The Social Medium

The Photographic Constant

Arthur Ou

In considering the term “intertextuality” or the related term “interinconicity” (the recurring use of iconic images) as proposed in the above article, a revisiting of Gertrude Stein’s early 20thCentury work, “The Making of Americans,” can shed some alternate light. As much (or as little) as a reader can take from the story conveyed through the dense and repetitive language in this nonetheless epic work, the narrative inculcates a radical idea: from the perspective of every generation, there exist a set of personality categories or types, and that further, each individual, through the process of growth and assimilation into society, grows into one of these existing role types. There has been an abundance of interpretive material generated from this prescient work. Amid the many insights this text generated, this idea of “growing into” existing categories of people, of course, resounds more true now in our media-saturated, socially networked, and globalized cultural background than when the book was written. However, extrapolating this idea onto more specific vocations, like photographers, or photojournalists, or actions, like photographing, or posing as a subject of a photograph, we can find that there also exists this “growing into” (existing categories and types) process as well. 

There are myriad but definable reasons why certain photographs stand out more than others. And, related to this point, why photographers attempt to make certain types of photographs they consider and believe to be “good.” There are of course the formal and visual qualities. Then there are the factors of frequency of circulation, channels of display, and instrumental value of specific photographs. On the surface it seems that this conscious and/or unconscious urge to make categorically “good” photographs applies to the professional photojournalist, but of course it applies equally to the consumer photographer too. A photojournalist on the field carries with him/her an archive of mentally imprinted images, which, at the moment of a new exposure, is momentarily recalled or conjured. When a father takes a photograph of his family, he stages them in a way that is like how most family pictures are staged. One can say that at the moment of taking the picture, the picture had already been made.

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