Pictures Don’t Tell Stories

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to animal or non-living things, phenomena, material states and objects or abstract concepts. Wikipedia

I’ve been having a lot of fun over the past few months with Polaroid MicroStories. Although work using physical world dolls, toys and actions figures may seem off-topic for someone focusing on virtual identity, it’s very complementary. The process of reification that transforms a couple of dolls pulled off a shelf into a character-based narrative also molds our conception of everyday experience. Our internal judgements shape our sense of reality in the same way that the caption imposes story and identity on an otherwise ambiguous image.

Vision is almost never experienced outside the realm of our storytelling imagination. The phrase “every picture tells a story” is misleading. Pictures don’t tell stories. They elicit stories from our minds. And outside of brief meditative moments, it is almost impossible to experience the truth that our own perceived identities are also stories we’ve made up and collectively reinforce.

A beautiful thought experiment.

5 thoughts on “Pictures Don’t Tell Stories

  1. Yes, viewing a picture means nothing more than triggering senses, neurons and emotions and the outcome of that is our perception of a picture. And that’s why 100 persons can have 100 different views watching the same picture πŸ™‚

  2. Wow Botgirl, you’ve really said a lot with 2 short paragraphs! We may have to award you the Morpheus Chair in New Media Philosophy! πŸ™‚

    You’ve said it very well… reality is what we choose to perceive as real.

    Today we have “cartoon” virtual worlds that are powerfully “real” for some people, and ridiculously “fake” for others. Years ago there were text only worlds that were, for smaller audiences, just as “real” as we experience today. In the future there may be dramatically more immersive spaces that some will still call “fake.”

    Virginia Heffernan recently said,

    as long as you understand that Facebook is an MMORPG, you’ll be ok

    I thought that was a pretty good insight. Almost nobody posts on their timeline “I was diagnosed with herpes today,” but we do sit there for a minute or two and finely craft a spontaneous-feeling status update.

    Facebook is real people… but it is not “reality” as many real people commonly think of reality as being.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of that before, but I do agree with you that rather than a picture “telling a story,” a picture is an invitation for us to tell a story. Images that we don’t attribute narratives to, we probably don’t remember for long at all.

    I think this idea may be a part of the projects you and Whiskey have been playing with recently… 100 word stories… tweets visualized… etc…

    1. Thanks. I think it should be the Attention Deficit Chair. πŸ™‚

      I definitely experience social networks as virtual worlds. I described it this way in a blog post last October:

      “For those of us who are almost never separated from a networked computing device, our computers and smart phones function as deeply integrated extensions of our mind and body. They immerse us within a virtual environment that overlays and permeates our experience of the physical environment.”

      I think the reason people’s communication in social networks is more contrived than in realtime communication is that it’s POSSIBLE to be contrived . . . the minute or two you described between the initial thought and what we actually post. Plus, you know it’s going to be out on the internet forever.

      1. Yes, in the 20th century “we” were the audience… but now we’re all Obama or Gaddafi or Paris Hilton carefully crafting our messages for desired effect… be all the virtual celebutante you can be! Go virtual army!

  3. With the statement “Pictures Don’t Tell Stories”, you appear to hint at a key insight that’s been bugging me for a while, that is uncommonly absent in the art world. But I wonder if you have fully internalized the extent of the implications of that, for the field you are in?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.