Why is the image still so compelling? In a technicolor world of film, video, motion graphics, virtual reality, gifs and games, how has the still image retained its magic? The image has remained relevant from the first cave paintings through the ages, to the the beguiling countenance of the Mona Lisa and now in contemporary times, a provocative stenciled image by the illusive Banksey, an alluring ad or viral Instagram post. How does the still image timelessly preserve the power to hold the gaze and unlock the psyche in ways, it appears, no other medium can?
The power of the image, may lie partly in its mystery, in something intangible: something that lies tantalizingly out of reach and the fact that the human mind tries continuously to close the gap between the known and the unknown, filling the space with narrative and theory.
An image resides in this space between the known and the unknown: a story, not in its entirety, but only suggested, a single impression, the beginning the middle and the end only an implication distilled into a symbol. But, done well, it is we, the viewer who are challenged to tell the story, to extract the narrative and solve its unanswered questions, to continue in our minds, that which is unseen and unspoken. We become the storytellers, rather than being told and allowing ourselves to be taken, uninvolved, on a ride where all is revealed and served up for us, for our viewing pleasure, leaving little mystery. We are now called upon to construct the story for ourselves, the image entices us to become the co-creator. It then becomes ours, a part of us. As the viewer, you form a unique connection to it, from the first gaze to the internalization of its implied meaning.
The viewing of an image is inherently private and personal. Each person solipsistically sees what they want to see. An image, is therefore like a mirror, reflecting back our own narratives, desires and personal truths. It becomes a two way communion, an exchange of meaning and reference between the viewer and the image. Each person takes away a unique meaning from the same image, a discrete version of a kaleidoscopic whole, a new version of its meaning created within each mind. Thus it’s power grows with each view, with each contemplation.
That is why images remain so powerful and persuasive: they evoke our own imagination, giving us the power and ability to conjure other realities within ourselves the moment we behold an image and in the recalling of it. We become the authors of these stories that become a part of our psyche. And that which gives power, holds power, the power to give agency: Images force our latent imagination out of passivity and into a state of active creation, granting access to those hidden recesses within us.