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Few aphorisms are as ubiquitous–or contain as much self-evident truth–as ‘A picture is worth a thousand words,‘ the notion that the camera’s eye catches such a visual abundance that it would take 1,000 words to describe it with any kind of justice. This time-honored simile has not only survived since its introduction to common speech, but flourished thanks to its apt and easy-to-understand imagery. The maxim is so well-known that it would not be at all surprising to hear it mouthed by a precocious six-year-old.
But for as much use as it has seen since its probable introduction as a bit of ad copy in the early 20th Century, philosophers have yet to mount a critical study of the proverb’s underlying tenets. Such an examination can yield heretofore unexpected insights into the nature of the image itself.
The truth in this saying becomes evident after a limited examination of just one of the many propositions it puts forth. Given that any single photograph is worth no more and no less than 1,000 words, how are we then to apportion dedicated words to the individual images contained within the photograph?
It would be hard to dispute, for example, that the Colosseum of Rome as depicted in a photograph might on its own merits command 1,000 words, so majestic and replete with history is the ancient structure. That example is easy enough to follow, but lulls the viewer into the erroneous assumption that an image’s word value is a constant. It is not.
Imagine then the same image of the Colosseum, but now with a huge Weimaraner lustily humping a French poodle in the foreground of the shot. Wouldn’t the descriptive words necessitated by the inclusion of this comical scene into the otherwise-stolid tableau syphon syntax intended for the Colosseum?
Unquestionably, the answer is yes: the 1,000 words alloted to a picture must be divided among the image’s component parts, such as in the previous example. However, in the aforementioned instance we posited two subjects–a historical marvel and copulating canines–of equal interest to the average viewer. But when we pair items of unequal appeal–say for example the Colosseum of Rome and a 1999 Buick LeSabre, or the randy dogs and Bob Saget, host of America’s Funniest Home Videos–it quickly becomes evident that all images are not created equal.
Given that the various images captured within a photograph, digital recording device or artwork are not equally deserving of the object’s finite word supply–certainly the copulating dogs in the previous example rate higher than the irritating Full House has-been–the truth which reveals itself through this insight is as old as the image itself. If images within a photograph are inherently unequal, then some are simply more important than others.
What does this all mean for you? The implications are myriad, and at the very least will increase your awareness of the many factors comprising a good–that is, asthetically pleasing–photo. Accordingly, you now will endeavor to pose for pictures with people less attractive and interesting than yourself, and if an enormous black drag queen dressed up like Brittney Spears circa 2001 wanders into the shot while you’re posing for a picture, you’ll be sure to let that thing of beauty speak for itself by getting your ass out of the shot.
Further Examples Of The Phenomenon: