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.
- 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. [↩]