Translating Photography, Part II

Part of a dialogue between J.S. Oppenheim and me on the cultural and technological barriers that keep still photography from being more easily “translatable.”


I agree with most of what you say (I like especially what you say about context, which I hope to explore on my blog soon, since I recently read [Fernando] Pessoa‘s The Book of Disquiet [which employs the use of “heteronyms“]), but I am not sure that leading
technology explains why our knowledge of non-Euro-American [photography] remains
relatively narrow. In terms of industrial might and technology, Japan has ranked up there: both pre- (as shown by the creation of a Navy then-modern enough to defeat the Russians) and post-war (the auto and electronic industries: though the country’s defeat during the war certainly set it back). Additionally, if you look at some of the blogs
and web sites about the history of Japanese photography, you see that it extends pretty far back: certainly to have at least created a large body of work with which–I–feel I should be more conversant.

Instead, I think language intrudes. It is more obvious in film, of course. There are wonderful Japanese film directors (like [Yasujiro] Ozu) who are celebrated in smaller circles but are largely unknown among the wider Western public. (And it is not imitative of the West either, since many of the directors incorporated conventions from Noh and other Japanese theater.)

You would think that the transmitability of photography would be much more straightforward: certainly the rise of the Internet: websites, blogs and now photoblogs, is changing that. But I think language has interfered here as well. We “connect” with text and imagery to which we more easily relate (what some of the bloggers who write about “social networks” call “linkiness.”) How do search engines treat foreign languages, for instance? I know I tend to search on English-language sites first myself. And seemingly, text that explains a photographer’s biography and image are more important to his/her place than we might imagine.

[See also Translating Photography, Part I]


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