I spent 7 weeks in Italy this past spring, which had been a much anticipated trip that I will never forget. Images of faraway places and people with histories unknown and unexperienced by me have always been intriguing. Before my first trip abroad, it was through images that I developed the desire to travel. Even in the months leading up to my departure, I posted a 2011 calendar full of pictures of the Italian landscape to help me anticipate what I was about to experience and see for myself.
All the images I had ever seen that displayed Italian scenery, culture, food, or people defined my concept of Italy before the spring of 2012. After spending those 7 weeks experiencing firsthand what Italy had to offer, I was able to evaluate whether the vast collection of images I had seen had accurately communicated the Italian atmosphere. And they most certainly did, in my opinion.
Just as the dozens of pre-trip pictures had told a story of the Italy I would someday visit, the hundreds of pictures I came home with tell the story of my personal experience. The people I had observed, the scenes I remember, the vistas I captured, all show what Italy was (and is) to me.
Images are sometimes considered to be objective. When photography was first developed, many people viewed it as an opportunity to analyze situations objectively. By capturing an event in a single moment, there is no spin or bias to skew the story. The photo shows things exactly how they were, with no room for alternate interpretation.
Perhaps photos can add more objectivity to a story or event. But as I pointed out while discussing my Italy photos, what is photographed and how it is photographed reflects the intentions of the photographer. A great deal of human agency and influence affects photographs. Other people on the trip took pictures of different scenes, objects, and people than I did, based on their interpretations and tastes. Their photos tell a different story of Italy, maybe even show a different Italy than mine do. Images are incredibly powerful messages, often able to communicate more than words.
More to come on the power of images in the next few posts. As for a few side notes, LIFE Photos has several galleries that tell stories of historical events and cultural icons as well as examples of photography that I’ve found interesting. Also, to follow the story of my trip to Italy last spring, I will be uploading my photos to Flickr in the near future.