Saturday, March 14, 2009

Picture This


When documentary film maker Errol Morris asked Dartmouth professor, Hany Farid, why we trust photographs so much, Farid gave this answer:

HANY FARID: The short answer is: I don’t know. The longer answer is: if you look at the neurological level, what’s happening in our brain, roughly 30 to 50 percent of our brain is doing visual processing. It’s just processing the visual imagery that comes in, and if you think about it in terms of bandwidth, there is a remarkable amount of information entering into our eyes and being processed by the brain. Now, the brain samples like a video camera, but 30 frames a second, high resolution, massive amounts of information. Vision is a pretty unique sense for the brain. It’s incredibly powerful and is very valuable from an evolutionary point of view. So it’s not surprising that it has an emotional effect on us. The Vietnam War, the war abroad and the war at home, has been reduced to a few iconic images — the Napalm girl, the girl at Kent State. What seems to emerge from major events and eras are one or two images that effectively embody the emotion and rage, the happiness and anger. The whole thing somehow is enfolded in there. The brain is just very good at processing visual imageries and bringing in memories associated with images.

ERROL MORRIS: But text is often brought in visually as well.

HANY FARID: Sure, but processed in a different part of the brain. So, yes, the visual system has to process it, but where it’s actually being processed is not in the back of the brain where the visual processing is, it’s on the side of the brain. It’s the language center, which is completely different.

Think about Mr. Farid's conclusions as you watch this brief video of "Pictures of the Year." It features the two pictures Farid mentions and the work of Stanley Forman:

Pictures of the Year
http://www.poyi.org/65/POYiArchiveWeb.mov video

12 comments:

CPatt said...

first ever comment. more to come.

Max Rice said...

I dont if its just me, but I totally disagree with this post. When Hany Faird said, "The short answer is: I dont know" he should of just stopped. Faird first talks about how humans see alot of stuff and then as a marvelous transition he goes, "It’s incredibly powerful and is very valuable from an evolutionary point of view. So it’s not surprising that it has an emotional effect on us" so somehow seeing alot of stuff connects to our empotions. And then Faird make the connection that being a emotional and seeing alot of stuff makes humans want to be emotional on little stuff. Faird then goes on to site another relevant fact that this all goes on in the side of the brain. It could just be that im just failing to read this right, but whats Fairds point, and whats his opion, after reading this post i feel he has neither.

Miles said...

Personally, I love photography. Unfortunately I suck at it, but I agree with Farid's point about photography's portrayal of emotion. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I believe it, especially after viewing the video. I felt all sorts of emotions after each photo, each one unique from the other. That's what's beautiful about photography though, any one person can appreciate each photo genuinely with their own opinions and ties to it. A photo is anything you want it to be, like our assignment at the beginning of the year that asked us to give detailed views of a photo we were given and for ourselves to give it a caption and explain it. I believe had you guys given the same photo to everyone in the class, you would see a large variety of takes on that piece, thus proving Farids point about vision, "Vision is a pretty unique sense for the brain. It’s incredibly powerful and is very valuable from an evolutionary point of view. So it’s not surprising that it has an emotional effect on us."

Jillian F said...

I agree with miles and completely disagree with max, I think that a photograph is a potrayal of emotion, after watching the video with all the photos, I felt emotion, and also I think that almost anyone you talk to(except Max) would feel some sort of emotion after watching that video. It is obvious that if you show the same picture to different people everyone would view it differently, but that is whats great about photography, it can be captured one way, but at the same time seen in many ways.

Kimber said...

I agree with Miles and Jillian. Photography carries emotion with it. I feel that any photo can be interpreted differently by any viewer. As Miles stated, “That's what's beautiful about photography though, any one person can appreciate each photo genuinely with their own opinions and ties to it.” I agree. This is what makes photography so amazing. The artist who created it may have meant something totally different from the way I interpret the photo. I may be able to make connection from the photo to my life and raise the meaning to another level. Thus, seeing this visual image has an emotional effect on me.

andrea said...

I completely agree with Kimber about how an artist can mean something, but you interpret it differently. Also, I agree with the fact that a visual image carries emotion. It makes you feel like you were right there when the photograph was taken because you can visualize it in its entirety with your own two eyes, with text, you must come up with the picture in your head. Like Hany Farid said, text is "processed in a different part of the brain" than photos. It would be like hearing about the incident where Rakes attacked Landsmark with the american flag as opposed to seeing the role of film, more importantly the picture that captured it. It is more emotional and meaningful to see it right there in front of you.

Claire S. said...

I love photography very much and most definitely think that it has to do with portrayal of emotion. As Andrea said, it truly does mean much more when you can see a photo right in front of you. Many people who look at photography may interpret the picture in a different way than the artist but the their view on the photo could relate to the picture in some way which may have an emotional effect on them. As Jillian said, " whats great about photography, it can be captured one way, but at the same time seen in many ways."

Zack said...

It is pretty amazing what some photographers can do. A good picture can give more information than a 5 page essay because it not only hits you on an intellectual level, but it also has an emotional impact. A person can never fully express the look on a horrified spectators face as they watch a man get brutally beaten through words. That is why photographs are so meaningful and that is also why you cannot always trust photos, because a good photographer knows how to play to a persons emotions.

Matt H said...

I agree with the majority of the points being made. Photography does carry emotion. Max, you can't tell me that when you see a picture of war or the Holocaust you don't get sad or angry. In addition, you can't tell me that, being so proud about Texas, when you see a picture of a cowboy you don't feel proud. All photographs carry emotion one way or another, and furthermore, when you look at a picture, listen to music, or use any other sense, your brain MUST make a connection to something else, otherwise, you couldn't understand anything. All words, no matter how long or short carry a connection with them when read.

maddie hilbrant said...

I agree with Matt H. We subconciously analyze everything we see. It's part of being human, Max. You cant really argue that, because in order to be arguing you need to analyze what your arguing. We could go in circles forever here...but connections are everywhere, relevant or irreleveant.

LukeHG said...

I do think that when we look at images, we associate ideas, things, and even other images to it. Its how the human brain works. The pictures of the year video was almost too much to handle. There were so many thought provoking photos flashing by that I was hardly given anytime to organize all of the connections I was making with the images. But I also think that's what makes it great it shows me first hand that the human brain automatically makes connections when it sees an image. Because I was not able to sit and study each image, i can honestly say that these connections that I made were subconscious and not planned out.

MMarin said...

This post is somewhat old but it reminds me of this quote I read recently from a photographer that is a nice reminder of what goes in to making a photo, even if we might perceive it to be a quickly taken snapshot:

"Photography is subtractive art. First we throw away 90 percent of our photos, then crop, remove colour, remove noise, removing what is left bit by bit until we have only the reality we wish to show."