Monday, October 10, 2016

Framing the world




Photos give a representation of reality. At least many people think so. But do they really do? Recently I had a photo exhibition in my town in which I tried to make clear that they don’t. The photos showed landscapes, city views and the like but all had, what I would call, “natural” frames. Often photos on an exhibition are put in wooden, plastic or metal frames, but I had taken the photos that way that the frame was in the photo itself, for example because I had taken a photo through a window together with the window frame (see for example the photo above). Of course, you cannot capture the whole world in one picture, so a photo must have an edge, but what many people don’t realize is that just the edge makes that the photo doesn’t give an objective view, but that it is subjective because there is an edge. The edge directs the contents of the photo and makes that it presents a perspective on the world and that it is a subjective interpretation of the world. In other words, the edge of a photo functions like a frame. In order to stress this and to make the viewers of my photos aware of it, I had the photos on my exhibition provided with natural frames.
In sociology, a frame is a set of concepts and theoretical perspective on how we perceive reality. Framing is the social and perspectival construction of a phenomenon. The frame tells us what is valuable and it excludes what isn’t, because we don’t find it interesting; because it distracts; because we want to ignore it; and so on. Actually in psychology it is the same but the difference is that psychology concentrates on other themes than sociology does – which just makes that the sociological and psychological perspectives are also frames! – Prejudices and testimonies are instances of such frames. Prejudices are ways to order the world and to pigeon-hole persons and phenomena. And when an accident has happened and a policeman asks the witnesses what they have seen, he will hear different stories, for each person interprets what took place from a different point of view.
Framing can have quite extreme and improbable effects. Take this psychological experiment:
Imagine you are asked to watch a video in which six people – three in white shirts and three in black shirts – pass basketballs around. While you watch, you must keep a silent count of the number of passes made by the people in white shirts. At some point, a gorilla – actually a man in a gorilla suit – strolls into the middle of the action, faces the camera and thumps its chest, and then leaves, spending nine seconds on screen. Would you see the gorilla? I think you’ll say “yes” but actually half of the test persons did not: Their frame of attention was counting the passes which made that much what didn’t fit this frame was excluded from their attention, including the gorilla facing the camera. (source: http://theinvisiblegorilla.com/gorilla_experiment.html)
To take yet a photographic example: Recently there was much to do on Facebook about the famous photo of a little Vietnamese girl hurt by napalm and fleeing from her village that had been bombed with napalm (https://geschotenindeoorlog.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/vietnam-napalm-girl1.jpg). The photo is very dramatic. However in order to emphasize the drama – and with right, I think – the photographer had cut off the right part of the photo, which showed a relaxed soldier looking at the camera in his hands (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bj5h_YaCIAE2Jom.jpg:large). If the photographer wouldn’t have cropped the picture, it would have been less dramatic: A matter of framing.
Compared with the photo of the napalm girl, my photos with natural frames are not dramatic. Their contents is innocent. However, they show what you can do with a frame, and what we in fact all do every time when we look at something: Frames stress what we want or expect to see, just as in my photos the frames emphasize landscapes and their beauty, or the dullness of a rainy day. But actually we don’t know what happens outside the frames and where they have been taken.

My photos with natural frames can be viewed here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/photographybytheway/albums/72157657516004509

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