Stolen from Bridlepath which reported on the original rescue and the prize-winning photo:
Photographer Laurens Aaij was awarded the Zilveren Camera 2006 on Monday, an award that recognises the best news photo from the past year.
He took the winning photo at the end of October in the Friesland village of Marrum, where more than a 100 horses were left stranded by flood waters.
The photo, with a white horse in the centre, was described by the jury as a symbol of hope. “Standing proud amid a muddy misery.”
It was judged the best photo from 9,147 entries.
Forgive my impertinence, raincoaster: I like the photo, but I positively hate the jury’s description. Who knows what the photographer intended, but I surely hope it wasn’t as cliched and narrow as that.
Cliched and narrow it may be, but we didn’t see the rest of the entries. Maybe it was up against Ann Geddes or something?
How would you describe the photo?
How would you describe the photo?
That’s a tough one, rain. I would need time and space for that. 6 words is not going to do the job. I am a fan of symbolism, but not when it is forced upon us in this manner. There is nothing to suggest pride in this picture, and the white horse is no less miserable than his companions. Given the situation the poor creatures found themselves in, the judges’ symbolism rings false.
I would just have titled this picture “Horses” if that makes any sense. The viewer is invited to make of it what he will. I am convinced that it does not need a verbal description at all.
So your position is that we understand images visually without context or reference to the vocabulary of symbols, much less words? I have to disagree: this image was taken by someone raised in a semiotics-saturated culture and I feel confident that the symbolism of the white horse is not incidental, nor can it be understood fully by restricting ourselves to the vocabulary of the image alone. White horses indeed do represent something which transcends their mere physical shape and colour, and that is a part of the merit of this picture. After all, if what you say is true, this is only a photograph of a group of muddy horses, but it is not; it is much more. It is indeed a photograph of an idea.
I don’t doubt that the white horse, and its position in the picture (dead-center) was intended to convey some meaning. It is definitely not incidental. Its just that the meaning, as conveyed by the judges and perhaps also by the photographer, seems to me to be too…. expected. I wonder if I’m just rebelling against that. As I maintained before, I like the photo, but the interpretation – all spelled out – dulled it, in a way. I’m not sure if knowing the true context of the story (i.e., that the horses were in a perilous situation, and 18 of them perished) sort of makes me dislike the interpretation. Perhaps the interpretation is too exultant for the state of mind that was evoked by the story? Now that I think of it, I had a similar reaction to the premise of the film Life is Beautiful. Given the context of the film (i.e., World War II and the holocaust), I find the upbeatness of the premise a little bit delusional.
Regarding your initial point, I think that we understand images partly with context or reference to a vocabulary of symbols or words, but part of the response is visceral, and not motivated or expressed (at least initially) in words.
I think the story is integral to the interpretation. You and I are not so far apart in our analysis of this picture, but while I find it striking, I don’t condemn the judges for identifying the pat symbolism; I condemn, instead, the photographer for making it so obvious and also the judges for preferring this over other, possibly subtler images.
I still like the photo. It has merit. But the triteness is inherent in the image; as I said before, we don’t know what kind of stuff it was up against. Maybe it was better, maybe it wasn’t, but I think the comments the judges made were correct: it is an image of hope, and of courage. I can say that because I know horses very well, and that’s the only horse in the picture whose face is displaying interest and engagement or, in fact, anything other than discomfort.
Technically speaking, too, the lighting on the white horse is near-perfect.
Shuffling, milling, nodding…moving horses. I would bet the photographer saw the graphic potential, framed the shot and snapped off a few, hoping the elements would combine to create at least one great image.
All this debate over what the photographer was thinking is irrelevant. It’s a striking image, and, as always the case with any kind of art, the critics attempt to involve themselves in its creation by having their interpretation accepted.
You mean that meaning is irrelevant? Got to disagree; if it weren’t for the near-universal symbolism of a white horse, this image would be on the bottom of the reject pile. Just another bunch of horsies. Both the context and the symbolism combined to make this a winner.
If the semiotics of the image are irrelevant to its quality as an image, please explain exactly where the merit of the image lies. I’m seeing a bunch of horsies in a field. Without the back story, that’s it. The shot is not the most well-composed image the universe has ever seen.
I am making no comment on the quality or merit of the image, nor its symbolism.
All I’m saying is that I doubt the photographer while taking the photo was thinking much of anything beyond which f-stop to use and whether to include more sky or not. Maybe this is why I’m an amateur photographer, and not a professional, but I can imagine her/him saying “Cool. White horse with lots of dark horses around it.” *adjust camera* *snap* (*snap, snap, snap*)
Then, when developed and viewed over a cup of coffee, the “bunch of horsies in the field” can take on whatever meaning the photographer, her agent, his friends, the critics, so desire — trite or not.
This is truly an example of a bunch of blogosphere pundits flapping their jaws at nothing (And I include myself in this). Let’s move on to the next silly quiz, shall we?
My, how flattering. And how incorrect. Discussing the meaning inherent in an image is indeed more challenging than determining whether you’re emo or goth, but I think it’s a worthwhile activity. If you don’t feel up to it, just use the Quiz tag and you will never be presented with any such symposium again.
Don’t be tiresome, darling; flattering, possibly. Incorrect, also possibly. But which is more likely?
Lori is most likely right in saying that the photographer was thinking about the technical details of the shot, and that can be proven from the quality of the shot. Any meaning, like almost any meaning in art, is the product of the receiver’s imagination.
The classic “meaningful” pictures–the flag at Iwo Jima, the sailor’s kiss in Times Square, the ones that call out to us, are mostly spur-of-the-moment shots without a thought given to their message or meaning until afterward. Sometimes long afterward.
Being a simple soul, I thought: horsies. And yes dear, I considered calling the police, but it appears they were already involved.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but when the opinion is that discussion of ideas is unwelcome, nothing but “a bunch of blogosphere pundits flapping their jaws at nothing” and that I should return to posting “the next silly quiz” I have to come down on that. Discussion is good; if you don’t like it, take a full refund and don’t come back. But you belittle intellectualism on my blog at your own peril.
For what it’s worth, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. To take a good photograph, the photographer has to pay close attention to the technical details. As Metro points out, many or maybe even most famous pictures were taken quickly and without close attention to buried meaning. The buried meaning comes out later.
This symbolism could have been created by the photographer (that is, the photographer recognized the potential and took the photo with the symbolism in mind), or it could have been one of 1000 pictures that he/she took that day, and only at the end of the day was the power of the photo recognized.
From this end of the web, we can’t tell which is true, but if I were to place a bet I’d guess the latter.
Oh, look. He’s come to colonize the darkies.
We can talk all day about what the motivation or thoughts of the photographer might have been. But after the image is out there all sorts of meanings get attached to the image.
There is the judge who talks about standing proud amidst misery. And some pick up on the symbols of horses or white horses in particular. But white horses have a whole host of meaings: peace; mounts for the Riders of the Apocolypse; good (in the Western world); evil (in the Eastern world). And as Stiletto Girl reveals with her comment, some would equate the white horse with the Caucasion race and the others with the rest of the world.
So, without a backstory or commentary, symbols can be interpreted by individuals to mean many different things.
It is a striking image. The commentary that followed is also striking.