Photography is a wonderful thing. Photos are taken over the course of our entire lives — when we’re happy, sad, nervous, excited and even when we shouldn’t be documenting the events occurring at all. They’re meant to show celebration, anticipation and sorrow and to provide evidence for memories that otherwise may be forgotten.
They’re our way to remember the great (and not so great) moments of our lives.
Pictures are said to be worth a thousand words, but I disagree. They’re much more than that. They’re worth millions of words that can be combined in millions of ways to provide millions of depictions of the realities portrayed within photographs.
It’s true photos capture a single moment in time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the image shown can only be interpreted in one way. And it most certainly doesn’t mean that the common interpretation is always a reality.
Contexts and situations are highly important, which is why we sometimes look at a photo and see an entirely false depiction of what was actually happening at that point in time. An example of this is one of the seemingly most romantic photos of all time, the famous V-J Day photo, “The Kiss,” taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt and published in Life magazine.
This image of a sailor smooching a nurse in Times Square after the end of World War II on Aug. 14, 1945, has been plastered all over posters, made into wedding cake figurines and even constructed into a 26-foot statue.
What some people don’t know, however, is that the reality of this photograph wasn’t very romantic at all. The two individuals were complete strangers, and the sailor was simply running through the street kissing every woman in sight.
If I had to narrate this photo, it’d go a little something like this …
Sailor: “The war is over! This is the only time until the 1970s that it will be somewhat socially acceptable for me to kiss everyone in sight! I have to take advantage of this. She’s a nurse. I bet this looks really patriotic right now. Bonus, ‘Murica!”
Nurse: “I really wish this man would stop kissing me. No, my foot is not trying to pop with love right now; it’s just trapped at an odd angle. He has me in a head lock. It’s awkward. Should I slap him after he lets me go? No, today is too celebratory to do something like that. I really hope people aren’t watching this right now. How embarrassing would it be if a photo was taken?”
Giggling man off to the side: “Yeah, man, good for you. I wish I had the guts to run through the street kissing everyone. Instead, I’m just the awkward guy walking alongside. I’ll mask my insecurities with this nice grin.”
Gasping woman on the left: “How romantic. Doesn’t that look pleasant? It looks like that would make a nice billboard or greeting card. Someone should take a photo of that.”
The best part about this image, though, is that whether it’s romantic doesn’t actually matter. People can interpret it in whatever way and for whatever purpose they like.
Hopeless romantics may see it as a couple experiencing an elated embrace after a trying time finally comes to a close. Feminist advocates may use it as an argument against male dominance. History buffs may look at it as just another example of the jubilation experienced at the end of WWII.
At the very least, it’s simply a nice photo to look at.
That is why images are so great — you can merely admire a pretty picture or use your imagination to create a story that depicts whatever you want it to be.
Photos may capture a moment in time, but the ideas, emotions and stories that evolve from them are never-ending.