Practices of Looking Chapter 1

Powerful Essays
CHAPTER 1: IMAGE, POWER, AND POLITICS

I. Content Summary

Introduction
“Looking is a social practice.” The authors begin Chapter 1 by reminding us that we do not “look” at anything without participating in a practice formed by a variety of factors, including the historical moment, social meaning, and intent of the creator. Practices of looking are also formed by power relationships; even the act of choosing to look or not to look is an act of power. We engage in the practices of looking every day, with an ever-increasing amount of visual artifacts permeating most cultures.
Representation
Representation is the use of language and images to create meaning about the world around us. Mimesis is a concept that understands representation as a process of imitating or mirroring the real without taking into account how codes and conventions of representation impact meanings. We ourselves construct meaning through historical and cultural contexts. The artist René Magritte contrasted mimesis and representation with his painting The Treachery of Images (“Ceci n’est pas une pipe”).
The Myth of Photographic Truth
The myth of photographic truth is that we perceive photographs to be an unmediated copy of the real world. This understanding comes from positivism, the theory that scientific knowledge, gained through empirical data, is the only authentic knowledge. Machines (such as cameras) were thought to be more reliable than humans to provide this data and knowledge. As we know, however, images can be altered, reflect only one instant in a situation, and can be taken out of social and historical context. The power of images is strong because we still share this belief that photos are faithful records of events. Roland Barthes considered photographic truth a myth, not because the photographs aren’t true but because his understanding of truth (as always culturally inflected) is at odds with the positivist understanding of truth as something that can be independently

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