02. Looking deeper

This is another simple image with only three visual elements: a couple (clearly a bride a groom), a door, and a solid dark mass behind the couple.

Two additional things are important to note: firstly, the couple is walking away from camera (the man’s leg reveals that he is walking); and secondly, the door is clearly very large.

The key to this image is the dark space behind the couple. A dark space in a photograph is not always simply a void – the absence of detail. A dark space can sometimes have as much significance as those elements in the frame that are identifiable and detailed.

It is safe to assume that the couple are in the process of being married. In fact, they had completed the civil marriage formalities and they were entering a church to complete the religious service – to be married before God. But while it might not be reasonable to expect a viewer to infer all that from just the photograph, the key points are clearly visible: a couple in the process of being married (the bride is wearing a wedding dress), walking through a large, imposing door (a portal, in other words), into a dark space.

This is where the viewer needs a little imagination, to use his or her own experience to extrapolate a meaning from what can be observed in the photograph. Marriage is a life-changing experience. Even if the protagonists  have been married before, even if they have been living together until now, from this moment onwards their life is going to be different; they have made a commitment to each other; they have forfeited their singularity and become a couple, in law and (in a moment) before God (although that is a detail that cannot be reliably inferred from the image alone). The darkness they are walking into in the image represents the future, the unknown. It is not necessarily a threatening darkness, a darkness to fear. But for most of us, the unknown is fearful to some extent. So while this image has a specific meaning (it’s a wedding photograph, after all), that meaning is just an instance of a more general concept: that we face the unknown with a certain amount of trepidation. The reassuring thing here is that they face it together (their arms are linked).

This is not a dramatic image by any means. It is not an image that would jump out at the viewer and grab his or her attention. But I have used it to demonstrate (I hope) that even a mundane image such as this one can have meaning beyond the obvious for those who are prepared to look deeper.


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