few people realise that the meaning of a photograph can be changed completely by the accompanying caption, by its juxtaposition with other photographs, or by the manner in which people and events are photographed.
(Gisèle Freund, 1980:149)
THE post-production aspects of photographic communication are concerned with things that can be done to the photograph once it has been taken and processed to change or enhance its meaning. As mentioned in earlier chapters, photographs are taken in a particular context and there is a strong dependency on the knowledge of this context which determines how the final image is understood by the viewer. In the case of the documentary photograph we find ourselves looking at a visual display from which we are able to make inferences regarding the subject-matter. We make assumptions about the events that we see in the photograph and draw (hopefully the appropriate) conclusions from the image. We assume that our conclusions, derived from our retrospection and anticipations which have been engendered by the photograph, in some way concur with the factual circumstances that brought about the moment of the photograph. We place faith in the image itself and its subsequent editorial context that it conforms to the natural or original course of events. And this is what we described in the last chapter as the implied history of the photograph.
This implication of the photograph can be shifted by the context in which the image is displayed. However, we might consider that good practice in photo-journalism requires the editorial skill to place the photograph in such a context that the viewer makes the appropriate assumptions regarding the context of the event itself—the casual antecedents of the event. This is the essence of Cartier-Bresson’s notion of the decisive moment—that it directs the viewer’s drawing of conclusions or invoking the intended sentiment. But this belief is not without its problems. As we saw in the William Klein example (pp. 8-9, this volume), the photographer may be acting with the best of intentions but be unable to predict or determine the viewer’s response. His or her concerns, responses and understanding may be entirely different:
why should our understanding of…photographs be prefaced by knowing the intentions of the photographer? No reading of a picture can be unambiguous, or