The Test of Time: The Power of the Photograph
What is a photograph? The simplicity of taking a photograph leads many to ponder its artistic value. Yet, it is undeniable that there are some photos that cause an emotional reaction deeper than simply observing a recorded point in time. Surely, there are photographs that cause more reaction than some modern art pieces. There seems to be two types of photographs. The first classification is the ‘time capture’ photo – an image with the sole purpose of recording a particular event or point in time. The second nature of a photo carries a ‘deeper meaning,’ which has the ability to change the observer’s mood and cause a reaction. But what distinguishes these two varieties? There are a couple factors. The first is the ability of the photographer to make a photograph of ‘deeper meaning’ out of an obscure or random scene. The second is the capacity of the viewer, whether viewing the photo in a museum or in the privacy of his/her own room, to interpret the image as art. A photo can be classified as art when the thoughts and interpretations of both the photographer and the viewer overlap. In this case, any photo is taken beyond the simple ‘time capture’ classification.
Perfect examples of these factors present themselves in the photographs of Elliot Erwitt. The first photograph is presented in the Lowe Art Museum and is titled Church at Wounded Knee, shown in Figure 1. The image, as seen in the exhibit, is presented in black and white. The focus of the photo is a simple white church in the center of the image on top of a small hill in the distance. There is nothing fancy or particular conspicuous about the church; it is white and unadorned with a black entrance in the middle of the structure. This simple structure is the attention grabber of the photo and is obviously Elliot Erwitt’s focus.
There is clearly an artistic value to this image – it is taken at the location of a massacre of over 200 members of the Great Sioux Nation. However, did Elliot Erwitt intend a ‘deeper meaning’ for this photograph? In an interview recorded on his official website, Erwitt declares, “If it turns out to be...