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 video