February 21, 2010

Photograph of a photograph

My wife and I found this photograph while we were out visiting family this past winter. It's one of those photos that you get taken where you dress up in Old West style clothes, etc. So, in a sense, this photograph is a photograph of a photograph of a facsimile (or something like that). This is an interesting thing to think about when trying to determine the "authenticity" of photographs--or any material object for that matter. When should something be considered real, or authentic? What about humor, irony, and outright play? How can we account for those ethereal factors? Should we always assume that everyone in the past was stoic and serious? And this is why context matters so much when it comes to the analysis of ANY artifacts, photographs or otherwise. Someone could find this photograph in 150 years and completely miss the mark on what it meant to the people who are depicted*. It happens all the time.

*Of course, if you know anything about the history of photography (and the types of materials used) you probably would not mistake a late 20th century tourist photograph for a 19th century family portrait. But hey, you never know.

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