Photos can mean things: discuss in words of more than three syllables

I’m meant to be writing an essay about allegory in photography, and I’m having to bite my fingers. The title is ‘How can the theory of allegory help us understand a photograph?’, and there’s plenty of existing writing on this topic. Unfortunately, when you’ve gone through all the epistemological hand-wringing, dubious metaphors – allegory requires words/an image, therefore is ‘parasitic’1 – and ontological angst, you basically end up with Google Dictionary’s definition: an allegory is a text, painting or photo that means something else, usually a broad concept or theme.

And it’s really hard not to be accidentally sarcastic. I’ve explained what allegory is, coming to the above conclusion. I now need to link this explanation to something practical. And all I keep ending up with is:

So, armed with the knowledge that a photograph can mean something other than its literal representation…

Which sounds like I’m making fun. It’s hard to get around, though.

  1. only in the same way that music is ‘parasitic’ on the speakers. Honestly, I never know what to think about these metaphors. Another popular one is that portrait photography is just like hypochondria, because both are obsessed with the body. I can almost vaguely see that there is kind of a parallel of sorts, but I don’t know what else to say – that’s one of a thousand properties of the two concepts, and the rest are pretty different. I just think ‘so?’. People somehow do PhDs on these topics, though. []