March 24, 2010

A Photo

This photo has become an icon of the British class system- used on innumerable books and newspaper covers- however the truth about the lives of the people in this photograph is more interesting than the photo itself. The Guardian has the details- but suffice it to say that the two boys from Harrow had horrendous lives and the three boys standing near them had rather comfortable lives. That doesn't mean that there was no such thing as a class system when the photo was taken- but it does show us a couple of things. Firstly it demonstrates how individuals can range from their class expectation and how unjust the world can be in other ways: one of these old Harrovians went mad, he probably had a tougher life than many of those guys giggling away. Secondly it demonstrates how appearances can be misleading- none of the three working class kids was working class, look at their feet, they are wearing tennis shoes! Furthermore they too are in pretty elaborate dress- shirts etc- the contrast between that and the suits makes us think there is more of a contrast than there is. Partly that is because the past is foreign to us- partly it is because photographs create contrast where none or less contrast may exist. Thirdly as the Guardian writer reminds us, a photograph by its nature is false: it is a snapshot in history- you cannot convey a film in a frame, neither can you capture life in a photograph. That doesn't mean that photographs tell lies- but they are economical with the truth (to misquote Alan Clarke)- only in context can they make sense.

2 comments:

James Higham said...

That's true that the snapshot does not convey the whole scene. It's dangerous to judge character form a photo.

[Now I'm not even going to start with the last post :)]

JD said...

David Hockney is worth reading on the ambiguities of photographs.

If you 'look' it becomes clear that nearly all published photos are staged, they are not a result of happenstance. Same applies to news film clips/stories.