What is possible with images?

Everyday we are bombarded with images of different kinds: some of them encouraging us to buy; some giving us instructions; some others sharing messages and news from around the world. In order to survive the amount of information that hits us everyday, we learned how to scan and how to select, among those images, the one we are more interested in and managed to completely ignore the one we don’t need or that we are scared to pay real attention to.

Nevertheless the fury of images we’re surrounded by, we seem to live our lives as we were under anaesthetics. ‘We sleep through our lives in a dreamless sleep. But where is our life? Where is our body? Where is our space?’ exclaims Georg Perec in the collection entitled ‘L’infra-ordinaire’.

Society seems, in fact, according to the author, to react only to those things regarding big events, the ones reporting scandals or danger. ‘What is significant is always abnormal’ (Perec, 1973).

Protests in Istanbul
‘A protester throws a tear gas canister back at the police, Istanbul, Turkey, June 1, 2013. Tens of thousands of people gathered to protest against the destruction of Gezi Park in central Istanbul and to voice general discontent with the government’s policies. The park is virtually the only remaining green space in the city’s center and it is planned to give way for the construction of a mall’ (Etter, 2013).

It is in response to this phenomena that Perec recalls for the so called ‘infra-ordinary’, or the quotidian, and incites people to ‘question the habitual’ (Perec, 1973). As Hito Steyerl claimed, ‘too much world became available’ and, as a result, those images that should matter are the one evoking a diminishing effect on us. ‘Such images just make us as little less able to feel, to have our conscience pricked’ (Sontag, 2003).

As hiding under a shield, we have stopped looking at our surroundings for what they really are and we have lost the ability of doubting, as we take for granted anything we see. Anything in the format of a photograph, in our current society, seems to be automatically interpreted as real. ‘Photographs have the kind of authority over imagination today, which the printed word had yesterday, and the spoken word before that. They seem utterly real’ (Lippmann, 1922). Virginia Woolf was one of the first at pointing out how this ‘technology’ can shape the way we approach and perceive the reality: ‘photographs are not an argument; they are simply a crude statement of fact addressed to the eye. But the eye is connected with the brain; the brain with the nervous system. That system sends its messages in a flash through every past memory and present feeling (Woolf, 1937).

But what isn’t possible with images? Can we actually express everything through the help of visual means? Is there a sort of ‘noumenon’ for images, something we can think of but not actually materialise?

The answers to these questions could be infinite. The certainty is that the reality in which we live is built on an overload of shared images; those images are forged by our hands and assume significance only in relation to an audience. Millions of people looking at the same image can give illimitable significance for it. Mediation, in this case, with the actual photographed subject, the photograph itself and public, is a key factor that makes visual communication infinite in expression and interpretation.




  • Sontag, S. (2003). Regarding the pain of others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 21-23
  • Highmore, B. (2002). The everyday life reader. London: Routledge. pp. 176-178



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