Skip to main content

5th October 2011

WOW. New photography competition

You’ll probably want to do this.

A picture is not worth a 1000 words. Now I know this is only an arbitrary and personal view, perhaps even a wrong one. But a 1000? That’s going to take you a fair while to read; about as long as it will take to read this article. A picture, why, you can ingest a whole picture in the time it takes to snap one. And a photographic picture, well, you can glean first impressions, a deeper perhaps contradictory understanding of its character, and disable it down to constituent parts in the blink of a shutter-screen. A photograph is the melt-in-the-mouth candy floss of the picture world.
A picture can’t present two sides of the argument; it can’t change your mind, or divulge new facts, or sting you with a twist in the tale like a 1000 words can. A 1000 words unraveled an entire denouement and wrapped it neatly with a bow at the end of Harry Potter. A 1000 words can wrestle a subject (maybe just a small one) over a barrel and once there sodomize it with intent, in the right hands; say an Oscar Wilde or a Norman Mailer. A 1000 words written by David Foster Wallace can quietly stun you with wit and virtuosic lexicon and home truths, until it has your hands pinned behind your back and your eyes peeled open, unblinking. Can a picture do that? Not unless you use it as scrap paper.
Now I know what you’re going to say. I didn’t want it to come to this, but yes, I concede, a photo can do some things. A photograph can tell a story. Not a tale with a shocking twist or any form of denouement, but a story nonetheless. A photo stares you down, brazen faced with its story of black-and-white solidity. What’s more this story is conveyed to the reader in a matter of seconds – no longer than the satisfying snap on a Kodak disposable. And this optical information: fast-paced, accessible, instant, often emotes a good gracious supersize-me helping of ‘feeling’ as well.
Now, this candy floss may taste great, it may make you feel like you’re coming tête to tête with the very face of humanity, it may even make you want more of it. But know this: it has not a patch on a long afternoon of neck ache hunched over a dusty, old book. Call me old-fashioned but I prefer a nice healthy fibrous bowl of bran flakes, to the scintillating vibrant fizzle of a wad of the sweet stuff on my tongue.
Even if the photo in question evokes a paralyzing nostalgia for a time I didn’t know and can’t remember, just for that split second. Like a scene from Cartier-Bresson’s breath-stealing stills does. Or privies an intimate, private, thought-laden moment right out there into the public for my consumption. As in Vivian Maier’s stolen snapshots of street life in Chicago. (She was a nanny for 40 years and took 100s of 1000s of non-words that were only discovered once she was deceased.) Or affords a window into a distant, different place, one that I would never get to see out of my own bedroom pane. Like Tim Hethrington’s (R.I.P.) photojournalism of war-torn flung far locales, whose photos’ spiced, heated breeze circumvents the page and fans you.
I simply remind myself that it is a story, one I am not part of. And I may stare at the photo, transfixed; I may keep flicking back to it as if to a line I can’t shake in one of those books, and it may flash up out of my subconscious at inopportune moments – but only before lowering my head back to the tome I am currently drooping tired eyes towards.

Robert Capa by Gerda Taro, 1937

Cornell Capa said of his pictures, ‘they ‘are the ‘words’, which make sentences, which in turn make up the story’. A photograph can capture one story, one moment with word-defying presence. Of course, word-replacement capacity subject to size and quality, terms and conditions. But let’s say, for academic purposes only, that a picture can equal a proportionally representative number of words. And this Capa fellow was brother of the inimitable Robert Capa, who himself hangs among the stratospheric high lights of 20th century photography – so he’s got a pretty good pedigree. Maybe some of the Capas’ photos put together, with captions obviously, could constitute a few sentences. A small paragraph at most. And Dorothy Bohm, the iconic aluminium lady, who learnt her trade here in the North West and whose vivacious and searing prints were on show in the Manchester Art Gallery last year. She must have a few paragraphs to string together, what with her large and long output (she’s still going strong, go Dorothy). So maybe if yield combined, Capas and Bohm, you’ve got a solid few hundred words worth of concentrated reading-time on your hands. But not a 1000 words. I mean, really? One whole thousand. That’s got to be a humdinger of an optical illusion.
But our attention has already been (briefly, fleetingly) diverted by photographic pretenders such as these. And we’re medium to fairly confident that amongst the many of you, there could be cause to put down the book for a moment or two more: a picture worth a 1000 words. So, I really hope you’ve managed to postpone your sugar buzz and read to the end of this actual 1000 words (no picture necessary) because now is the time for audience participation. So set down your sorrows and get snapping that bubblegum. You’ve got some humdingers to create. Send us your 1000 words.

Send us your (photographic) entries to [email protected], for the chance for your photo to be printed in this very paper. Photo of the week will be printed in the paper, but the best of the rest will go up on our website.
This week’s theme: 1000 words. Caption, optional
Also get in touch with (and join) the Photography Society for use of their magnificent dark room.

More Coverage

A celebration of Jewish art in Manchester: Introducing Synagogue Scratch

This month, Synagogue Scratch is returning to Manchester Jewish Museum. The series represents a unique opportunity to enjoy new, groundbreaking performances by Jewish artists, in the museum’s beautifully preserved 1874 Synagogue.

Making Manchester #3: Eleanor Haigh

Performing across the UK from Edinburgh Fringe to London, Eleanor Haigh embraces the spotlight with a multitude of talent. She breaks down what draws her to the arts and the biggest challenges facing artists today.

Horoscopes: Art meets star signs

This week we’re helping you align your planets with paintings. Check out the artist whose style suits your star sign.

Making Manchester #2: Laurent Swyngedauw

Continuing our Mancunian series, Laurent Swyngedauw tells us the best spots for capturing great shots in Manchester, and how make a photograph your own