ADAM W. BYRA

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‘(…) There’s glory for you!’
‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”’ Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”’
‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knockdown argument,”’ Alice objected.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be Master – that’s all.’
(Carroll, 2010)

Position held by Humpty Dumpty in above argument almost instantly seems ridiculous. Linguistic language surely is arbitrary, however it is created by the society rather than individuals. And the process is more of unattended evolution rather than conscious creation. We inherit the language from our ancestors, first through direct contact with our parents and later through various institutions (such as schools and universities) and mediums (books, movies, video games etc.). If each individual was to consciously create own language, communication would simply be impossible. From this angle Humpty Dumpty’s stance is simply wrong. However, if we consider the argument in relation to photography rather than linguistics, he does have a point. Photography is a sign system, a language nobody teaches us to make sense of. At least not in strict, institutionalized way as linguistic languages. How we read photographic image greatly depends on who we are, where we come from and what life experiences we bear. In this case Humpty Dumpty is right, we prescribe our own meanings to a photograph and the question is exactly “which is to be Master.” (Ibid.) The problem is we always find photographs to be polysemantic. It is the role of the author or the publisher of the photograph to point the master meaning through what Barthes called anchorage. This makes the understanding much easier, so to say it is granted to the reader without much effort on his side. The downside is that in this case the reader is no longer active participant of the process but merely a passive receiver of the message.

‘It seems very pretty,’ she said when she had finished it, ‘but it’s rather hard to understand!’ (You see she didn’t like to confess even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.)
‘Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don’t exactly know what they are!’
(Ibid.)

What if the anchorage was removed? For once it surely brings unpleasant feeling of confusion as experienced by Alice when confronted with Jabberwocky poem. It could also lead to discreditation of the work of art and the author himself. However, despite the negative feelings it forces the viewer to engage and when in doubt to ask questions. This kind of active participation eventually leads to social dialogue. Just like neo-realist movies that only or as much as described the social issues of post-war Italy leaving analysis to the audience.

‘How is it you can all talk so nicely?’ Alice said, hoping to get it into a better temper by a compliment.
‘I’ve been in many gardens before, but none of the flowers could talk.’
‘Put your hand down, and feel the ground,’ said the Tiger-lily. ‘Then you’ll know why.’
Alice did so. ‘It’s very hard,’ she said, ‘but I don’t see what that has to do with it.’
‘In most gardens,‘ the Tiger-lily said, ‘they make the beds too soft – so that the flowers are always asleep.’
(Ibid.)

The formal aspects of the photograph are crucial for it to work. Rough sharpness, deadpan look of the sitter and overwhelming quantity of detail present in the large size prints, these brutal qualities of work together form a massive description of the subject. It focuses the viewer on the denoted meaning; the audience is invited to investigate what is normally ignored or simply impossible to be seen. The urge for connoted meaning being immediately served is tamed and forgotten. What we are left with is contemplation without any particular meaning and questions, which are not to be answered directly by the work of art. The aim is not to answer these questions but to engage the society into discussion. Society, which despite recent technological advancement in communication all that achieved is even greater separation of individuals. Only through interaction this constantly widening gap could be overcome.