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Comparison Of The Old Photograph Of A Grandmother And A Mass Image Of Film Diva

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I’m sure you have heard the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. In my opinion, a picture could even be worth no words at all! I could sit down and characterize a photo, while you could be translating it a completely different way based on your age, the object/ person, your memories and many other factors. Someone with no memory or previous exposure to the image could end up tossing it to the side without hesitation.

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In Siegfried Kracauer’s essay on photography, he compares two images: one mass image of a “film diva” and a private image of a grandmother. Each in likeness because they are both photographs that capture a twenty-four-year-old young woman in their time. The difference between the two is when the images were taken and how they were portrayed and distributed. The “film diva” is a modern and recognizable figure because the mass image was taken and streamed on the cover of an illustrated magazine. The photograph was purposely staged and displayed for the masses to dreamily stare and view her as flawless on the cover. “Everyone recognizes her with delight since everyone has already seen the original on screen.” Will everyone remember her in 60 years? Will her “bangs and the seductive tilt of her head” become details that the masses no longer relate to or remember?

Kracauer characterizes the photograph of the grandmother as an unrecognizable photo, even by her own grandchildren. With an old photo, how can we know and relate to the person or object pictured without any memory of that moment? This is an example of a photo that might not spark a thousand words, because there is no recognition of the person or how they are portrayed. The grandchildren could have thrown out the picture of their grandmother because they had no idea it was her! The old photograph is completely different from the “mass image” of the grandmother that they hold in their minds. Their minds are familiar with the older grandmother in the present time, but not a young girl in the 1864.

That being said, I felt that Kracauer views photographs as a moment in time. Without being present to know what the picture is depicting, then we can interpret the photo in many ways or maybe not even recognize it at all. A mass image can show current trends or people that we are familiar with, while an old personal photograph can highlight the difference in time. I have personally looked at a photo of my grandmother and dropped my jaw while saying, “That was you?!” with total surprise. This reading has made me realize that when I saw the photo, I immediately said, “Wow look at your clothes, and where were you?”. Not once did I ask. When we look at a photograph that is no longer relevant in our era, we look past the person in the photo and recognize the details in their fashion and the differences compared to the present. 

09 March 2021

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