Friday, January 4, 2013

Internet Memes

This post is closely allied to this one.

There is a phenomenon current on the internet, variously called "memes" or "lolcats" and probably a dozen other equally silly names. Essentially, one takes a photograph and applies a caption, or title, or a line or two of dialog, to produce a "funny picture." A common format is that of the motivational poster, but sometimes the text is simply pasted over the image, and there are a handful of other common layouts. There are as of this writing web sites that will let you select or upload a photograph and supply the text, which will then produce an image file with the resulting funny picture.

So what? This is all silliness, and far and away the vast majority of them are dumb and meaningless. Still, a lot of them are quite funny. Essentially none of them are intended as anything other than a throwaway joke. The photographs are not even good. Never were, and still are not.

What makes this interesting is the lesson it provides in how a line of text can completely alter the way we see a photograph.

A common special case here is that the same photograph may be used for many different titles and captions. Each time a successful result is created (successful in that it is funny and novel) we're seeing the same image in a new way. We're imagining the amusing kitten or the querulous owl saying or thinking a new funny thing, the narrative implied by the image and text is imagined anew.

Consider, then, for a more serious work of art, how a new title, or a new accompanying text, might cause one to reconsider the photograph. Take a favorite photograph from a favorite artist, and imagine different titles for it. Imagine credible titles, and ridiculous ones. Imagine various stories of how the photograph might have been taken. How might each affect how you view the image?

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