Why use pictures when we have words?

Last weekend I went on a Street Art and graffiti tour of Berlin. On Tuesday night I was telling a lawyer friend all about it over dinner and reached for my iPhone to show him some pictures of a particular piece of art.

“Don’t!” He said at once.” I don’t need to see it. Just describe it to me. We are lawyers. Our stock in trade is words. You don’t need to stop talking and find the picture. Just tell me.”

Aside from the fact he forgets I am female and therefore highly evolved enough to be capable of using my mouth and opposable thumbs simultaneously, in my opinion, he totally missed the point.

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If I describe this picture of an astronaut to you, even in minute and precise detail, you will still have your own version of it in your mind. That is because we interpret and create our own image from the verbal clues given. Ever been to see a film adaptation of a series of novels you have enjoyed? Remember how you got there all ready to see your favourite character on screen and then how you sat there appalled because casting chose an actress who looked nothing like your image of the character?

If I show you this photo you see exactly what I saw. But more importantly, you see how I chose to capture it. You see how I framed it, where I chose to stand in relation to it, how I was careful to exclude the people I was with from the shot. You see my relationship to the subject.

Does it make a difference? Maybe, maybe not. What I was initially trying to tell my friend, was that I loved this work for the idea behind it. Across the road is a BMW garage with the usual banner flags with their logo on. At night they turn on lights to show the cars off and the shadow of one flag is cast onto this wall and now falls directly into the hand of the astronaut. That story was about concepts and words did indeed convey the cleverness of the artistic idea perfectly well. Words are good for what is in an artists head.

Yet, they are not so good to show what is in an artists heart. The photo above was just a snap to show people who were not with me where I had been. The photos from that location which excite me, and which I never got to show my friend, are these three. The small details from unexpected parts of the wall which, when isolated, form a whole new composition.

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The first photo shows what someone else created. These three show how I reacted to it. They tell you more about how I see street art, about what type of composition interests me, about my excitement for the concept of accidental collaboration and the potential for new work inspired by the original, than they do about the astronaut. Indeed, the street artist probably wouldn’t even recognise his own work from these photographs, because it has been placed in the context of other graffitI writing and then abstracted through my filters. And those filters are formed by my knowledge of other art seen in entirely different places. (The black and white marks instantly reminded me of the work of my fellow Masterclass student Carol Trice even though she works with straighter lines).

Of course all the photos are open to your own interpretation just as a verbal description is. It may be you see nothing but meaningless smudges and vandalism in these pictures. It may be you see all the exciting energy and exciting potential for new work I do. It maybe you see something I have totally missed. Whether I use words or photographs, I would be pleased if I started a dialogue in which your view played a part. Yet it seems to me the starting point is different.

Telling you in words what I saw and why I liked it makes you think and imagine. Showing you in pictures what I was excited by makes you feel and react. And thinking about it, that’s why I prefer to share via a blog than on Flickr, because the potential for communication is enhanced by the combination of language and images.

At least, that’s what I think. Am I right?!

If these photos intrigued you, you may like my post over on my other blog today where I show more graffiti photos and write about the concept of innovation in art.