Art History, Final Exam Paper
Prof. Katherine Hauser
Word Count: (978)
Film and Photography: Two Story Telling Mediums
Both cinema and photography record reality, yet they do so differently. Photographs, for instance, are snapshots of one moment while film is a continuous stream of footage. In an articled named “Influences of Digital Imaging on the Concept of Photographic Truth,” Julianne H. Newton states that “photography’s most significant gifts to humankind are not the means for establishing THE TRUTH, but rather a means for exploring the world in all its complexity” (13). Film, like photography, is another medium to represent real life, just through the construction of plot. Despite film and photography’s ability to capture reality in different fashions, both tell stories that are just as rich in message.
The mediums of film and photography are very similar. Essentially, photography provided the gateway for film, seeing that film is simply the sequential layout of pictures. Because of this, both mediums have similar attributes. They display representational forms of objects. They are mediums that record physical life, thus referring to the objects that are in the frame but not materializing the actual object. Yet they have different ways of perceiving truth. For example, people see photography as a trace of time or as a real documentation of a happenstance, despite whether the photo may be staged or not. Humans “tend to perceive photographs—whether created through chemical or digital means—as true” (Newton 10). Upon seeing a photograph for the first time, one attaches significance to that photo. Once the idea is attached to that image it is hard to make it go away. In fact, “…research indicates that once people get a picture in their minds and think of it in a certain way…this is how they are likely to remember it, regardless of learning of information to the contrary” (Newton 10). Truth found in film however is less accepted. Film, even if it is historical in nature, is expected to be a fabrication of events that will tell an interesting story. A story, by definition, is “the series of hypothetical events as they ‘happen’ in the time of fiction or of factual events in history” (Kawin 59). Essentially, even if the movie is telling a story about a specific event from the past, its audience understands that what it is seeing is constructed. Its reality effect is thus less believable then that of photography.
In both mediums, however, reality, or truth, can be distorted. Photography that is digitally manipulated either for censorship or artistic purposes, for example, effects one’s perception of the photo. This alteration of photography is an example of what Julianne H. Newton calls the “fluidity of truth”. She states, “The true revolution is the maturation of human perception of reality…the fact that we know and understand that digital images are only groups of pixels…Digital imaging has clarified—brought into clear focus, if you will—the fluidity of truth” (Newton 13). Essentially, while humanity views photographs as a window into a specific and real moment in time, its digital manipulation does not hinder this understanding. Instead, it takes this moment in time, this reality, and distorts it, expanding photographic truth. Similarly, the use of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) to spice up movie production serves the same purpose. CGI has paved the way in the movie industry, so much so that films are now being produced to provide good visual effects. In an article titled, “Digital Cinema: the Role of Visual Effects Supervisor”, Christopher Cram argues that “achieving a desired effect may necessitate certain steps in pre-production and on-set production in order to provide the right input for digital enhancement tools in postproduction. The scope and power of digital tools are making discussion about visual effects fundamental to the filmmaking process” (Cram 170). Both CGI and digital manipulations to photography substantiate the fluidity of truth, extending the bounds of the viewer’s imagination.
Lastly, a difference between the two mediums is how each represents the passing of time. To illustrate this point, one should compare the Netflix episodic House of Cards with President Barak Obama’s ‘hope’ campaign poster from the 2008 Presidential race. Both examples deal with politics; House of Cards demonstrates a political world of deceit and deception while the Obama poster is filled with hope for a new political future, a new Washington. The photograph, which is digitally enhanced, only catches one moment while the film catches many. Yet, while time is frozen in the Obama photograph, as it is with any picture, the poster prompts its audience to envision a desirable future. The use of red, white and blue shadowing on Obama’s face not only presents the man in a powerful and inspirational light, but also shows his stance on bipartisanship. Additionally, because the photo is digitally manipulated Obama appears animated. This animation adds heroic effects that strengthen his message of a new and productive future in American politics. In House of Cards, on the other hand, time is laid out so that the plot moves in real time; the audience finds out details at the same pace as the principle characters. Additionally, in this show, the main character speaks to the camera, soliloquizing his plans to gain power as a congressman. This tool effects how time is displayed on the show because it detaches the audience from action surrounding the protagonist, suspending the plot and then resuming when ready. This ability to both freeze time and resume it, is a characteristic that, of the two, obviously only belongs to film.
Film and photography are two ways to tell a story, but because they represent time differently, their effectiveness at doing so is different. Generally, in a film, the story is a construct, while in photography the story is told through one moment, leaving more room for interpretation. The Obama poster and the Netflix show, House of Cards, exemplify how subjects from both mediums tell stories through the differing representations of time passing.
Link to Obama Poster: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barack_Obama_%22Hope%22_poster