It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Henry David Thoreau
“DNA is the fundamental and distinctive characteristics or qualities of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable.” The enigmatic puzzle of the lives portrayed in vintage family photographs is intriguing. Who are the people in the stacks of photographs I inherited? How did their DNA determine who they were and how did it impact the following generations? Is it really possible to learn anything about a person from a photograph? Or, is it a narrative that has been passed down to us? Pondering these questions, I sifted through old family photographs to see if gestures and faces alone could give us clues. Focusing on certain gestures and facial expressions “VISUAL DNA….the language of photographs” introduces another way of deciphering information in photographs and encourages the viewer to ask what is the most important part of an image.
Reading parts of the photograph allows the viewer to interpret the image through their own experiences. Roland Barthes in “Camera Lucida” talks about “studium,” the intention of a photograph and “punctum,” the unknown part of the image that “pricks” ones imagination. Since we all view images in different ways, “VISUAL DNA…the language of photographs” encourages us to intimately participate in our own unique and personal involvement with each image. Mysterious connections create a different reality or “punctum” for each viewer. Barthes says “its mere presence changes my reading, that I am looking at a new photograph, marked in my eyes with a higher value.”
Influenced by vernacular photography, “VISUAL DNA…the language of photographs” references John Baldassari’s photographs that used colored circles to hide the faces and to put the focus on gestures.
Using family vintage photographs, “VISUAL DNA…the language of photographs” suggests the passing of time and the fading nature of memory. The images challenge us to “read” and interpret a photograph filling in the visual language and context as best we can.