I think that the title in Plato’s Cave is significant, because it provides an allusion to the allegory of the cave from Plato’s Republic where individuals confined in a cave only indirectly observe objects from shadows on a wall. Much as the prisoners in the cave cannot interact with the images that they perceive images in photographs are not the actual image themselves, but rather a frame of experience from a specific slice of time. As Sonntag notes “photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are.” (p.4) Viewing the pictures themselves is akin to being in a cave where the photographers’ slice of experience is what we see of an event. By definition, we cannot interact with that event much like the prisoners chained in the cave cannot interact with the shadows they see on the wall. While paintings and drawings due to the time needed to produce them and the limited number of people with skills to draw or paint is a much more limited reproduction of events that we did not witness first-hand the “photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the cave, our world.” (p.1) Photographs offered to expand that world that we can indirectly perceive.
In the article, Sonntag argues, “one never understands anything from a photograph.” (p.17) Sonntag earlier in the article mentioned that while exposure to pictures can make the world more real that “after repeated exposure to images it also becomes less real.” (p. 15) As she notes, “images anesthetize.” The problem is that after a while photographs cheapen actual atrocities. The viewer tends to view it as “only a photograph” because understanding “starts from not accepting the world as it looks.” (p.17) Ultimately taking things as face value often can mislead as any given photograph, “must always hide more than it discloses.” (p. 18) Naturally one not only misses the portions of the scene that are outside of the frame of the image, but you are only looking at a specific moment. There are an infinite number of other pictures that could be taken from other points of references or other points in time. Photographs themselves “are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy.” (p. 17) An individual image can help be part of providing information about a situation, but it cannot provide an immersive experience that first-hand experience offers and in the absence of context the omitted information can potentially mislead the observer.
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