Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What A Picture Is Worth

This photo was taken in Copenhagen, by someone who goes by Hanjosan on Flickr. The context of the photo is not given. We don't know where the women are or what they're doing. We don't know what their relationship is or how they're interacting. We don't know what their daily lives are like.

We read our own assumptions into those blank spaces. People look at the Muslim woman's inscrutable expression and see very different things.

"She doesn't look happy."

She looks "timid."

"She looks like she wanted to cry at any minute. Maybe she knows what will come if she gets home..."

"She has a look on her face like 'Where's the stone gonna be coming from???'"

She's a "brave girl."

She's "powerful."

"This sista's got the sass!"

"This girl is a badass. I would not fuck with her."

"The girl holds onto her values but somehow makes her look and her life her own."

What we think we already know determines what we make of new information. Our prejudices are self-reinforcing. We construct other people in our minds and determine who they are before we ever meet them.

If you're reading this blog, you've likely experienced this truth. The different comments that this photo has received are just another demonstration of that.


  1. Both of the women just seem to be "between expressions" to me. I can't tell what's being discussed or how the woman in the mohawk-hijab is reacting. she could be looking off to the side while the other woman is saying, "There's a sale on office supplies in that store over there,and they have those Moleskine notebooks you like.".

    Maybe she's thinking, "She told me this same story about a music festival last time I saw her, but she obviously doesn't remember. Let me humor her and pretend I'm listening closely."

    Without context, it's impossible to interpret any of this.

  2. Without context it might be impossible to interpret 'correctly', but the meanings we impose on it (example the photo comments) tell us a hell of a whole lot about ourselves. What we can interpret are our own presuppositions.

  3. Haha, to me that is the look I shoot when I want to say 'get that camera out of my face, we all know what I look like already'...wish I knew what she was really thinking...The mo-jab seriously rocks though; it has everything good art has, style, subversiveness, creativity and crafting ability all in one. My projection is that I would like this girl, I guess I can't know that but even if I really couldn't get along with her personally I think I would still respect someone who can create a self-image that is so cheeky and unusual.


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