Only Skin Deep Part 1: Language


Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Your fact is stranger than fiction), 1983 photograph and type on paper

The first sections of Only Skin Deep covered many topics but there were themes that held them together.  The theme I found most interesting, and seemed to spur the most discussion, was the idea of language.  When I think of language, I think of it in terms of writing/composing, reading, speaking, and understanding.   Photography, as discussed in the text, and displayed in the selected photographs, both challenges and expands our ability to do all of these things, especially when it comes to race in the United States.  Questions around language that the text interrogates as discussed in class include:

1. What does photography do or show about the language of race?
2. Is there such a thing as photographic language?
2.5. If yes, where does that language exist around the photo (inside or outside of the frame)?
3. How do we speak/understand what we see when we look at a photograph?

Another area of interest was the idea of staging “the Real”.  The book made it very clear that with how things were staged, composed, and/or edited in photography was done intentionally to create specific images.  Captions, clothing, and props were carefully selected to ensure that the photographs are read a certain way.   Photography, even when staged, is always not not real.  We know that photography shows an actual referent, however, the temporal slippage (we are always looking at the past when we see a photograph, but our temporal distances increases over time), allows us to see what we want.  To go back to language, eventually things get lost in translation, even in photographs.

This all made me think of the Flower Drum Song, a movie that plays with all these different ways we read and stage race/language/the visual:

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