Reading an image


Sunday market for the Flower Hmong in North Vietnam is quite an event. I wanted to capture the colour and intense atmosphere of the mass of people. Positioning myself in one spot, I waited for something more to happen alongside two women engrossed in conversation …

…  and then I got my shot: colour, “crowded” AND the expressive face of someone pushing through the throng!

The elderly lady is lighter in colour so we notice her first. She has a worried expression, is carrying something and is in a great hurry. The body language – about to step out of the frame – adds visual weight to her urgency. Our eyes then move left to the chatting ladies. In contrast, they have no intention of leaving soon. There is gossip to catch up on and they are oblivious to others around them. Next we see the background, blurred but with enough detail to notice that the crowd goes back quite a distance! There’s an umbrella (part of one) and a wall down the right so this is an outdoor setting. Two ladies with purple scarves, on the far right, are sitting – they must be vendors. And finally we are drawn right back to the worried lady.

I wonder what her story is?

Tracy Chevalier gives an interesting TED talk about finding stories within paintings at a gallery. Using her idea I could create a tale around my image:

“ Trung’s leg wasn’t so bad yesterday but his night of tossing kept me awake and as the dawn light snuck through a crack in the wall I could see the swelling and redness. I’ll apply the Rau Que paste to the wound and add Rau Dang to his favourite soup for his fever. Tham and Bian didn’t notice me squeeze past. I’ll have to explain to them later. Oh I do hope I get these herbs to him quick enough.”

It’s not too far a leap to see how quickly text added to an image could become ‘factual’ to a viewer even if it is entirely fictitious.

There’s a difference between ‘teasing out’ detail from an image and suggesting untruth. Particularly relevant now with images in our media and the growing trend of ‘fake news’.

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