artist of the dada and surrealist movement. This photo was published in the surrealist art magazine Minotaur in 1935, as well as a 1934 book collection of Ray’s photographs. The Art Story website says, “Ray is exploring his interest in the real and unreal by challenging the meaning of still-life photography.” Using our tools for interpretation from class, it is clear to see that we identify and categorize images using social and historical context from other images that presuppose it. Another concept from class we discussed is the remix and reinvention of processes over time. In researching Man Ray, he participated in the “re-invention” of solarization and photograms which he called Rayographs (Balwin & Jurgens, 39). It is interesting to compare early methods of “photoshopping” or “editing” with the methods we use today, and  the way in which capturing “truth” has evolved over time and meant different things within different contexts.

Photo 2: Jonathan Bachman (2016) 

A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RTSH3XR

Photo taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 16mm; the exposure was 1/1600sec at f/5, ISO 2000

This photo went viral appearing all over social media and news websites, and quickly became one of the most circulated photos of The Black Lives Matter movement. In times of protest and civil uproar, photos are one way that these bigger than life moments become human and real. A powerful image has the power to reach people outside of the circumstance pictures, as well as create truth value. “The photograph allows for the existence of a multiplicity of narrations and storylines without privileging a single one by referring to some predefined notion of ‘truth’ ” (Lister, 24). The photo was compared to other famous photos that were considered iconic representations of historical movements including “Tank Man,” from the 1989 Beijing protests and “Flower Power” from the anti-Vietnam War protests in 1967. These photos symbolize nonviolent resistance, civil disobedience, and the oppressor vs. the oppressed (Gottschalk, 2016). Gottschalk (an Artsy contributer) states, “her position, that of Tank Man, and that of Jan Rose Kasmir—an individual standing up to a more powerful group that seeks to oppress or suppress her—is one that is infinitely relatable in a way that images capturing the actual violence that inspires such civil disobedience are often not. (This is particularly true for those in positions of privilege or power.) She becomes a blank canvas in which you can place yourself. You become a part of the struggle and the movement” (2016). The power in an image therefore, as we have discussed in class,transcends time because it is dialogic. “An image does not receive its meaning from its indexicality nor from its iconicity, but from the network of relations around it” (Lister, 36).

Photo 3: Miami Sunset 


I chose this photo (taken on Snapchat) because it exemplifies how the camera phone is a socio-technical object. According to Lister, Photography has “extended outwards from its traditional centre, to interface or become part of other technologies” (4). Snapchat is an extension of my memories, and is carried around with me on my phone, which makes my phone an (almost) physical extension of my body. Additionally, Snapchat features makes a photo taking and sharing more interactive and dialogic, allowing you to have a point of view but also to add or accentuate the part of the photo you find to be meaningful, add writing, or other forms of media on top of the image. Snapchat is a social platform, designed for sharing moments as they happen. This is achieved by the time constraint on each image (it only lasts 24 hours), which creates urgency to capture a moment and share it, before it’s gone. This is perfectly designed for the generation of users that use the interface, anxiety, immediacy and a fear of missing out. It’s no surprise that the application is such a popular form of communication.

One of the issues with social media is that photos start to lose their appeal as they become recycled and clichéd. Lister says, “technologies of representation have the potential either to stultify life by reducing it to endless repetition of essentially identical moments and actions or that the same technologies and energies can be harnessed towards a view of life that embraces change, uncertainty, spontaneous becoming and difference” (24). This quote articulates a valid point that I’ve experienced over the years of using social media. For me, it’s the way I use the technology that determines my view of life. For instance, I found what works best for me is to document only in the moments I find inspiring, and often to just keep it for myself. The act of analyzing it and sharing it is what reduces the moments for me at times, so I choose to skip that step.  

Martin Lister, ed. The Photographic Image in Digital Culture. 2nd ed. London; New York: Routledge, 2013.

Gordon Baldwin and Martin Jurgens. Looking at Photographs: A Guide to Technical Terms, Revised Edition. Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2009.