“Storybook wolf” a depiction of a “mental model” and a real thing.

Some considerations regarding the “model wolf” image … over on Conscientious (and I would agree the specifics surrounding the photographer and the resultant image / award / “unaward”  in the specifics of that situation isn’t that controversial itself)…  but I thought that this is something worth thinking over some more!

I saw this “staged” image story earlier this week and initially I thought “that’s too good to be true”…. also… but what I was thinking about, specifically what I imagined was a lot of prep work on behalf of the photographer (the actual planning was alluded to in the related article before the image was in question…(infrared / motion trap / trigger rig)… To me this is a first rate example of a “staged” photo – that is “setting it up”.  This supposes a mental model already exists about what the picture will depict. Seems to me like it might be akin to the press photo opportunities public officials so carefully orchestrate and too this is the skepticism with which many approach the photographic image these days (in certain contexts).  I don’t care and it doesn’t matter if the image was “set up”.  It is just a picture of a wolf leaping over the fence…  but…

I’ve written my own thoughts previously wondering about the “mental model” and photographers who seem to put the photograph into service as a way to create the image of that “mental model” . But in this case two very different kinds of “models” comparing examples by Paul Shambroom and his work in the Security series...  which are depictions representing simulation that of “First responders and law enforcement officers training in large-scale simulated environments…” or “real” simulated events, compared with the work of Paolo Ventura and  “War Souvenirs” – Ventura’s work as pure image invention, simulation and authorship – it reveals itself as such…

The important thing is that the Storybook Wolf picture did make me wonder… would there be any difference between a “real wild wolf”  trapped in the photographer’s image and say a trained / captive “performing” wolf? A zoo specimen perhaps in a good diorama set up might have produced the same photographic object and result…   Maybe a “real wild wolf” would tend to look a little more scuffy?  Who knows?  But it remains that the picture clearly was made to be viewed in the context (and with that all of the expectations)  of it depicting a wild creature in a real situation… this was my expectation…

The idea of what we “expect” of photographs is a great topic… the Morris articles in the Times a while ago regarding Walker Evan’s “documentary” work and the role of “captions” elaborated on this while interpreting photographic objects viewed in the context of documentary work do come to mind…

My first gut response to the storybook wolf is that it is a case of context trumping the photograph especially considering how that object may be interpreted specifically in the context of the competition rules – the photo probably shouldn’t be presented as a representation of anything more than a wolf jumping over a fence.

I think the key is to try and discern as carefully as possible the context with-in which the photograph will be received / interpreted as a visual representation – this is what colors our expectations of what it is we’re viewing.  This becomes problematic when you can’t predict the context. Perhaps this is why we find all these vintage photographs from anonymous sources so fascinating… we can finally look at them for what they are…without the baggage of context.

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